Waitomo Region Facts
Waitomo, "the stream which flows into the hole in the ground" comes from the Maori words "Wai" (water) and "Tomo" (hole or entrance).
Waitomo is one of New Zealand's original tourist destinations and has been attracting visitors to its labyrinth of glowworm caves for over 100 years.
For an adrenalin rush try cave abseiling (rappelling) or Black Water Rafting. There is also horse riding, a Kiwi Culture Show, Angora Rabbit shearing, a wildlife park, private gardens to view, the Museum of Caves, a great range of accommodation offerings, information centres, cafes and bars.
Waitomo is located:
15 minutes from Otorohanga
15 minutes from Te Kuiti
1 hour 5 minutes from Hamilton
2 hours 50 minutes from Auckland
2 hours 20 minutes from Rotorua
2 hours 20 minutes from Taupo
2 hours 30 minutes from New Plymouth
The King Country
Known by Maori as Te Rohe Potae ("The Area of the Hat") the King Country region extends along the west coast of New Zealand's North Island from Mt. Pirongia in the north to the coastal town of Mokau in the south. It stretches inland to Pureora Forest Park and the Waikato River.
Two important rural towns, Otorohanga and Te Kuiti, provide a full range of services to locals and visitors; smaller settlements like Waitomo Village, Kawhia, Marokopa, PioPio and Mokau are charming rest stops for travelers.
Waitomo is one part of the fabled King Country, a reference to the Maori King, Tawhiao. After the Maori Land Wars of the early 1860s Tawhiao and his followers sought refuge in the rugged countryside.
A sculpted bronze bowler hat in Otorohanga's Memorial Park commemorates the King Country's fascinating origins:
"From 1864 - 1883 The King Country (Te Rohe Potae) was closed to Europeans except by express permission of Maori. The following oral narrative tells of the origins of the encircling boundary.
"Te Rohe Potae, or The King Country in European terms, came into being after peace was declared between the Maori and the European. It wasn't a full peace for there was still conflict up and down the river. Governor George Grey and his representatives discussed the situation. Grey said there was only one person to resolve the situation and that was Tawhiao, the chief Rangatira of the Tainui waka, the Maori King.
So Grey met Tawhiao at Waahi (Huntly). Grey said: 'Tawhiao, I come to you with a proposal to solve the conflict up and down the Waikato River. I hope you will agree to our proposal and peace will be brought to our two peoples'.
Grey produced a map of New Zealand and said: 'Tawhiao, this is a map of the land. It is my wish that you agree to cut the land in half to avoid further conflict - half for you and your people and half for me and my people. If we do this, there will be peace'.
Tawhiao thought about this for a long time and then said to Grey: 'Give me your hat'. Grey handed his hat over and Tawhiao put it on the map. He then grabbed his tomahawk, raised it above his head and prepared to cut Grey's hat in half.
But before he could do this Grey said: 'Whoa, Tawhiao, if you cut my hat in half it will be damaged!'
Tawhiao then said: 'You were afraid that if we cut your hat in half it would be damaged. But would the land not be damaged if we cut it in half?'
Grey realized what Tawhiao was on about. He said: 'You are right, Tawhiao, but if we don't come to an agreement, there could be more bloodshed'. Tawhiao thought for a long time. Then he picked up Grey's hat and returned it to him. Tawhiao then got his own hat - a magnificent bowler hat - and put it on the map. He said: 'Huri, huri, huri ' round and round and round the brim of the hat, you can have all that. This is mine'.
Grey agreed. The area under the hat then became known by the Maori as Te Rohe Potae. While to the Europeans it was the Maori King Country"
The area is steeped in both Maori culture and European pioneering history. Land forms range from the dramatic black sands of the West Coast beaches to forest, farmland and the fabulous limestone caves of Waitomo.
Above ground horse treks can take adventurers into more remote areas of the King Country; the numerous forest parks have well sign posted walking tracks and tramping huts for hikers. The National Walkway, Te Araroa, passes from Pirongia through Waitomo and is planned to continue south through Te Kuiti.
The region's forest parks and scenic reserves are a haven for both rare and common native birds with great stands of native forest, cascading waterfalls, natural limestone bridges and water-sculpted outcrops.
Local short walks include the Waitomo Walkway - a two hour trail from Waitomo Village to the Ruakuri Bush and Scenic Reserve. It meanders through dense native forest, farmland and limestone outcrops.
Another is the Opapaka Pa Walk with the remains of a Maori Pa (fort) site and ancient Papakainga (village) and food gardens.
For those wanting to take a "Caves to Coast" scenic drive it's just 3 to 4 hours return from Waitomo to Marokopa. There's wonderful fishing, black iron sands, fossils and wild, ruggedly beautiful West Coast beaches. On the way there are views of Mount Ruapehu, the awe inspiring limestone arch of the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, an opportunity to explore the Piripiri Cave with its 30 million year-old giant fossil oysters and a short forest walk to view the magnificent Marokopa Falls.
For the slightly more adventurous there is a great alternative scenic drive to New Plymouth from Marokopa to Awakino via Waikawau. The route includes forest, river, wetland and coastal landscapes and leads to the historic Waikawau Beach Tunnel. Formed by three men using just a pick and shovel it was finished on 19th October, 1911 and opened a beach route for stock to reach the 4,000 hectare Nukuhakare Station. It was built wide enough for the largest horned beast and high enough to accommodate a tall horseman.
Otorohanga - The Kiwiana Capital
Otorohanga is New Zealand's self-styled and official Kiwiana Town, embracing and celebrating New Zealand's popular culture, Kiwiana icons, heroes and traditions.
Otorohanga has year round displays of Kiwiana "mini exhibits" in the Ed Hillary Walkway and selected main street shop windows, large corrugated iron Kiwis at the town's entrances and Kiwiana murals on a number of the main street buildings.
And nothing can be more Kiwi than the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park, where visitors can view the iconic native Kiwi bird.
There are also many rare and unusual birds and reptiles, including New Zealand's only surviving native owl (the morepork) the New Zealand falcon, Tui, Kaka, Kea, and green and wood geckos.
The park carries out a successful breeding programme which includes Kiwi, waterfowl, the Tuatara and native reptiles.
At the town's northern entrance the Memorial Park features a sculpted bronze bowler hat on a greenstone (Pounamu) plinth, which commemorates and explains the origins of The King Country- "Te Rohe Potae".
A small museum complex on Kakamutu Road (on the Tourist Drive to the Kiwi House) is open Sundays 2-4pm.
Otorohanga, a vibrant rural town well known for its colourful hanging flower baskets, provides a full range of services, shopping and dining. For more information on Otorohanga and its visitor attractions visit:
Otorohanga is located:
15 minutes from Waitomo
45 minutes from Hamilton
2 hours 35 minutes from Auckland
2 hours 20 minutes from Rotorua
2 hours 15 minutes from Taupo
2 hours 20 minutes from New Plymouth
Te Kuiti is New Zealand's Shearing Capital.
A giant statue of a shearer at the southern end of Rora Street (the main street) is a testament to this claim.
Each year the town hosts The New Zealand Shearing Championships from March 31- April 2.
With champion shearers capable of shearing a sheep in just 21 seconds, spectators can expect fast, furious action as these top sportsmen vie for the coveted "New Zealand Shearer of the Year" title.
Another highlight of the championships is the "Running of the Sheep", where some 2000 sheep run the length of Te Kuiti's main street and shopping centre.
There are also carnival-style attractions and plenty of street entertainment - something for everyone!
Te Kuiti's main street, Rora Street, features The Trust Waikato Millennium Pavilion "Te Kuititanga o nga Whakaaro" (translated as "the gathering of thoughts and ideas"). This small multi- cultural building shaped in the form of a cross is open at all times and celebrates the local people, their heritage and history.
Te Kuiti is surrounded by lovely private gardens and has the Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve close by for a spot of fishing or swimming. There are several pleasant walks including the riverbank and Brook Park at the northern entrance to Te Kuiti.
A beautifully carved Maori meeting house, "Tokanganui-a-Noho", is located at the southern end of the main shopping street and can be visited by arrangement.
Te Kuiti offers a full range of services, shopping and dining.
Te Kuiti is located:
15 minutes from Waitomo
15 minutes from Otorohanga
1 hour from Hamilton
2 hours 50 minutes from Auckland
2 hours from Rotorua
2 hours from Taupo
2 hours 5 minutes from New Plymouth
Kawhia is a quiet coastal township nestled beside a placid 6000 hectare West Coast harbour. An hour's drive from Hamilton, two hours from Auckland, and 45 minutes from Te Awamutu or Otorohanga, it's where State Highway 31 reaches the sea.
For some travelers, the hill road is a beautiful but formidable drive; although it's sealed and well formed, it can't be hurried.
You'll have time to admire the view across Kawhia Moana, "the Sea of Kawhia", from the top of the hill.
Another popular route is the scenic back-road from Raglan - 45km of unsealed road with intriguing coastal and bush views as you skirt Mount Karioi and Aotea Harbour. Allow an hour between Raglan and Kawhia Harbour.
As the spiritual home of the Tainui tribe and resting place of the ancestral Waka, Kawhia is a place to enjoy for the peaceful, nostalgic magnetism that draws visitors back year after year.
First time visitors are usually amazed by its 1950's feel. It's a wonderful place to holiday, where you can hire a cabin, a campsite or a motel for modest tariffs, buy a flounder for well below city prices and watch one of the harbour fishermen cleaning fish on strings of flax.
The Kawhia area offers harbour trips, bush walks, the Te Puia Springs (hot springs that bubble up through the sand on Ocean Beach at low tide) kayaking, yachting and fishing galore. There are an all-tides launching ramp, a good fishing wharf with boat-boarding pontoon attached and sand flats which yield fat flounders.
When the tide's low, you can sit in a hot pool dug in the black sand of Te Puia Springs at Ocean Beach. They are usually accessible for up to two hours before and after low tide and can be reached by walking around the beach from the Karewa boat ramp on the south side of the township or by a short walk over the sand dunes from the car park at the end of the forestry road.
Watch for the warm water running gently out of the sand, sometimes accompanied by a sulphurous smell. Once you've found some, dig a hole and trap the warm water with walls of dug-out sand.
Take care in fine weather to wear shoes of some kind - the dry black sand becomes very hot on sunny days.
An annual Kawhia highlight is the New Year whaleboat racing, when six unique five-oared racing whaleboats compete between the harbour communities.
One of Kawhia's biggest events is held over Waitangi weekend, New Zealand's national holiday in early February. Thousands of people arrive for the Kawhia Traditional Kai Festival. It offers a huge range of traditional Maori food, cultural performances, live music, Waka (Maori canoe) parades and art exhibitions.
Kawhia is one of the few coastal villages in New Zealand which has retained a nostalgic, "good-old-days" charm; visitors discover that the rat-race stops somewhere on the other side of the hill.
Marokopa is a small settlement situated beside the Marokopa River just south of Kawhia. The area is well known for its black iron sand and fishing, especially whitebait and kahawai.
In the village is the anchor from the "Albatross" which sank while trying to cross the bar in 1916.
If you're driving on the Te Anga Road from Waitomo village enroute to Marokopa, the Marokopa Falls, 35 metres in height and surrounded by lush forest, are well worth a visit as they spill over a magnificent bluff.
This quiet little town on the southern boundary of the King Country is situated on the West Coast and the estuary of the beautiful winding Mokau River. The area is a favourite playground and relaxation place for locals during the "whitebait "(fish hatchling) season, which runs from August 15 to November 30.
Visitors can explore the natural coastal caves and islands, kayak or take a heritage boat cruise up the river, engage in a history tour, swim, surf, fish and gather mussels, or play a round of golf. There are also several scenic walkways through coastal and inland areas.
Caves in Waitomo
In 1887 local Maori Chief, Tane Tinorau, and an English surveyor, Fred Mace, discovered the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. Although local Maori people knew of the cave’s existence, the underground labyrinths had never been fully explored. On a simple raft and with candles as their only lighting the two men floated into the cave along a stream that led underground.
Their first discovery was the Glowworm Grotto - its ceilings dotted with the lights of thousands of glowworms. When they left the raft and explored the lower cave levels they found themselves surrounded by the glorious cave decorations.
The two men returned many times and on a subsequent trip Chief Tane discovered the upper level of the cave and an easier access. In 1889 Tane Tinorau opened the cave to tourists. Visitor numbers soared and Chief Tane and his wife, Huti, escorted groups through the cave for a small fee.
In 1906 the administration of the cave was taken over by the government. In 1989, almost 100 years after the initial Glowworm Cave discovery, the land and cave were returned to the descendants of the original owners. Today many of the direct descendants of Chief Tane Tinorau and his wife Huti continue to be employed at the Waitomo Glowworm Cave.
Cavers have continued to explore the labyrinth of caves in the Waitomo area. By the early 1950s caving was an important recreational pursuit. By the late 1970s many of Waitomo's major caves were discovered and explored, surveyed, mapped and documented. This 'golden era' of Waitomo caving resulted in the discovery of many kilometres of new caves and scientific discoveries.
A number of these caves are now used for internationally famous caving adventures like Black Water Rafting and cave abseiling (rappelling). They also provide valuable information about past climate, landscapes, flora and fauna and cultural history. Their relatively stable climatic conditions have protected fossils, sub-fossil bones, silts, mud, and traces of human usage.
Numerous caves in the Waitomo area are renowned for their Speleothems or 'formations'.
The basic types are stalagtites, stalagmites and columns, which form as a result of water dripping from the roof of the cave or flowing over the exposed limestone walls. As the water flows down through the earth towards the cave roof and walls, it dissolves limestone in its path. This limestone is then left as a crystalline deposit within the cave. Spectacular formations develop over hundreds and thousands of years; it has been estimated that it takes about 100 years to form 1 cubic centimetre of stalactite. They are very delicate and need to be treated with respect - the touch of a human hand can cause severe damage.
Most speleothems are composed of calcite (calcium carbonate) formed from the limestone rock. As water slowly percolates through the limestone it is dissolved and re-deposited around the edge of a drop of water clinging to the roof. A tiny ring of calcite, the diameter of the drop, is formed and as more calcite is deposited, the stalactite grows.
The drop forms a near-transparent, crystal white ring. As it grows it creates a delicate straw form, the beginnings of a stalactite. In time, the hollow tube becomes blocked and water runs down outside the tube forming thicker tapering stalactites. Others remain straw-like and very delicate. Drips falling from stalactites hit the ground and form stalagmites. When a stalactite and stalagmite 'grow' towards each other and eventually meet, a pillar or column is formed.
Speleothems such as 'curtains' or 'drapes' develop in a similar way. Calcium carbonate solution runs down the cave wall depositing layer upon layer of calcite.
Flowstones occur where super-saturated solutions flow over cave walls; rimstone or gour pools form with the deposition of calcite as dams.
Glowworms in Waitomo
Many of the Waitomo caves also have stunning glowworm displays. The New Zealand Glowworm (Arachnocampa luminosa) is a two-winged insect (fungus gnat) in the larval stage of its life-cycle. It lives in dark damp places and emits light to attract flying insects for food.
The glowworm's life cycle takes about 11 months. Eggs are laid in clutches of 30-40 on walls and ceilings. Within 20 days the young larvae hatch from the eggs, emit a bright light and crawl upward until they reach a suitable area to hang their feeding lines.
Each glowworm may have as many as 70 lines up to 20cm long. The lines are strong, elastic and beaded with a very sticky substance. Flying insects are attracted by the glowworm's light (bioluminescence) and trapped on the "fishing lines". As the glowworm senses the struggling of the trapped insect it pulls up the line to devour its prey.
- Glowworms remain in the larval stage for about nine months and grow from approximately
2-25 mm in length
- Glowworms resemble a somewhat enlarged mosquito in the adult stage
- Glowworms survive in very damp dark places. They need horizontal ledges to hang their feeding lines and shelter from drying wind.
- Glowworms emit light or bioluminescence involving the mixing of four chemicals - ATP, adenosine triphosphate luciferin, luciferase and oxygen.