If you are heading to New Zealand, a glow worm tour is probably on your must-do list. We chose to do a night kayaking glow worm tour in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty. As we floated outdoors, in silence, surrounded by tall canyon walls covered in sparkling glow worms, we knew we had made a good choice.
More than just the wonderment of the moment, the entire experience was magical. From watching the sunset over Lake McLaren to listening to our guide, we believe the Waimarino kayak tour is the ideal way to see glow worms. Tauranga is a perfect backdrop.
What is a glow worm?
Technically, glow worms are not worms but are the larvae of the fungus gnat, a non-biting insect similar to mosquitoes. Some species are carnivorous and use their glowing lights to attract small flying insects into a web of sticky threads. The native New Zealand species is the Arachnocampa luminosa.
They are commonly found in limestone caves and on other damp surfaces with overhangs. If you ask New Zealand children, they will often giggle when they tell you that it is their ‘bottoms’ that light up.
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Who should go on the Waimarino Kayak tour
There are not many sights in this world as magical as the narrow, high-sided canyon brought to life by thousands of New Zealand glow worms. They enchant New Zealand visitors and locals alike. This is a unique opportunity to combine both glow worm viewing and night kayaking.
While the kayaking is gentle, there is a certain level of fitness required for this tour. In total, the evening activities are about 3.5 hours, but the kayaking portion is about 1 – 1.5 hours including the still time admiring the canyon.
Importantly, no previous kayaking experience is required.
The guide stays with the group at all times, and in the one slightly more difficult section, the kayaks are joined together (handheld), and the guide is in the lead doing the lion’s share of the work. The only actual restriction is a minimum age of 8.
We loved and recommend this tour for anyone with enough fitness to gently kayak (as part of a two-person boat) for about an hour. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. And, you can often get discounts when you reserve your ticket here.
If you’re still unsure, read on for more details of our experience.
What to expect on a night kayaking glow worm tour
Before the sun sets
From the first moment, everything was relaxed, yet professional. Our small group was transported from the meeting location to McLaren Park. Here, our first stop was a viewing point for McLaren Falls, often raging, but barely flowing when we arrived.
Next, we headed to the lake and the launch site. Setting the mood for a bit of whimsical fun, our guide put out a spread of mulled wine, juice, cheese, venison sausage, and more.
As we enjoyed the remaining daylight followed by dusk’s warm glow settling over Lake McClaren, in the background our guide set up the kayaks.
Before we head out, there was a safety briefing followed by an offer of a few more layers of clothing. I opted for a fleece top, water/windproof jacket, and of course, the mandatory buoyancy jacket and kayak skirt.
As the sun sets . . .
Darkness descended quickly after the sunset. We climbed into double sea kayaks and gently slid into the water. Our guide paddled out to the narrow, high walled canyon alongside our small group.
There were two people in each kayak. I was in the front, and Jeff was our kayak’s navigator in the back. To more easily pass a hydroelectric station, all four kayaks rafted together (held on to each other’s boats, so we moved through the water like a raft). For that small section, our guide did the majority of the paddling.
Bathed by the moonlight, the guided night kayak tour is surprisingly peaceful. After about 30 minutes we reached the canyon wall. Rafted together, we turned off our torches (flashlights) and the magic of the glow worm canyon enveloped us.
As capturing this on camera is better done from shore with a tripod, I am sharing photos supplied byWaimarino Kayak Tours for use here.
Practical information on Waimarino Kayak Tours
Best time for your Waimarino glow worm tour
While I doubt there is a bad time, there are times that might be better than others. If I have the luxury of choosing a week, I would use the moon cycle to dictate my choice. I believe the ideal time for this Tauranga glow worm tour is when it is neither a new moon nor a full moon. You can check the moon cycle here.
On a new moon, there will be limited light while night-kayaking to the canyon, but the darkness will allow the most magnificent brightly shining glow worm experience. In contrast, on a full moon, it will be easy to see whilst kayaking into the canyon, but the ambient light from the moon will block out some of the smaller glow worms.
As for start time, it is dictated by sundown. The idea is to launch the kayaks at dusk. Therefore, start times range from as early as 4 pm in late May and June to as late as 7.45 pm in January. You can see the complete list of start times and reserve your kayak tour here
What you need to bring
For the most part, everything we needed was provided for us, from the snacks to the warm weather and safety gear. We were glad we dressed a bit warmer than we would normally for the given weather. You’ll want to dress warm and comfortable with casual footwear.
Don’t forget to bring a camera to get your sunset photos. Taking photos during the tour is more difficult as you need two hands for your paddle, and once at the canyon, the kayaks are rafted together via handholding.
Plus, photographing glow worms in the dark whilst on a rocking kayak is virtually impossible.
The tour starts and ends at the Waimarino Adventure Park at 36 Taniwha Place, in Bethlehem, a suburb of Tauranga. Included in the price:
- Transportation to and from the launch site on Lake MacLaren.
- Refreshments include a cheese board, NZ wine, and juice in summer or salami, dried kiwi fruit, and mulled wine in winter.
- Insect repellent.
- Double sea-kayaks, spray skirts, and paddles.
- Buoyancy aids.
- Fleece and/or paddle jackets.
If you are ready now, you can reserve yourWaimarino Kayak Tour here.
Our conclusion (Would I do it again?)
Yes! I loved our Waimarino Glow Worm tour! It is one of the best things to do in Tauranga and the entire Bay of Plenty.
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Have you been on a kayak glow worm tour in Tauranga?
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Disclaimer: We were guests of Waimarino Kayak tours. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
Bryna | Dotted Line Travels
I’ve heard about this – thank you for sharing more information! It looks both fun (getting to kayak) and beautiful! I have a soft spot for glow worms, I would seek them out when I lived in Japan. So this looks like the perfect activity for me!
Oh my gosh, this looks amazing! I would absolutely love to do this. I like that you started your tour with local wine, cheese, and snacks! Thanks for sharing this cool experience with us 🙂
Julie Kemp Pick
What a fun family adventure! My husband loves kayaking and would really appreciate the stunning
scenery. Kayaking on Lake Michigan just isn’t quite the same. Fabulous photos as always!
A few weeks back, in Borneo, we had dinner in the dark next to a couple of trees alight with fireflies. It was so unbelievable. I love the sounds of this glow worm tour. Anytime I can witness nature without interfering in it, I’m in. I love the pre-tour appies. That’s a nice touch!
Wow! This looks amazing. I had no idea the bioluminescent tours were in so many different places. If I ever get to NZ I will put this on my list. Thanks for sharing
This is just fantastic – and I would love to experience it. Last summer I kayaked in Puerto Rico’s Bioluminescent Bay and it was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done.
Keri | Ladies What Travel
Ah I bet this is magical! I’d love to do this one day – I did a firefly tour in Malaysia a few years ago and loved it!
OMgosh, I think this might be the coolest thing ever! I would love to do this and the whole experience looks magical, even that amazing sunset you had!
This looks like an amazing experience! Not only so much fun but the sceneries are also fabulous!
Id love to do it! ❤️
That’s an interesting experience – kinda reminds me of watching fireflies at night. Is there a particular season during the year to go on a glow worm tour? Love your pics of Lake McClaren especially at dusk.
This sounds amazing. I’m going to Pin it for future reference. I love kayaking and nature/wildlife activities. I have an Olympus Tough TG-5 and I love it! When I go kayaking, I use one of those retractable clips people use for ID badges. I clip it to my pants and place the buttoned end around my camera strap. Thanks for sharing this experience.
Ok, so I’ve been to glow worm caves and I have kayaked but I have never kayaked through glow worm caves! How amazing is that!? Love the delicious spread before the tour and the experience must have been awesome! I know how difficult it is to get photos of the glow worms so seeing them in person would have been so cool!
What an amazing experience!! I’ve always dreamt of going kayaking but this tour makes the whole experience seem even more magical!
Straight out of a fairytale! This makes me want to go over there! I am going to check if this is possible a bit closer to home (NZ is on the list, but it will take a few years because it’s the other side of the world)
What a fun activity Rhonda. I remember walking through glow worm caves near Christchurch and it was fun but kayaking at dusk with wine sounds incredible! Beautiful photos – the light is ethereal.
I didn’t think that this (lovely but still) man-made lake could be so magical with glow worms and all. What do you think are the chances to find the glow worms without a tour? Is it possible at all to get in the park after dark? I think they close the gates at some point, right?
Beautiful pictures by the way. Very shire-like in the sunset 😉
Kaila (The Wanderlust Celiac)
Sounds like an amazing experience. I almost did this when I was in New Zealand, but then opted to spend my time elsewhere. Would definitely head there if I went back after reading your review. 🙂
Joanne - Travel with Joanne
Sounds like a special thing to do and definitely one I’ll put on the list for when I’m next in the area.
Looks and sounds like an amazing experience! I’d love to do it if I ever had the opportunity. Gorgeous photos!
What a neat experience you can share with your family later. I love cool things like this that you don’t expect to do or don’t know what to expect and they end up being the highlight of the day or trip.
We go kayaking almost every time we go to Kauai, but we never did it in the dark. Your night kayaking seems absolutely ferric and I think you were so lucky to have the moon shine over the lake. As for using the insect repellant, better safe than sorry. The fact that you didn’t see any mosquitoes around you was probably pure luck. It’s very rare to have no insects when you are in the vicinity of water.
Absolutely gorgeous! This is very high on my bucket list after my friend did a similar tour in NZ a few years ago. That photo from the company is amazing… they should have a photographer who provides you photos of your own tour at the end!
This is totally a dream of mine! Going to save this info. I’m dying to go to NZ 🙂
Erin | The Epicurean Traveler
So, I have been kayaking a few times, but never on a trip quite as unique as yours! What a sight that must have been to see up close! I’d actually really like to go kayaking in the bioluminescent waters of Puerto Rico. I think the glow there is from algae, and it’s the water that appears to be glowing in that kayaking experience. However, I would totally go kayaking at night to see glow worms, too. I just didn’t know this was a thing to do until now!
What a fantastic experience! I have canyoned with glow worms but I like the idea of kayaking and floating serenely below them 🙂
What a cool tour!!! The photos of you all kayaking after dark are so clear! The sunset pictures are so striking!! Absolutely gorgeous! I am fascinated by the fact that glow worms are larvae!! Makes me think of Alice in Wonderland!
Looks like some great adventure.
This looks like a fun thing to do. I’ve been going to ask you about how to film in the dark. When I’m on my cruise, there have been some great pictures that I would have enjoyed taking photos but they were at night and my Olympus won’t take good photos at night. You look good in blue Rhonda. See ya.
Very cool. I’ve been looking into a bioluminescence kayaking adventure here in Florida, and seriously debating doing it. This world has some incredible sights, eh?
If it is anything like the one we just did, I say YES, do it.
Woooow..it looks like a great amazing, Rhonda. Very unique and one of a kind. Happy to try it myself if I can!
Handmade Jewelry Haven
That looks like an AMAZING tour! I am always looking for unusual tours such as this!
Thank you for sharing!
Kay L. Davies
Amazing. Simply amazing. Words fail me (and that doesn’t happen very often)!!
Thank you for the tour.
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel
Way cool. I would have enjoyed this very much. Great shots.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
L. Diane Wolfe
How beautiful. I would love that tour. And with a little wine beforehand, even better.
So cool! Love the snacks and the glow worms!
Very interesting. I’ve heard of glow worms before but haven’t experienced any. Makes me think of phosphorescence when we going out in the ocean with our boat at night. – Margy
Jeff thinks they are actually related.
Wow. This is going on my Bucket List for sure. What a great adventure and I think I could do this with a good guide. Thanks for this recommendation!
That was quite interesting what a nice tour I enjoyed the photos looked like you all enjoyed it 🙂
Have a kayaktastic day Rhonda
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I bet it was a bit like being on a remote lake and looking up at the stars.
The pre-tour snacks sound perfect.
I would definitely take the tour if I visited!
It was a canyon, so we could see to the sky as well. The glow worms look much different from the stars, as the glow worms are brighter.
A different but interesting trip.
WAY neat Rhonda. One of my readers is from Tauranga but I never made it up that way. One of the tiny preserved parks we visited in Opotiki had glow worms too. I recall seeing the signs. Fascinating as heck. New Zealand is amazing.
There are so many amazing places to see and cool things to do in New Zealand. Did you make it to see the glow worms in Opotiki? There are a few in the park by our house too, but nothing like we saw in the canyon on Lake McClaren.
Looks like great fun! Love the photos too
Lydia C. Lee
That looks fantastic!
Hi Rhonda – it looks amazing and you’ve done wonders with your photos – sounds a great tour to take … delicious looking snacks too … cheers Hilary