85 Abbey Caves Road Whangarei 0175 New Zealand
09 430 6562

Abbey Caves nature reserve

Glow Worm Caves

About the Caves


The Organ Cave is the largest of the caves; in the main catacomb you will see the large over hanging stalactites which look similar to church organ pipes. Middle Cave and Ivy Cave are smaller caves but equally interesting and it is possible to enter and exit at different points. In all the Caves you will see thousands of glow worms.

The surrounding landscape is scattered with giant limestone rocks that date back millions of years. See the magnificent Rock Forest with its massive limestone boulders entwined with the ancient Puriri trees.

Going Caving

You can visit The Abbey Caves for free and they are located just a few minutes walk from our lodge in the picturesque nature reserve that surrounds us. For a small rental charge we can provide you with a head torch and caving shoes to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Please note: caving gear is only available for our guests.

To visit the caves will take approximately 2 hours and be prepared to get wet! Follow these tips for safe caving:

  • Never go caving alone
  • Never go caving during or after heavy rain
  • Always wear a safety helmet, good footwear and have at least one head torch per person
  • Check the batteries in your torch before entering the caves


Cave Formations

Most New Zealand caves are formed from limestone and marble sediment. Enormous amounts of calcium rich mollusk shells and skeletons of marine life form a thick strata, which over millions of years, compresses and solidifies. Over time, this sediment cements together to become rock beds. As rainwater leaches through the soil, a mild solution of carbonic acid is released through cracks in the limestone, enlarging them. The drips also create other cave formations like stalactites. Over time, some passages erode to a large enough extent to become underground streams or rivers. As a result, a hidden world is created, a world of caves, sinkholes and complex shafts.

Glow worms

New Zealand caves, riverbanks and other shady crevices provide a home for New Zealand’s most famous fly – the glow worm. The life cycle of a glow worm is about a year from larva to fly. During that period it casts the luminous glow for which it was named. The light is often an eerie green and is stronger when the worm is hungry.

From the ceiling of a cave, the worm suspends lines of sticky beads to trap prey, which are attracted to the light. Once prey is caught, the glow worm pulls in the line to feed. Looking at a ceiling of glow worms is like gazing at the stars on a clear night. A mature adult glow worm fly has to be careful not to get trapped in a glow worm line itself, and be eaten!

What makes a glow worm glow?

The blue-green glow of the larvae is the result of a reaction between body products and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the larvae’s excretory tubes.

The light is the result of a chemical reaction involving several components: luciferin (a waste product), luciferase (the enzyme that acts upon luciferin), adenosine triphosphate (the energy molecule) and oxygen. All these combined make an electronically excited product capable of emitting a blue-green light.

Not really worms?

The name glow worms is a misnomer as they are larvae, not worms. Early settlers from the British Isles probably applied the common name “glow worm” as a substitute for the English glow worm Lampyris noctiluca (actually beetle larvae, so they got it wrong there also!).

The life cycle of a glow worm involves four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult fly. Eggs are laid in large numbers directly onto the walls of the site. Some two weeks later the eggs hatch into tiny larvae that immediately start glowing from their tails.

Glow worms are light sensitive so please don’t use the flash on your camera or shine your torch directly on the glow worms.