an atmospheric view of glowworms in a dark cave

Charleston GlowWorm Cave Adventure

Experience one of New Zealand’s (if not the world’s) best GlowWorm displays, deep in the Paparoa National Park, near Punakaiki New Zealand.

Just 30 minutes north of Punakaiki on the Wild West Coast lies the historic township of Charleston. But the old gold-mining town hides a spectacular secret: the beautiful Metro / Te Ananui Caves and one of the best GlowWorm displays you can experience anywhere in the world!

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Key information

  • Must be able to walk unassisted for up to two hours on uneven surfaces
  • Requires a degree of personal fitness – see Risk Disclosure below
  • Warm clothing, rain jacket and robust footwear advisable
  • Minimum age 5 years
  • Cameras permitted (no tripods please)
  • Allow 3.5 hours return from our Charleston Base
  • Trips depart
    • 9am & 11.30am Summer (October to April – Daylight Savings Time)
    • 10:00 am Winter (May to September)
    • Please be here 15 minute prior to your scheduled departure

Important Note: If you are booking an adventure within 24 hours of intended departure – please call us on +64 3 7888168 to secure your place!

About the activity

Meeting at our modern Adventure Centre and Cafe, you’ll be equipped with a caving helmet and light.  You’ll join one of our professional and passionate guides, starting your journey into the spectacular Paparoa National Park, right on the doorstep of Charleston.

Following a short drive into the deep canyon of the Nile / Waitakere River, you’ll board the Nile River Rainforest Train for a 20 minute journey into the lush forests of the Paparoa National Park. It’s then just a short walk to the Metro / Te Ananui Cave, climbing high above the river to the cave entrance.

Leaving daylight behind you will explore as the first cavers did: with only the light you bring, and not a a handrail or boardwalk to be seen! It’s truly one of the few natural and “real” guided cave experiences left: seeing, feeling and getting close to an ancient wonderland sculpted by water and decorated with fragile calcite formations.

Underground you will visit such famous formations as The Altar, the highly decorated ‘Hall of Refugees’, Pancake Corner and more, before you emerge back to daylight at the awe-inspiring Main Entrance of the Metro / Te Ananui – having journeyed right through the mountain!

A short rest, then you’ll head back to find the stars of the show: Arachnocampa luminosa: the New Zealand GlowWorm. One becomes ten, then a hundred, then thousands. Before your eyes, entire galaxies of GlowWorms appear, spanning the ceiling over your head, following the streamway into the distance. Your guides will enrich your journey with captivating illustrations, explanations and stories connecting you with this special place.

Returning via the same path, you’ll emerge back to the daylight. A short stroll leads back to the train, then to the comparative civilisation of Charleston.

This is an unique journey that takes you into one of the few publicly accessible cave systems that remain in its state of natural, unspoiled beauty. It’s a simply stunning Eco-tour in a very special place.

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Feel like something a little more adventurous? Try our award-winning Underworld Rafting – a 4 hour cave-rafting experience in the stunning Metro / Te Ananui cave system.

Risk disclosure statement

Please be honest if you are unable to meet any of the following conditions as your inability to do so could put yourself and others at risk.

The GlowWorm Cave Tour is a medium/high level physical activity. It requires:
• A reasonable standard of fitness
• Good balance – there are no handrails to assist you and walking poles are not permitted
• Ability to walk unassisted on very uneven and unpredictable surfaces – areas may be slippery due to mud or sand on rocks
• Ability to move while bent over through the low-ceiling sections of the cave

The Tour involves:
• A 10-min drive and a 15 min Train Ride into the Nile River Canyon.
• Walking across the Nile River by suspension bridge and up 111 steps (equivalent to a 6-7 story building) to the cave entrance.
• Walking on natural unformed surfaces, both to the cave, then through the large decorated upper cave passages, where it is possible to slip, trip or otherwise fall, potentially causing injury.
• Traversing several short sections with low ceilings (120-150cm high) that require the participant to be able to crouch and move through, where there is the potential to impact your head (helmets are worn) resulting in bruising, head, neck or spinal injury.
• Climbing a ‘natural staircase’ of approximately 3 stories inside the cave, where the steps are uneven, large (up to 40cm) and potentially slippery, and no handrails are present. There is the potential to slip or fall , resulting in abrasions, breaks to limbs or impact to head.
• Walking through to the large “Main Entrance” and to the Glowworm Colony over a dry river bed involving natural, uneven, unformed surfaces, where it is possible to slip, trip or otherwise fall, potentially causing injury.
• A return walk through the cave of approx. 1.5 km

There are no handrails, walkways or infrastructure inside the cave to assist you. You should therefore be confident with your footing and happy to navigate very uneven and slippery surfaces and steps.