Caves (New Zealand)

Where can I find information about New Zealand caves?

Entry last updated: 1/03/23


New Zealand is known for its limestone or karst caves and cave systems. Many are known for their formations and glow-worms. This entry will give you information about well-known caves, how caves are formed and how they are significant to Māori.

Well-known caves

Here are some of the more well known caves in New Zealand:

Waitomo Cave: This is the most well known of the Waitomo Cave systems, known for its glowworms.

Ruakuri Cave: Longest cave in the Waitomo area.

Cathedral Caves: One of the longest sea caves.

Nettlebed Cave: Located in the Mt Arthur ranges and named after the tree nettle which grows nearby.

Bulmer Cavern: Near Nettlebed, New Zealand's longest cave.

Broken River Cave: by Arthur's Pass.

Aurora Cave: Te Anau, Fiordland known for its glowworms.

How caves form

There are some great sites about caves and how they form.

GNS Science

GNS Science is a New Zealand website that has information on all sorts of science topics including an explanation of how limestone caves are formed.

  • From the homepage select the Learning tab.

  • Under Science Topics, choose NZ's Landforms.

  • Go to the Mysterious caves topic.

  • You can also select the gallery to see pictures of various caves.

Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

  • Enter the keyword 'cave' into the search box.

  • This will bring up a range of results related caves eg Caves and life forms.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g [cave]. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

The New Zealand Speleological Society

The New Zealand Speleological Society is about exploring caves and on its website has statistics on a list of New Zealand caves, ie how deep, or long a cave is

  • From the home page select the heading Cave Statistics.

  • Look through the chart for individual cave statistics.

The Kids Should See This

This is a general kids website featuring videos on various topics.

Significance to Māori

Caves were used by Māori for storage, shelter, burial. Some have cave paintings and are of cultural significance.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

This site has links to photos and information about how Māori have used caves.

  • Enter the keywords 'Māori caves' into the search box.

  • Go to the link called Caves to find information about how Māori used caves.


NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable. NZHistory has an article on rock art.


Caves: exploring New Zealand's subterranean Wilderness by Marcus Thomas and Neil Silverwood.

New Zealand Maori Rock Art by J'Iam.

SCIS no: 1905041

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