We stood in silence as dusk descended, anticipating the natural show that was about to take form. The small hands of children clutched safely in palms of their grown-ups. Eyes rounded in wonder. Ruakuri Bushwalk is a specular feast of glowworms dotted through the bush, clinging to cliff tops, rocks on the side of the path and cave ceilings.

When evening closes Nature’s eye,

The glowworms lights her little spark

To captivate her favourite fly

And tempt the rover through the dark

– James Montgomory

Quick stats

Difficulty easy, my friend and I took her children aged 4 to 7

Fitness low

Time if you are just pounding out the circuit it takes about 45 minutes. If you are going in at night to admire the glowworms, allow longer

Access About 4km from Waitomo. Head west from Waitomo Village and turn left at the roundabout into Tumutumu Road. Follow that road for about 2 km and turn right at the signposted access to Ruakuri car park.

Ruakuri bushwalk
No, it’s not just a black photo. If you look really carefully you may spot some small glowing dots (not dust on the lens). Turns out, glowworms are quite tricky to photograph

Ruakuri Bushwalk

As Ma, Pa and I had planned our family outing (sans brother) to Waitomo Caves, we wanted to make the most of the area while we were there. My friend, Michelle (from Walking on Foreign Chels) and I met with her clan as dusk settled over the bush.

Headtorches at the ready and jackets on we headed into the bush.

Our first stop was at the waterfall but it was too light still to see the glowworms. Luckily the waterfall was just as beautiful.

The track follows the stream and then winds around limestone bluffs and outcrops. Ruakuri bushwalk then descends down to the Ruakuri Natural Bridge viewing platform. This is a great place to see a wall of glowworms. There are hundreds of them clinging to the wall like wee fallen stars.

As we walked through the bush the children kept pointing out little dots nestled amongst the rocks and scrubs on the side of the path. They were just the right height to spot them easily (though neither Michelle nor myself are much taller than the kids). It kept them entertained and awed. We stopped a few times to examine the worms and their stands. The strands shimmered in the torchlight and

Lilly (the youngest at 4) kept count of the glowworms we spotted along the sides of the track. She lost count in between but then announced we had seen 29 by the end of the walk. She seriously underestimated the glowworm count.

Shine little glowworm, glimmer, glimmer,

Shine little glowworm, glimmer, glimmer,

Lead us lest too far we wander,

Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder.

– Johnny Mercer

Ruakuri bushwalk by dusk
Ruakuri by dusk

The Caves

There are little limestone caves, tunnels and bluffs that occur at regular intervals on the walk. Make sure you crawl through all the tunnels and explore each of the caves. They are spectacular. Granted, when you go at night you don’t see an awful lot, but the atmosphere is serene and a little creepy. A perfect combo.

Let your eyes adjust to the light for a while then wait for glowworms to emerge in dribs and drabs. The longer you look, the more you see. Be mindful of your head in the caves, some of the ceilings are quite low (the bump on Pa’s head can vouch for that).

Keep an eye out for cave wetas along the roof and sides of the caves, but be aware, they are protected species so just leave ’em be.

We are all worms, but I like to believe that I am a glowworm.

– Winston Churchill

Top Tips for tackling Ruakuri Bushwalk

  • If you are doing this walk at night, be sure to pack a torch.
  • Likewise if doing Ruakuri Bushwalk at night and you are wanting some decent-ish photos of the glowworms, be sure to practice taking pictures in low light without a flash before you go. Or you are going to be spending all your time trying to adjust your camera. I learned this one from experience. Eventually, I gave up and left the photography to Pa. Luckily he played with my camera the following day and sorted it for Waitomo Caves.
  • Don’t rush, take your time and just enjoy the moment. Look around in awe and wonder.
  • Cave wetas reside in the area. They are a protected species so just look with your eyes (and your camera if you can get it working). They are very cool insects that live in… caves (how’d you guess?) and have been around since the dinos. We want them to stick around for a while longer.
  • Be respectful. Some glowworms chill out on the side of the track within touching distance. Please just leave them to their glowing selves, don’t touch them or their strands – as enticing as the pearlescent silky strands are to touch. If you are going with children, ensure they keep little fingers to themselves. It’s hard work making those strands and they source food for the worms.
  • Don’t shine your torch directly onto the worms. They will then think it’s daylight and turn out their own lights. Which kind of defeats the purpose anyway.
  • Arrive just after dusk if you want the ultimate glowworm experience.

Final thoughts

Ruakuri Bushwalk is a wonderful walk to do with children. The natural wonders of the caves and bush coupled with glowworms make for a unique evening out. It gives you an opportunity to teach children about the wonders of nature. Instil that sense of awe and wonder of our beautiful world. If you take a picnic tea (fish and chips always make a fab night out special treat dinner) just before dusk settles it really makes a night of it. The track isn’t too long or too arduous so little legs can handle the walk with ease and the glowworms put a handle on complaints if your children don’t really have the hiking bug yet.


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Ruakuri Bushwalk - experience one of New Zealand's natural wonders by dusk - the glowworm

Ruakuri Bushwalk is a great family friendly walk with the added wow factor of glowworms in their natural environment

2 Comments on Ruakuri Bushwalk – Spotting the glowworms in their natural environment

    • Photo’s don’t catch the atmosphere you are right! Definitely a fun evening out for everyone. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment 🙂

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