Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this Taupo to Waitomo trip. As I think I’ve established many times in my posts on New Zealand, before I journeyed there, I was sadly unfamiliar in many ways with the Land That Is NOT The Land Down Under. But one thing I had heard about was the legendary caves of Waitomo.
In these caves, you can venture into the darkest night where the only illumination will come from magical electric blue glow worms. But there’s probably not enough to do in Waitomo for 24 hours. That’s why I recommending spending 24 hours on a Taupo to Waitomo trip.
From the lovely Taupo, it’s just a two hour drive to Waitomo, so it’s highly possible to take the Taupo to Waitomo trip in 24 hours. Allow me to demonstrate how!
Taupo to Waitomo Trip
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Zealand is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. NZ electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hour Tip
There are so many hotels to choose from in Waitomo. If you want to find great deals on hotels in Waitomo after you’re done with the glow worms, click here!
Taupo to Waitomo
Morning: Explore Taupo
Waitomo is famous all over the world. But I had never heard of Taupo before visiting New Zealand. Apparently this adorable town is New Zealand Famous for two things. One is its majestic bodies of water, starting with the Huka Falls. The other are its majestic extreme leisure activities. (Think bungee jumping.) Fortunately we will have plenty of time this morning of our Taupo to Waitomo to do them all!
Regular readers of this blog will remember that I do not know how to drive. So normally the itineraries I suggest are possible for the most vehicularly-challenged among us. However, on this Taupo to Waitomo trip I did my exploring with the help of Intrepid Travel. Our trusty guide, whose name was definitely not Russell, drove us from location to location.
So I do want to add the disclaimer that this Taupo to Waitomo trip is not possible without a car. Don’t worry though! There will be plenty of walking. On this blog we specialize in three things: eating, walking, and nonsense.
approximately top 5: taupo edition
1) Aratiatia Rapids
It is rare that I can tell my loyal readership exactly when to begin their perfect 24 hours in a location. But this itinerary is an exception. Your perfect 24 hours in Taupo begins precisely at 10 AM. That is when the dam gates at the top of the Aratiatia Rapids open, and you can watch the aquamarine cascade down into the depths below. (I’m not insulting the gates here. They’re gates of a dam, not damn gates.)
You might be thinking, oh big whoop, Stella Jane. If I wanted to watch water move, I could just sit in my bathtub back home. Well, let me tell you, Internet Stranger, there were at least 25 other people lined up with our tour group to watch the opening of the damn dam. Do 25 people line up every day to watch you take a bath? If so, te salut.
2) Huka Falls
Now if we were going to spend all 24 hours in Taupo, I’d say that your next move should be to take the two hour hike down to Huka Falls. But we don’t have all day, so I’m going to drive you there. (I mean, Definitely Not Russell will drive us. I don’t know how to drive.) Some people say that the Huka Falls are the most popular destination in New Zealand, but I don’t know how they measure that. I just assume that sheep have something to do with it because this is New Zealand.
The Huka Falls aren’t that high, as you can see from my photo, but they are incredibly loud. Also unlike say, Niagara Falls, there’s a bridge that goes over Huka Falls where you can stand and get gently smacked in the face by the spray. (Being soaked in the pure waters of New Zealand is definitely a theme of this post.) Of course other people will be there on the bridge, but if you’re clever like I am with your editing skills, you can make it look like there were no other people. Who needs people anyway?
3) Waikato River
Speaking of not needing people, it’s time to get away from the crowds by walking the path from Huka Falls to the Spa Thermal Park. (Doesn’t that sound nice and relaxing? But don’t worry, we won’t be doing any relaxing once we get there.) I think this path is one of the most relaxing walks in New Zealand because it takes you right past the Waikato River. This is the longest river in New Zealand.
Waikato means “flowing water” in the Maori language. I strongly suggest learning at least a few words in Maori if you’re going to spend any time in New Zealand. Two of the most helpful words are wai, water, and kai, food. In fact, you can study your Maori as you walk the path down the river, thus killing two birds with one stone. Just don’t kill any actual birds. The New Zealand authorities strongly frown on that.
4) Spa Thermal Park
So I’m about to let you in on a magical little secret here, from me and Lonely Planet. There’s actually a public spa park right in the middle of Taupo. It’s going to be waiting to reward you at the end of your one hour walk from Huka Falls. Don’t say I never did anything for you!
The Spa Park is created by the intersection of the warm Otumuheke Stream and the normal-temperature Waikato River. The clever residents of Taupo realized that this combo of hot and cold water made it a perfect place to go for a free soak. (It’s not a nudist colony though. People were wearing swimming clothes, or just random things they didn’t mind getting wet.
Unfortunately I had not prepared by wearing my swimsuit, so I just dabbled my toes in. A bunch of locals invited me to come in and soak with them, despite the fact that I am American and am probably covered in foreign spores. Kiwis are so friendly! But I don’t take my clothes off in public for a bunch of strangers. I don’t care how cute their accents are.
5) Taupo Extreme Cliff Swing
At our final destination in Taupo, picture taking is strictly forbidden. You’ll have to make do with a random photo of a random hill in Taupo instead. We’re about to get our extreme sport on! New Zealand is of course famous for the fine art of bungy jumping. (Bungy jumping is when lunatics tie rubber cords to your feet and then push you off a cliff.) That’s why Non-Russell took us to Taupo Bungy, which has a 100 perfect safety record. That’s exactly the number you want to hear when bungy jumping for the first time!
However, the three ladies I was traveling with and I decided that we weren’t ready to bungy jump just yet. Instead, we wanted to go with their Extreme Cliff Swing!!!!!! option, which they recommend doing before trying the bungy. It’s like bungy jumping, only you’re upright. Also instead of jumping from a great height, someone else lets you go, which is a bit easier. The Extreme Cliff Swing is really popular, so I suggest booking in advance online first so you can get the exact time you want.
In case you’re nervous about trying the Extreme Cliff Swing!!!11!!!, let me put your mind at ease. The safety equipment and harness is checked and double checked many times by two separate safety specialists. Nothing is getting by these dudes. The only minor complaint I had was that they started ragging on the United States to me when they found out I was American. Still not sure how they expected me to respond–“You guys are right! I’m moving to Taupo now! Will one of you marry me?” But they kept me in one piece, which is all I care about.
You can see how much fun I had in this video of me looking ridiculous. If you’re still nervous, keep in mind that one of the women in our group who did the Cliff Swing was in her 60s and loved it. If you’re physically able, I’m sure you will too!
I also recommend the smoothies they sell for lunch at Taupo Bungy…but get them after you swing, not before.
Taupo to Waitomo
Afternoon: Glowworm Caves of Waitomo
This was it! The main reason I had crossed the entire continent of North America, plus the Pacific Ocean! I was going to see the magical Glowworm Caves! Russell??? had arranged for us to take a tour of the caves with Cave World Waitomo. Some members of our group opted to take the tour by foot, but the rest of us decided to go black water tubing. (I always opt for the craziest choice. I didn’t fly 6 hours to LA and then another 14 hours to Auckland to play it safe!) But I’m sure no matter which tour you take, you’ll be able to learn…
three fun facts: Glowworms of waitomo
1) What even are these caves?
If you were paying attention during your Maori lesson earlier, you know that Wai means water. Well, tomo means hole. So the Maori were very familiar with the water-logged underground caves that criss-cross beneath the grounds of Waitomo long before Europeans arrived. However, once Europeans did encounter the caves, it meant the beginning of a booming Cave Tourism Sector in Waitomo. After all, what intrepid young 19th century Englishmen wouldn’t want to risk his life and limb underground in the Antipodes?
There are many different entrances to the underground caves. Obviously we were limited to the entrance that belongs to Cave World. Our guide said that the cave entrances belong to whoever owns the fields above the caves. So different tour companies have access to different parts of the cave network. I wonder if there are any cranky Kiwis out there who don’t want their caves shared with tourists. Is there some mean, old New Zealand sheep farmer just sitting alone in a cave with only his glowworms to keep him company? I hope so!
You might have guessed that this alien life form in my photo above is actually made out of limestone. The water constantly dripping on the limestone shapes the rock over centuries until it all starts to look like a candle that your niece made during summer camp. Just remember that stalactites go from the ceiling and stalagmites start on the floor, and you’ll impress all your geologist friends!
2) What even are glow worms?
The one thing I cannot show you is a photo of the glow worms all lit up! It’s not possible because the light from the camera freaks out the glow worms. So you’ll just have to head to Waitomo if you want to see their freaky beauty for yourself. But technically you should know that glow worms are not worms at all. They are actually the larvae of a fungus gnat. Apparently their defining characteristic is that they are obsessed with eating. Basically everything they do is to get food.
One of their ways of trapping their prey is by extending a sticky, thin string out of their bodies to trap other buggies to eat them. But the other way they attract their prey is by glowing an insane blue color. I don’t really understand why the bugs are drawn to the blue light. If I were wandering along a cave, and I saw a creepy blue glow, and I didn’t know what it was, I would get the hell out of dodge. But maybe this is why I’m not an insect.
One last fun fact about glow worms is that if you sit in the dark with the glowworms and then suddenly make some loud noise, the glowworms will glow brighter. I guess that’s in anticipation of getting to eat you? Now I’m going to have nightmares about glowworms.
3) What even is black water tubing?
Black water tubing is putting on a giant wet suit, sitting in an inner tube, and then floating along underwater. I’ve done it two times now, once in New Zealand and once in Mexico, and it is hella fun. Keep in mind that the water underground is freezing, but the wet suit and the constant moving will keep you warm.
My favorite part of the black water tubing was that there were two “falls” on the route. The first one was backwards on your butt, and the second was down a slide. Our guide cleverly tricked me into not being nervous by instructing me to show everyone “how you do things in New York City”. We do everything tougher in New York City! I can handle a stupid fall on my butt. Patrick Ewing! Ed Koch! Pizza Rat! I’m walkin’ here! Ah ah ah ah staying aliiiiiiive!
Taupo to Waitomo
Evening: Get Dry and Eat Something
Ordinarily this is the part of my blog post when I suggest a delicious meal or a classy cultural event, or both. But as you can see from my selfie above, you’re going to be wet and exhausted when you emerge from the glow caves. (Assuming a glow worm didn’t eat you.) So I suggest going back to your hotel, drying off, and having a quiet supper.
Our group visited the Tomo Bar and Eatery. You can sit outside here with a local beer and a burger, and enjoy the relative quiet of an evening in Waitomo. (Also I like the pun in the name. As we learned, Tomo is Maori for hole, and Tomo is the kind of place that might be described as a “hole in the wall”. Always enjoy a bar with a sense of humor!)
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours on a Taupo to Waitomo trip!
What would you do on a Taupo to Waitomo trip? Would you want to hear your nation taunted while you were preparing to Extreme Cliff Swing!!!!!!!????? And how big would a glow worm have to be to eat a human? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on a Taupo to Waitomo trip. If you have time after your Taupo to Waitomo trip and want to add 24 hours with Tongariro National Park, click here. And if you want to add 24 hours in Rotorua, click here!