We visited Waitomo. Taking kids underground to discover caves over a million years old and drifting under glowworms that were like stars in the universe was like being with Ms Frizzle in the Magic School Bus.
Creating a theme for a holiday definitely helps build the anticipation and gets kids in the zone. Waitomo was all about discovery for us. We spent three days roaming a honeycomb of natural New Zealand wonders.
- For a family holiday with a difference, you can’t go past Woodlyn Park: truly unique accommodation featuring quirky plane, train, ship and hobbit motel options. For those who are Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, the hobbit motel rooms are spacious and a big drawcard worldwide. Woodlyn Park has been named as one of the world’s top 5 unique motels, but seems to be a bit of a hidden treasure for New Zealanders. Go to www.woodlynpark.co.nz.
- There are also plenty of other places to stay at Waitomo, including a Top 10 Holiday Park.
Go to www.waitomodiscovery.org for a list of options.
- Head to Waitomo Caves. We began with the Waitomo Glowworm cave that starts at the Waitomo Caves Visitors Centre. This was first cave to open up to the public in the late 1800s. It is a nice gentle cave with lovely formations, and an amphitheatre in the middle. We then headed to the spectacular Ruakuri cave, which is both pram- and wheelchair-friendly and a great cave for the whole family to enjoy. Go to www.waitomocaves.co.nz.
- Book a trip with Spellbound Tours. Their glowworm cave is the most breathtaking in the area and, as we discovered, was chosen by Sir David Attenborough to film BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ for good reason. It’s like floating in the middle of the universe. We also went through their ‘Cave of the Spirit’ with its amazing calcite decorations, fossils and natural light effects, which you access though a farm 20 minutes out of town. And did I mention the moa bones? Go to www.glowworm.co.nz.
- Go and see the Billy Black Show at Woodlyn Park. A great sheep shearing, wood chopping, farm animal, tongue-in-cheek show that is great fun for kids and parents and gives them a good understanding of ‘olden day’ farming. The hog on a hog is something to behold! Go to www.woodlynpark.co.nz.
- Do the Insight tour at the Kiwi House in Otorohanga (20 minutes North of Waitomo). This was a real highlight, as the kids were able to get up close with the Tuatara whose heart was in winter mode beating once per minute. To finish, you head to the outdoor spotted Kiwi enclosure and call Tasman out of her slumber to greet everyone. She charges around the enclosure like a dog, almost as if we were there for her entertainment. Go to www.kiwihouse.org.nz.
- Drive 30 minutes west towards Marokopa beach, where there are a few fairly easy, but quite spectacular, walks. Our favourite was the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, which is a very dramatic piece of nature. Waterfalls are always lovely, and it was an easy five minute walk down to the Marokopa Falls. Off the Tumutumu Road, the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel is listed as one of the best 10 short walks in New Zealand, and has a lot of interesting twists and turns through caves and over bridges. Our kids loved it!
- There are around 30 different tours or attractions to choose from at Waitomo. Go to www.waitomodiscovery.org for more information.
With Spellbound’s very knowledgeable guides and a more Outward Bound feel to the tours, which included caving helmets for everyone, we really started to feel like cavers.
- For your daily coffee and freshly baked bread, The General Store
will become your Waitomo local. Owned by organic farmers Guy and Christabel Pilgrim, they also offer a healthy menu for breakfast and lunch.
- The Huhu Cafe is fantastic. Menu includes rabbit hot pot, slow cooked duck, free range pork, and a real-food kids’ menu. A great wine list and lovely service. Go to www.huhucafe.co.nz.
- If the rugby is on, or you want a casual night where you can play cards and eat more cheaply, then head to Curly’s Bar. Supervised children are welcome and the curly fries are a real kid pleaser.
- Families with food intolerance and allergies, Huhu Cafe and The General Store offer some good options, or the Countdown in Otorohanga has a reasonable supply of gluten- and dairy-free options and is open 7 days.
tips for parents
- ages and stages. If you have a range of ages in your family, prepare to split the kids up for some activities. This way, the older kids (from 36kgs or 12-years-old) can try out the adventure activities like tubing, abseiling and rock climbing. Sadly, our kids all fell under the weight limit – maybe next time!
- kids’ programmes. Call Waitomo Caves ahead of the holiday and book into their ‘Kids Cave’ discovery programme in the Ruakuri Cave.
- pram-friendly. Only one cave (the Ruakuri) is pram-friendly, so take a front pack for your little ones.
- what to pack. Caves are around 12–14 degrees all year round, regardless of the temperature above ground. So pack warm clothes, and a beanie to keep your head dry.
- medical. For medical treatment or supplies, the Otorohanga Pharmacy is open until 12.30pm on Saturday, and the hospital is open 24 hours.
“I loved the Ruakuri Cave – the lighting was amazing and it felt like a real adventure going through all the different parts. When they turned the lights off, it was so black you couldn’t even see your own hands.”
“The glow worms in the Spellbound cave were the coolest, especially the webs that hung down like string and glowed in the dark.”
“The Billy Black show was the best because the dogs bring all the sheep in and you get to shear them.”