Being able to see glow worms in New Zealand is on many tourists bucket list and after we were able to find them in Australia, I knew we just had to see them here too. A quick google search will bring up hundreds upon hundreds of recommendations for expensive tours, adventure packages and mass group tours but did you know you can see glow worms in New Zealand for free. Once you know where to look and what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find the New Zealand glow worm caves easily without spending a dollar on guided tours. So are you ready to find glow worms in New Zealand for free? Continue reading for all of our handy tips and favourite locations!

Find what you’re looking for;
This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you choose to make a purchase from a site we’ve linked to, we make a small commision at no extra cost to you. This helps support our website and keeps the content flowing, so thank you!

Quick facts about the New Zealand Glow Worms

They’re not worms!

You might be surprised to find out that glow worms aren’t truly worms, they’re actually the larvae of fungus gnat fly that look very similar to maggots. They eventually grow into flies very similar to mosquitos and ultimately lose their glow.

They’re only found in Australia and New Zealand

That’s right. If you’ve been to Australia already and didn’t see them there, New Zealand is you’re ‘last chance’. These glow worms can only be found in New Zealand and Australia. You’ll often hear people say they’ve seen them in places like Spain and England but what they’ve seen are fire-flies and a different type of Beatle ‘glow worm’ that don’t live huge colonies like the ones in the Southern Hemisphere.

The light is a trap

The bioluminescent light that glows from their bum is used to help them catch their dinner. Living in the dark means they need a way to attract their food and their bright neon lights do just that with the aid of a silk thread ‘hook’.

They’re mostly found in caves

Dark, damp caves are where glow worms thrive. You’ll need to know this if you’re to find glow worms for free in New Zealand. They need it to be dark for their glow trap to work but it also needs to be damp so the larvae don’t dry out. You’ll often find them in caves with streams, why? Because the streams bring in fresh insects for them to feast on

December – March is prime time

Glowworms mating season is at its most active during the warmer months and because the glow comes from the larvae,  you’ll see bigger colonies during this season. December to March is the best time to see glow worms in New Zealand.

Glow Worms

Glowworm life cycle

Egg stage – lasts 22 days
Larval stage – lasts 9 to 12 months (this is when all the feeding occurs)
Pupal stage – lasts 12-13 days
Fly stage – lasts 2-4 days (glowworm flies cannot feed, they exist simply to mate and produce eggs to begin the next generation).

They stop glowing if the conditions aren’t right

When you’re looking for glow worms in New Zealand, it’s important to keep bright lights to a minimum. If the glow worms feel like there is too much light around them, they’ll turn off their glow to preserve energy. It’s better to use a torch that has a red light as this allows you to be able to see where you’re going but without disturbing the glow worms. It’s also thought that sudden loud sounds will make them glow brighter before they switch off, although I haven’t seen this myself.

They live in colonies

You’ll never find a lone glow worm. They live a lot longer and happier in big groups, or colonies. The glow worms in New Zealand live in much bigger colonies than the glow worms found in Australia. Why? It’s not clear. It could be down to having fewer predators in New Zealand, it could be because Australia is a lot dryer when they need a damp habitat bus also there are many more colonies living in inaccessible caves throughout New Zealand, which helps preserve them too.

Save yourself some money and see glow worms for free in New Zealand.

Where to find free glow worm caves in New Zealand

Dec and I have yet to explore all of what New Zealand has to offer so for this guide to finding glow worms for free in New Zealand, we enlisted the help from a few of our fellow travellers. Be sure to check out their blogs too and follow along with their adventures!

North Island

Glow Worms at Wellington Botanical Gardens

By Jub from Chur New Zealand

The Wellington Botanical Gardens are enjoyed by most during the day, but if you stay until night time, you’re in for a treat as there are some glow worms in one corner of the park. I used to live a two-minute walk from the park so we’d often go for a walk in the evening to check on them, they almost felt like our babies as not many people know about them.

You can find them by following the path from the Glen Road entrance. If you’re walking from Glen Road, they’ll be on your left. There isn’t any lights in this part of the gardens so you shouldn’t have any issues with finding them.

What I would suggest is to catch the cable car up the hill a little bit before sunset to enjoy the view overlooking Wellington. Then when it’s dark you can find the path down to the area through the gardens, or you can take the stairs from Upland Road down to Rimu Road and walk the two minutes to the Glen Road entrance from there. You’ll have had enough after 10 minutes (unless they really mesmerise you), and from there you can walk to Space Place at the top of the gardens if it’s open (book your tickets in advance).

 

Mangapohue Natural Bridge

By Leah from Officer Travels

The Mangapohue Natural Bridge is just a short drive away from the famous Waitomo Glow Worm cave tours, but this one’s free, often overlooked and worth arriving to just before it gets dark.

As you walk along the narrow path that winds through the centre of an old river bed, if feels magical before the glow worms even begin to shine. Cross the stream via the little swing bridge and watch the gorge open up to the magnificent Mangapohue Natural Bridge that has been carved out of the gorge walks by the stream over the years. Once the sun goes down you’ll be able to see the walls transform from rocky brown to a twinkling blue and green due to the millions of glow worms that line the walls on both sides of the gorge as well as the ceiling of Mangapohue Natural Bridge. Like the Wellington Botanical Gardens, there are no lights along this path so you’ll have to let your eyes adjust or pack a red light torch.

In the daylight you can continue up the steps, through the natural bridge and across the field to follow the track that passes the giant fossilised oysters before looping back to the car park.

Our photo of the Glow Worms at Mangapohue Natural Bridge

Hot water beach – Coromandel Peninsula

By Leah from Officer Travels

Did you know the Coromandel Peninsula has glow worms? If you visit the famous hot water beach (which you should!) and hang around until after dark you’ll notice the bushes along the track start to twinkle. The Coromandel Peninsula is a beautiful part of New Zealand’s North Island and its easy access makes it a great place to discover glow worms for the first time!

The Waipu Caves

By Alex from Discover Aotearoa

The Waipu Caves are the best free place to see glowworms that I’ve visited so far in New Zealand. They are located in Northland, on the way to the Bay of Islands. 

We stayed on the DOC campsite in Ruakaka for a couple of nights and heard of the cave from the campsite warden. From the campground, they’re only about a 10 minutes’ drive, so of course, we had to see them!

An unimposing sign and parking lot told us we were at the right place. We had to cross a meadow to get to the entrance. There’s a stream inside the cave, so we took off our shoes and followed the water into the darkness. 

About 50 meters into the cave, once our eyes adjusted to the dark, we were blown away by the galaxies of glowworms that surrounded us! If felt like we could just reach out and touch actual stars. The only place I’ve seen more glowworms than in Waipu Cave was in the famous Waitomo Caves.

If you’re on your way up to the Bay of Islands, do not miss visiting the Waipu Caves! Make sure you bring a good camera and a tripod to capture this moment. Also, please show common sense and switch off your torches so everyone in the cave can enjoy the glowworms.

Waipu Caves

Photo by Russel Street

Okupata caves – Tongariro National Park

By Leah from Officer Travels

Yep you read that right. Glow Worms in the Tongariro National Park. They’re only a 5 minute walk from the road side parking but the path is unmarked, a bit tricky and you’re almost guarenteed to get your feet wet here. Following the track through the fern forrest to the stream it isn’t long before you start following the stream down into the caves – so don’t attempt getting to the Okupata Caves if the water levels are high or during/after heavy rain due to flash flooding. You’ll eventually scramble to level ground and it’s from here you’ll see the magic of the Tongariro National Park glow worms.

Our favourite place to see glow worms for free was at the Natural Bridge

Limestone Creek – Apiti, Manawatu

By Leah from Officer Travels

If you want to see glow worms in New Zealand but don’t want to stay out after dark, there is a small collection of caves at Limestone Creek, North of Apiti on the North Island, that might be perfect for you. It requires a 600m walk through a beautiful gorge, over streams and past wild orchids to get to the main cave but once you’re there you’ll be greeted with a stunning day time display of New Zealand glow worms. Waterproof shoes are a must here as the track can get pretty wet.

Where to find free glow worm caves in New Zealand

South Island

Glow worms in Mistletoe Bay

By Martina from The Global Curious

When I told my friend Rachael to join me on the 4th – and last- night of the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds, she was hesitant. I persuaded her by counting the many blessings awaiting at our campsite in Mistletoe Bay. There’s a beach, the site is an eco-village, there are showers…and so on. 

What I didn’t say – because I didn’t know – is that we were about to encounter an ancient forest with a narrow river stream and glow worms sitting not just on the stream banks, but also near the soil by the trees’ roots surrounding the river. It was indeed a beautiful and quite unique sight!

The funny thing was, we found this opportunity just by chance. We were casually walking by the campsite’s office at night time and read a paper note stuck to the door: “Glow worms, 5 minutes that way.” Say what?!

I’d been living in New Zealand for 4 years at that time and had never seen glow worms! So, this was quite the treat – these shiny cuties can be quite elusive and hard to find on good and free spots, more so in the South Island!

In case you are wondering if you need to walk 4 days straight to get there, fear not! You can reach Mistletoe Bay by car from Picton in 1 hour, take a 20-minute water taxi, or walk from Anakiwa – it’s a 4-hour walk. Although there is a fee for staying overnight at the campsite, entering the forest has no cost.

This spot is an ideal day – and/or night – detour if you are exploring the South Island’s north coast or if you are planning to cross with the ferry.

Lochmara Bay

Photo by Ard Buurmans

Cliften Caves – Southland Glow Worms

By Leah from  Officer Travels

The Clifton Caves are a limestone cave network that take 1 – 2 hours to navigate. This is another adventurous route that could lead to you getting your feet wet as you walk the narrow path next to the stream towards the pool at the end. You’ll be able to see the glow worms throughout this route but be aware of the water levels – it is prone to flashflooding if there has been heavy rain.

Smiths Farm – Glow Worms in Marlborough

By Annie from Off goes Annie
Smiths Farm Holiday Park was without a doubt the best place I saw glowworms in the whole of New Zealand. This beautiful, family run holiday park and working farm is the perfect stop on any campervan road trip around South Island. Located just a short drive away from the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, Smiths Farm provides a unique country stay with epic glowworm viewing opportunities. At the edge of the farmland, there’s a small track that winds through a wooded area along a stream. Clearly signposted by the excellent hosts, it’s possible to adventure into the night to a distant waterfall with thousands and thousands of these mystical creatures. The journey there is all part of the adventure, as you walk through farmland in the pitch black with anticipation of finding the little glowing dots. What’s more, it’s likely that you’ll be totally on your own in your viewing, giving you the space to enjoy this serene experience with only the sound of the waterfall.
You can see glow worms for free on the Queen Charlotte Track
Photo by Annie

Velenski Track – Glow Worms at Lake Brunner

By Leah from  Officer Travels

Hidden on the West Coast of the South Island is Lake Brunner, a stunning area that not too many backpackers stumbleupon. The Velenski Track starts at Moana and is a short 20 minute stroll, a nice quick way of seeing Glow Worms for free while enjoying a beautiful area. If you’re heading to Greymouth, Lake Brunner is worth a stop for mor than just the Glow Worms.

Hokitika Glow Worm Dell

By Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family

One of the best things to do in Hokitika, on the beautiful West Coast of the South Island, is to check out the free Glow Worm Dell.  One of the reasons this glow worm location is so popular is that it is so easy to access.  Whether you have small children, or are in a wheelchair, you can go up the short hill, and within two minutes you have reached the beautiful sparkly wonderland of West Coast glowworms.

How to get here: Drive north of Hokitika on State Highway 6 (Fitzherbert Street) just over a kilometre from Hokitika Town Centre and you will see the Glow Worm Dell signposted on your right hand side (near Richards Drive)

Hokitika glow worms

Photo by Laura

Things to pack when looking for Glow Worms in New Zealand

Luckily, you don’t need very much at all to find glow worms in New Zealand – especially if you’re looking for them without a tour. Although, there are a couple of things that we found useful;

A red light

As I mentioned above, a red light torch will help you be able to see in the dark without disturbing the glow worm colonies. Having a head torch or torch that does both red and white light will help you be able to navigate the sometimes rocky terrain to help you get to the places glow worms hang out. Once you get closer to the caves, switch to the red light and let your eyes adjust. Better yet, turn the light of completely and enjoy watching the ‘stars’ turn on.

Wellies/Gum Boots

Some of the locations listed below can be prone to flooding or very wet conditions. These are perfect for glow worms but not so perfect for exploring. We didn’t need wellies but I know people who have so it might be worth grabbing a pair before you head out to one of the free glow worm caves in New Zealand!

A sturdy tripod

Ok, this isn’t a necessity, nor is it going to help you find glow worms in New Zealand but it is going to help you photograph them. Having a sturdy tripod will help you get a steadier image, reducing the motion blur and allowing your camera to pick up on more light/detail in a mostly dark ‘room’. You’ll also need to pop your camera on manual and crank up that ISO, but we’ll do a more in-depth post about that soon.

Hey!
Hey!Welcome to Officer Travels
Only crazy people would sell their home and belongings, then move to the other side of the world…right?!
Our latest video
Be Social
You might like these!
A button to a Mount Taranaki weekend guide
A button leading to a post about what to expect from the Uluru base walk
Read all ’bout it
Amazon Disclaimer

Officer Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to  amazon.com

You might like these!

Seeing glow worms in New Zealand

A quick round up

North

  • Wellington Botanical Gardens

  • Mangapohue Natural Bridge

  • Waipu Cave

  • Hot Water Beach

  • Okupata Cave

  • Limestone Creek

South

  • Mistletoe bay

  • Hokitika Dell

  • Cliften Caves

  • Smiths Farm

  • Velenski Track

While there’s no denying the paid experiences can be fun, these free places to see Glow Worms in New Zealand are a great way of saving a few dollars while you’re travelling. Have you been to any of these locations already? Which one have you added to your New Zealand itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!

Like it?? Share it!!

Last Updated on

  • 216
    Shares