One of the things I love about living in New Zealand is that we don’t have to go far to have an adventure. We drove less than two hours north of Auckland to Waipu Cove campground (with beachside cabins). In the morning we explored Waipu Caves, one of the glow worm caves in New Zealand as well as being home to Northland’s largest cave passage discovered to date.
Despite our plan to relax, we found plenty of things to do in Waipu.
Exploring Waipu Caves
Like many places off the tourist track, these New Zealand caves are free. Stalagmites, stalactites, and glow worms are found inside Waipu Caves, along with the bones of small animals (bats, birds, amphibians and reptiles) and fossil invertebrates.
However, Waipu Caves are not for everyone as they are undeveloped. You may walk through areas of waist-deep water, or pass through tight passages. (At least that’s what the information we read tells us, I didn’t go beyond my comfort zone.) If I had, I would reach the end, turn off my torch (flashlight) and immediately understand why they are nicknamed the Waipu glow worm caves.
Photography in the Caves
I took all of the above shots with the Olympus OMD em5 Mark II. With an ISO up to 25,600, it allows me to shoot without a flash even in a dark cave. Mirrorless, compact and water resistant (depending on the lens), it the perfect camera for caves, as well as being the best travel camera I have owned.
Practical Information on Visiting Waipu Caves
- Waipu Caves require a moderate level of fitness as well as some caving experience.
- Visitors are advised to check the past week’s weather, especially the current forecast, as the caves flood.
- You will want to wear sturdy waterproof shoes due to a lack of paths in the cave. At times you will find yourself walking through water, mud, or on slippery ground. There is a shower (cold water only) outside the cave that comes in handy.
- Bring a good caving torch (flashlight) and extra batteries.
- The best glow worm viewing is found in the third chamber.
- Never go caving alone.
- More information on Waipu Caves and the surrounding tracks can be found on the Department of Conservation’s official website.
Hiking – Waipu Caves Walkway
The 2-kilometre hiking track on the hillside surrounding the caves takes you past huge weathered boulders and up to a ridgeline offering panoramic views across Whangarei Harbour. The karst landscape is magnificent, although prone to sinkholes.
It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the top, stop and enjoy the view, and return on the same trail.
Relaxing at the Beach or Surfing at Waipu Cove
I’ll be the first to admit, I am not good at relaxing, even at Waipu Beach. I found myself enjoying the waves, while other members of our group enjoy surfing or boogie boards. It, along with nearby Langs beach are two of the many Northland beaches waiting to be discovered.
More Things to do in Waipu
- Discover the region’s Scottish history at the Waipu Museum.
- Drink a coffee at the Waipu Cove Cafe, or any of the cafes in town.
- Visit Piroa Falls, often called the Waipu Waterfall.
- Look for New Zealand birds (Dotterels, Oyster Catchers, and Fairy Terns) near the mouth of the Waipu River.
Waipu Cove Accommodation
We stayed at Camp Waipu Cove. With something to suit everyone’s taste, I think it is the ideal place to stay if you want to be at the beach. We stayed in a simple cabin. We had beds and a sink and we used the shared facilities which were quite close. The range of options goes both ways, with rustic cabins with private baths, to campsites. The friends we travelled with love to tent camp. It was great, every family had what they needed.
Auckland to Waipu
Waipu Cove and Waipu Cave are great destinations on their own, or they can be part of a larger adventure. We have done both. The drive from Auckland to Waipu is just under two hours, while the drive from Whangarei to Waipu is only 40 minutes.
Our favourite several day self drive excursion is from Auckland to the top of the North Island. We love to drive ourselves, as we make so many stops along the way. However, if you prefer to let someone else do the driving, check out this three-day tour from Auckland to Cape Reinga.