Where to Photograph New Zealand’s Endemic Glowworms (for FREE)

Where to Photograph New Zealand’s Endemic Glowworms (for FREE)

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One of the main tourist attractions in New Zealand is glowworm tours – tours that allow you to see their special species of glowworm Arachnocampa luminosa. Endemic to New Zealand, these gnats provide some of the best displays of bioluminescence the world over.

The best place to see these shiny maggots is on a glowworm tour. However, with prices for photography-minded tours of Te Anu and Waitamo soaring upwards of $400NZD, I can understand why they might be out of reach for some.

If you’re wondering how to photograph these creatures, click here.

Here are some of the best places to see Glowworms without a time limit:

1. Okupata Caves

Okupata Caves, “Moas Hook”

Tongariro National Park gets all the press, but the adjacent forest park doesn’t see nearly the same kind of tourism. Information on these caves can be difficult to find, but a number of blogs have detailed basic descriptions of how to prepare and what to do inside them.

Department of Conservation Map of Okupata Caves courtesy of The Amateur Athlete

The best entrance to the caves is “A” as it leads directly to the primary colony of glowworms down “Queen St” from C -> E. Keep in mind that the flow of the river can change suddenly and dramatically so make sure you’re well-prepared and always explore with a friend.

Okupata Caves, Point D.

DOC Website on Okupata

2. Limestone Creek Reserve, Apiti

First Triangular Limestone Cave, West, Dark

Another impressive display of Glowworms is in the Limestone Creek Reserve just outside of Apiti. Although hard to find, the Manawatu Scenic Road that you drive on to get there almost makes it worth it on its own.

The trail is only marked by a small wooden sign on the edge of the road. Once you’re parked, descend into the valley and turn right. The track only continues for about 600m through two caves and is eventually blocked by deadfall.

First Triangular Limestone Cave, East, Dusk

The caves themselves have extremely high walls and as a result you may only be able to see glowworms in the ceiling if you’ve visited during the day. For the real show, you need to visit about an hour after sunset.

We were recommended a few other areas that didn’t entirely pan out.

1. Clifden Caves


Stalactites? Check. Squeezing? Check. Treading carefully along a ledge around a knee-deep pool of water? Check. The Clifden Caves in the humble Southland Region don’t have a ridiculous amount of glowworms, so they’re not great for photography – but you’ll have a lot of fun regardless.


The Cliffden Caves take 1-2 hours to navigate and require a moderate amount of fitness and flexibility. Make sure you have a spare torch and are wearing clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wet!

2. Velenski Track

We were recommended an easy bush walk just inside the town of Moana, but in all of our searching we only found a few clusters.

If you’re on the West Coast anyways, the Velenski Track is signposted on Taku Street right near the Lake Brunner Motor Camp.

I’ll continue to update this page as we explore them! If you’re interested in how the pictures on this page were taken check out how to shoot glowworms






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Greg is a city kid who has found his balance between living in the city and the Rocky Mountain National Parks. He has been living in Calgary but has frequently ventured out to Banff, BC and as far as Haida Gwaii on the west coast, experiencing and capturing stories to tell others. Currently he is studying Computer Science at the University of Alberta and is using the more northern post to better explore Jasper, Bowron and David Thompson Country.

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  1. […] A few of the best areas to see glowworms for free, where you won’t be chased away from tour guides can be found here. […]

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