If you love adventures in nature, seeing glow worms in caves is very likely something you have always wanted. And while there are different kinds of bioluminescent critters, the most popular locations to see them can be found in New Zealand and Australia. Therefore these two countries to best places to see glow worms.
The glow worms of Oceania are special and unique, and it absolutely fantastic to see them with your own eyes. After all, bioluminescence itself is one of the most amazing natural phenomena out there and these insects create a magical environment.
See nature’s magic with your own eyes as you explore at least one of these 10 locations and fall in love with the unique beauty our planet hides in dark corners. I promise that you won’t regret it!
Glow Worms in Caves Facts
Glow worms in the dark look amazing and seeing them is a magical experience. After all, it is like seeing a night sky in a cave. However, the science behind glow worms is not as cute as that of other glowing bugs like fireflies. So skip this part if you do not want science to ruin your romantic image of strolling through a magical environment full of natural beauty.
They are bioluminescent, which means that the glow worms in caves produce and emit light. Hereby the blue-green glow is caused by a chemical reaction during which pigments and enzymes in the tail segments of the larvae react with the oxygen in the air. This beautiful glow helps them attract their prey that flies towards the illuminated area like a proverbial moth to a flame.
The glow worms in caves produce silk threads that hang from the ceiling in proximity to their habitat, a tube of mucus. The larvae then cover the thin threads in sticky and reflective drops of mucus that ensure that attracted insects get struck. A single thread can be up to 60 cm long and it is not uncommon for a larvae to have up to three dozen of them.
Depending on the environmental conditions, the glow worms stay larvae for 9 months to a year. An incredibly long time when compared to their very short adult lives of no more than 4 days.
Glow Worms in New Zealand and Australia
There are at least eight different species of glow worm species in Australia, while New Zealand only has one known species. Known as the ‘arachnocamp luminosa’ or ‘New Zealand glow worm’, this species can be found both in caves and in vegetation in humid areas. In Australia, glow worms can be found in similar environments, but also beside waterfalls and in abandoned railway tunnels that have very high humidity.
The best time to see glow worms in caves is between December and March, as the weather during these months is warmer and wetter.
Rules while seeing Glow Worms in Caves
Glow worms can be quite sensitive, so please follow the rules of the specific locations. Hereby those that apply everywhere are:
- Do not shine your flashlight at the ceiling as it is where the larvae live.
- Please do not smoke when in the area.
- Try to make as little noise as possible.
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Where to find Glow Worms in Caves in New Zealand
There are many great things to do in New Zealand and the many glow worm caves of New Zealand are a must for everyone that explores the country. After all, they can only be observed here and in Australia and are therefore a rather unique New Zealand bucket list item. As there are glow worm caves all over the country, you are sure to find one or two that are ideal additions to your travel plans.
Waipu Caves are beautiful caves located on New Zealand’s North Island, near the town of Waipu. It is the largest cave system in Northland. Waipu Caves are open to all visitors without any fee. The great thing about the Waipu Caves is that you can see the glowworms at any day or night time.
The entrance to the cave is approximately 50 meters from the car park, just across a meadow. At the borderline of the forest, there is a stream and the cave entrance. During the night, there are a lot of glow worms in the first chamber. It is good to be prepared to get wet and muddy because there is water all the way down to the cave. The only exception is the first chamber, so visit the cave at night if you don’t want to get wet. The second chamber is great for seeing glowworms even during the day.
There is a freedom campsite right at the Waipu caves car park, so it is possible to stay there overnight. The campsite is equipped with toilets and an outdoor cold shower. Unfortunately, there is no cell phone coverage, but you can purchase Wi-Fi access if necessary.
Contributed by Adriana Plotzerová from Czech the World
New Zealand is famous for having a range of different places throughout the country where you can marvel at the natural beauty that is the glow worm. However, the most popular place to see glow worms is definitely at the Waitomo Caves in Waitomo, famous for their abundance of glow worms and an extensive underground river system.
While in the Waitomo region, you can explore three caves by foot; the Waitomo Glowworms Caves, Ruakuri Cave, and Aranui Cave, but the most popular way to see the glowworms is by boat on the underground river.
The Glowworm Caves and Ruakuri Cave are the two places where you can marvel at these beautiful creatures. One of the most memorable experiences is sitting on a boat in complete silence while gliding through the glow worm grotto.
If sitting in silence isn’t your thing, how about abseiling and ziplining through a cave lit up by glow worms?! Black Abyss offers a five-hour adrenaline-filled tour where you can get your heart racing while climbing waterfalls, tubing through rivers, and ziplining past the beautiful glow worms!
The best time to see the glow worms is during the summer months (November-April) when it’s relatively warm inside the caves. If you plan to take a trip to the Waitomo Caves, the only thing to do before you go is to book in advance because it does get quite busy!
Contributed by Jasmine from Kiwi Talks Travel
North of Auckland, on New Zealand’s North Island, glow worms flourish inside Kawiti Caves.
Kawiti Caves, also known as Waiomio Glowworm Caves for their location in Waiomio Valley, are natural caves that have been important to local Maori people for generations. The caves have been used as homes for both the living and dead and are now used for tours.
The family that owns the land offers guided tours for curious visitors who wish to see glow worms. Since the tour leads through a dark cave, the glow worms are always glowing and can be seen any time of day.
The walking tour only takes around an hour, but it allows tourists to see the glow worms up close and ask their guide any questions they would like. There is a lot to learn from the Maori guides who have studied glow worms their whole lives and share their personal experiences with the glow worms.
Visiting Kawiti Caves is a wonderful glow worm experience that is hidden in an empty corner of New Zealand, which ensures that it is never crowded, and reservations are often easy to make. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not as special as the more popular glow worm spots in the country. The Kawiti Caves are gorgeous and will be a memorable part of any North Island trip.
Contributed by McKenna Hurd of One More Step Travels
Te Anau Glow Worm Cave
One of the best things to do in Te Anau is to visit the glow worm cave. What makes this glow worm cave particularly unique is that you have to take a boat to get there. You sail across Lake Te Anau to the glow worm cavern where guides will teach you the history of the area and how these caves were formed.
By geological standards, the caves are quite young, at only 12,000 years old. You will get to head underground to explore the caves and view the thousands of glow worms that light up like twinkling lights. Unfortunately, you cannot take photos here, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Contributed by Jennifer Parkes from Backyard Travel Family
Fox Glacier Glow Worm Caves
The small town of Fox Glacier is located on the West Coast, South Island of New Zealand. Most people visit the area for the Glacier, but it has a hidden secret with a small congregation of glow worms that you can see for free.
The main town center is only a couple of hundred meters long, so visiting the Fox Glacier Glow Worms is easy enough to get to. It’s accessible on the southern side of town, within a short forest trek called the Minnehaha Walk.
The Minnehaha Walk during the day is thick forest, very wet and full of moss, and takes about 20 minutes for the full loop. These are the perfect conditions for the glow worms. The walk is very easy and mostly assessable with prams and wheelchairs, so suitable for everyone. It’s recommended to visit during the day first, so you can gauge where to look and understand what the track is like.
Submitted by Chris Fry, The Aquarius Traveller
The Abbey Caves are a 10-minute drive east of Whangarei, which itself is 2 hours north of Auckland, and one of the coolest places to go spelunking to see glow worms. From the car park, visitors cross the pasture and climb over a few fences (all marked) to get to a system of 3 caves – the Organ Cave, the Middle Cave, and the Ivy Cave – each with its own entrance along the trail. Getting into each requires a little dexterity because of the large rocks one has to climb.
The wild, unguided and somewhat untouched nature of this experience sets it apart from the more commercialized ones and makes it attractive for the adventurous. Needless to say, it is not a suitable site for those who are physically impaired. Even though the water in the caves may get waist-deep, one does not need to go very far inside to see the glow worms, so they are quite safe for those who are moderately fit. When one is in, just turn off the lights, look up and enjoy the sight!
Here are some tips on visiting the glow worms in Abbey Caves:
- Bring a hard hat, a head-mounted light, and a spare; visitors used to be able to rent them from Little Earth Lodge but it is closed.
- Bringing a camera? Check out these tips on taking pictures in the Abbey Caves.
- Don’t go into the caves when it is raining or afterward when the water level may rise quickly.
- Wear sturdy shoes–no jandals!–that can handle water, like reef shoes.
- For safety, visit the caves with at least one other person.
- A trip to the caves takes 2-3 hours, inclusive of walking.
Contributed by Nicholas Lim from Rambling Feet
Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika
In the small town of Hokitika, located in New Zealand’s South Island West Coast, lies a magical spot that comes alive after dark: Glow Worm Dell.
Hokitika is nicknamed “Cool Little Town”, attracting visitors from all over the world for its proximity to the gorgeous blue waters of Hokitika Gorge and for its famed jade stones along the shore.
Just a short walk from the town center and up a short dirt path, thousands of bright blue glow worms hang from a naturally enclosed space. Glow worms are sensitive to light and sound, so visitors are advised to be as quiet as possible and avoid shining flashlights. This protects the glow worms, but also makes the experience even more enchanting.
Tip: wait for your eyes to adjust to the dark and then listen to the subtle sounds of nature. Slowly, the tiny blue dots will come into view, and then you’ll see more and more as your eyes continue adjusting. The silence will punctuate the ethereal moment.
Hokitika’s Glow Worm Dell is not the largest or “best” place to see blue glow worms in New Zealand, but it is an intimate place that you can wander to alone, with your significant other, or with your best friends for free. The small size and easy accessibility of this glow worm location make it special and well worth a visit.
Recommended by McKenna Hurd of One More Step Travels
Glow Worm Caves in Australia
Springbrook National Park, Queensland
In Springbrook National Park, which is around an hour and a half from Brisbane, you can see Australia’s largest population of glow worms at any time in the year. Although, the best season to see them is the summer months, from December to March because they thrive in hot, rainy, and humid conditions. The National Park is in a World Heritage-listed area, and you walk through the Gondwana Rainforest to reach the illuminated cave. There is a viewing platform, and it is free to enter at all times of the day, but you can opt to visit on a tour if you would like assistance.
The later you go to the cave, the better your experience will be. It will be like seeing many stars light up the cave’s roof, so it is a great place to observe this natural phenomenon. Remember not to take pictures with a flash or shine a light on the glow worms as it will stop them from feeding. Undeniably, it’s a truly, magical, natural experience that you will not forget quickly.
Contributed by Rachel from Average Lives
Wollemi National Park
Wollemi National Park in New South Wales is another great place to see glow worms in caves.
Contributed by Cassie from Cassie the Hag
Blue Mountains, NSW
The Blue Mountains National Park near Sydney is a world of monolithic sandstone escarpments, sweeping views, and epic waterfalls. It is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Sydney and one of the best national parks in Australia. But what most visitors don’t realize is that when the darkness falls, some of the hidden spots in the mountains transform into a bioluminescent wonderland.
There are two creatures that shine at night in the Blue Mountains – glow worms and fireflies. The glow worms live in colonies, usually in caves and on wet rock walls in the moist rainforest habitats. Some of the glow worm and firefly sites in the Blue Mountains are fairy-tale-like locations with large caves behind waterfalls, or along the towering canyon walls.
Unlike the glow worms, that can be seen year-round, fireflies are a rare sight in Australia. They only emerge for about three weeks each year and occur only in a handful of locations. Luckily, one of these locations is Mount Wilson in the upper Blue Mountains. To see the fireflies, head to Cathedral Reserve about an hour before sunset during the last three weeks of December and watch the forest light up with blinking lights. Unlike the glow worms that produce the light in order to attract and trap their prey, fireflies shine to find their mates in the dark.
Contributed by Margarita / The Wildlife Diaries
How to take photos of glow worms in caves?
Taking photos in a dark environment is always hard, so it is no surprise that capturing glow worms in caves is quite tricky. The exact settings that work best for your camera will vary, so it is impossible to give you a one size fits all instruction, but this short photography guide should the time you spend on finding the correct settings. I recommend trying slightly different settings even if the first photo already looks good and taking at least 10 minutes to take a bunch of photos of glow worms in caves.
Please learn how to take photos in manual mode before you enter the cave or getting the photo you want might just be impossible.
- In general, you need a tripod and a good camera that has a manual mode and that can handle a high ISO.
- You need as much glow worm light as possible, so try to capture the brightest spots or add a small external light source.
- Aperture: If your lens allows it, I recommend trying f2.8 first. This more shallow depth of field is also used for astrophotography and places a very distinct focus on the object in focus – in your case the glow worms.
- Shutter Speed: To get great photos, you will need a shutter speed of at least 30 seconds. Depending on how bright the glow worms are and how dark the cave is the ideal shutter speed for your location might be several minutes.
- ISO: Keep the ISO as low as possible. However, it is likely that you will not be able to go lower than 3200.
- Focus: Set the focus of your lens to infinity and adjust it if necessary. Do not try to use autofocus.
Planning a trip soon? Check out these useful websites and resources that I use to plan my own adventures
Did you already visit a glow worm cave?
It is always amazing to see how tiny elements of our environment like glow worms can turn an entire environment like a cave or even an old railway tunnel into a magical place. A place that can feel like the gate to a new world where fairytale and magical beings do no seem out of place.
I do not know about you, but glow worms sure help me appreciate the small things of our planet and it makes me so grateful that we can see them.
More Natural Phenomena
If you love glow worm caves, there is a great chance that you will love seeing bioluminescence just as much. So be sure to find out where to see it:
The Best Bioluminescent Beaches
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