Subterranean splendour is secluded beneath the wilderness in the tiny town of Waitomo. Located on New Zealand's North Island, the region's limestone caves are dark, damp and utterly spectacular. The most famous are the Glowworm Caves, with soaring caverns illuminated by thousands of bioluminescent bugs. Other underground highlights include the limestone formations and waterfalls of Ruakuri Cave. There are plenty of natural wonders on the surface too, including the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, and cute and curious kiwi birds.
There are Waitomo hostels deep in the heart of nature and others just outside the village. You'll have options with a shared kitchen and outdoor barbecue as well as accommodation with a spacious deck overlooking mature, leafy trees. If you'd rather have someone else do the cooking, pick a Waitomo hostel that provides a handy free breakfast. Look out for Waitomo backpackers hostels with a communal TV room for chatting with other travellers and extras like free Wi-Fi.
Waitomo is around an hour from the city of Hamilton and traveller hubs like Rotorua and Taupo. In Rotorua you'll find hot springs and geothermal phenomena, while in Taupo you'll see the bright blue lake and cascades. Te Kuiti, the biggest settlement in the region, is a 15-minute drive away. It's the gateway to the scenic Timber Trail cycling route and is known for its authentic Māori culture.
The most popular things to do in Waitomo are underground. Explore the Glowworm Caves on a boat cruise or, if you're feeling adventurous, glide through the underground river in an inflatable rubber ring. There are also trips where you'll crawl, zip line and climb through the caves. For some fresh air and daylight, hike into the town's forested surrounds where you'll discover rushing waterfalls and sweeping green panoramas on trails like the Marokopa Falls Walk and the Mangapohue Bridge Walk.
The nearest airport is in Hamilton but there are more flight options in and out of Auckland Airport. From Auckland, InterCity buses run every day to Waitomo as part of the GreatSights travel network. The journey takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes. You can choose add-ons like tours or simply pay for the bus ticket and organise your sightseeing once in Waitomo. There are also InterCity buses to the town from Hamilton (1 hour 5 mintues) and New Plymouth (around 3 hours 30 minutes). In Waitomo you can hire a bike and travel the roads and trails by pedal power.