Under the green hills of Waitomo lies a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. The area's name comes from the Maori words wai (water) and tomo (hole).
The caves were carved by underground streams pushing through soft limestone over thousands of years. Many have amazing stalactites growing down from the ceiling and stalagmites growing up from the cave floor, pointy cones of layered rock formed over centuries by dripping water. The cave walls are also decorated with galaxies of native glow worms.
The easiest way to see the caves is with a walking or boat tour. If you’re into adventure, try the unique experience of blackwater rafting - you'll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube. Or you could abseil or zip-line through the darkness. However you choose to explore Waitomo Caves, you're bound to agree they're a wonder of nature.
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For a quirky insight into rural New Zealand life, take in one of the local farm shows, or go exploring on a guided horse trek. If you'd like to visit some New Zealand’s rarest birds, including our national icon, the kiwi, head to Otorohanga Kiwi House in Otorohanga.
Nearby, the Pureora forest provides some great short and long hikes suitable for all levels. Hunting and fishing tours are also on offer in the area.
South of Waitomo is Piopio. This rural area is making a name for itself with great walking trails, cafes, golf, and Hairy Feet Waitomo, which was the filming location for Staddle Farm and the Trollshaw forest in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Waitomo township has a few shops and plenty of accommodation. It is easily reached by road from Auckland (3 hours), Rotorua (2 hours) or Hamilton (1 hour).