The Waitomo Caves were discovered in the late 1800s by local Māori chief Tane Tinorau, who owned the land on which they were located. Tinorau and surveyor Fred Mace explored the caves together in 1887, floating in on a raft of flax flower stalks. Tinorau later found an entrance to the caves on land, which is the same entry point used today.
The caves were opened to tourists in 1889, with local Māori acting as guides. Many of the staff working at the caves today are direct descendants of Chief Tane Tinorau and his wife Huti, as the cave and its lands were returned to his family in 1989, following a period of government administration.
The nearby Ruakuri Cave is Waitomo’s longest underground guided walking tour and is also the only wheelchair-accessible cave in the Southern Hemisphere. Ruakuri is famed for its spiritual links to Māori and its incredible limestone formations and spectacular caverns.
Learn more about Waitomo Caves Geology.