We were planning a New Zealand cruise, and it became clear that seeing a glow worm cave while in New Zealand was a must-do activity. I researched both the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave and this one, and had decided we'd do the Waitomo caves when our ship docked in Auckland, and then depending on how that visit went, we might visit this place as well (if we loved the first one so much we wanted to see another one) Very few people writing reviews had done both, so it was hard to compare apples to apples, but the Waitomo is more famous (or at least better advertised) and involves a boat ride through the cave, where Kawiti is just a walk through.
Well, our ship didn't dock in time for us to make the trip to the Waitomo caves, so later in the cruise when we docked at the Bay of Islands, we had to see the Kawiti caves if we wanted to be able to do a glow worm visit. We hadn't planned it out ahead of time, not knowing for sure what we'd be doing this day, so we disembarked the ship, took the free bus over to the I-Site information center, and there were several people in the parking lot advertising trips to the Glow Worm Caves and other destinations.
We got away fairly quickly, a group of 8 of us, and when we got to the caves, there wasn't too long a line, so we were pleased to have beat the crowds. Didn't matter, though - not only did it take FOREVER for everyone to pay (they had just one person selling tickets) but we stood around and waited for several other groups who arrived after we'd all paid.
The cave is narrow, which requires a single file line, so we had to wait for the previous group (of 40 or more) to file out before our group (also 30 or more) could file in. Note that it's damp in the cave, and that water drips from above, so you don't want to lean on the wooden rails that line the path, unless you want to get wet.
Seeing the glow worms was really neat. In fact, you're not actually seeing the worms, you're seeing their webs, and since everything's overhead, you never get a look at the creature itself, nor do the guides bring photos or books to show you an illustration. (With all the time we waited, that'd be a great addition to the tour). At any rate, seeing the bioluminescence while deep in the dark cave is worth the visit.
The cost is high for what you get and for the time you're there. They don't allow you to take pictures. They don't hand out any information, either to look at while you're there, or to take home with you. They had 5 lanterns/flashlights for our group of 30 - and some of those had to be taken from the group leaving ahead of us, as there weren't enough for both groups. For the money they're taking in, hand over fist, (20 NZ dollars per person), so $600 for our group, $600 for the group ahead of ours, and $600 for the group after ours - $1800 before lunch, with no costs other than the 4 staff members there? They could afford to send you home with a "free" postcard of what you saw - and it would encourage other visitors, maybe, who were intrigued by the photo. They try to make it seem that you're getting more for your money by telling you that you can go on an unsupervised "bush walk" on their property when you leave the cave, but since all the groups there the morning we were there were on bus tours, who could avail themselves of the opportunity even if they wanted to?
This family is fortunate to own a property of interest to tourists. Someone had to put in the walkways, and there is some lighting involved, and staff has to be paid, but they're asking a lot of money for providing very little - not a paved parking lot, not a building for shelter from bad weather - I'm not even sure there was a restroom if you wanted to use one? A little paperwork, a flashlight for every guest - there are a lot of ways they could make this place seem a little more professional to justify the price they charge, and have visitors go away feeling taken in only by the sights.
My recommendation, sight unseen, would be to try the Waitomo Caves if you have to decide while in New Zealand. But do avail yourself of the opportunity to see the glow worms somewhere.
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