The Travelling Fine Art Photographer

Photographing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro is a test of nerves, skills, and stamina. When you make it to the ridge and stare down into the abyss, the rewards are endless.  

A Little Bit About Tongariro...

You've probably heard of the Lord of the Rings - if not, have you been living under volcanic rock? Tongariro Alpine Crossing traverses a route past the sacred Mt Nguarahoe, otherwise known as -Mount Doom', the iconic volcano where Frodo must destroy the one ring...

The landscape around Tongariro leaves little to the imagination. You can almost feel the tension as you wander across the barren lands, watch as the steam from the vents rises in rivulets, and stare down into the depths of a sleeping volcano. 

Waipu Caves Track

A 2-km walk leads from the caves through a karst limestone land where the scenery almost seems like a fairytale.  Follow farmland and dense bush to a viewpoint where you'll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. 

Walking and tramping - 2km 1 hr 30 min return Easy: Walking track  Dog access Dogs with a DOC permit for recreational hunting or management purposes only

Inside Waipu Caves 

Darkness beckons you inside the caves, where you will find a plethora of stalactites, stalagmites and the big prize - glow worms.

You'll be transported to another world as a galaxy of soft blue glow-worms fill the ceiling above you like a sky full of stars. 

Glow-worms at Waipu Caves

The fantastical glow worms are the main attraction inside the Waipu Caves, and you'll find them just a fraction of the way in.  Once you reach a part where no light can enter from the entrance, look up - you'll see a magical sight. 

What to bring to Waipu Caves

It's good to be prepared on your journey into the Waipu Caves. You'll need a few things for an easy adventure:

  • Torch
  • Gumboots
  • Camera
  • Your very own eyes!


Waipu is a magical land, and as you drive over and through the ever winding roads, you'll pass a sea of evergreen trees fading softly into the distance in every direction. Waipu has often been compared to Scotland, and I would have to agree. Take a little time to explore the lands around the cave system, you won't regret it.  

Inside Waipu Caves

It gets dark pretty quickly inside the expansive cave system, so you'll want to bring a head-torch to see where to put your feet! Once your eyes have adjusted, be sure to scan the dark chamber for any animal bones or invertebrate fossils that might be just within your reach. You might even spot some mysterious creature lurking in the shadows. Once inside all the way to the largest chamber (you'll know when you feel the space opening up all around you). Look up! Make sure to extinguish all lights and stay quiet for a moment, and the glow-worms will begin to come into view above. After the first chamber, the brave amongst us can carry on into the darkening depths. Through watery passages and slick mud banks. Each cavern is more delightful than the last, and it's an adventure the whole way. 

Know before you go

Watch the weather before travelling to Waipu Caves, rainy weather can make it them quite dangerous. 

Turn off all lights inside the caves and respect other travellers enjoying the glow-worms. 

You'll be pretty messy once you return. There's wash facilities in the car park if you wish to use them. Always leave them as you found them. 

How to Photograph Glow-worms

Glow worms are are the larvae of a fungus gnat. They emit a blue/ green glow from their abdomen to attract food. They can be seen with the naked eye once you get used to the light, but when you manage to capture them in camera, it's almost like seeing another world. 

Top Photography Tips:

  • You'll need to keep your camera steady. So a tripod is super handy, and make sure the ground isn't super slippy. 
  • Set your shutter spead to 10 - 15 seconds. Since there is no light in the cave, you'll need to keep your shutter open for a good few seconds to capture the light from the glow-worms. Change your shutter speed accorsingly if it's too light or too dark. 
  • Keep the light from your torch off and be as quiet as you can so as not to scare the worms. 
  • When the cave is busy it can be difficult to find the opportunity for even a few seconds without disturbance. Accessing the caves in the early morning or evening when there are ess people will give you the perfect opportunity to get the shot. 
  • It can be difficult for your camera to focus in the pitch black. Light the wall with your torch to focus, then set it to manual so the focus doesn't shift whist you take your shot.

Find out more about the Waipu Caves Track here. 

What's nearby the Waipu Caves?

Keri Keri Rainbow Waterfall

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls are a spectacular sight. Though incidentally it's low on my list to visit again. mostly due to the fact that I almost drowned in Quick mud behind the falls. 

Dangerous Liaisons at Rainbow Falls

Lake Tarawera

A bit of a secret spot close to Rotorua. The only other people here were local families and the resident black swans. A gorgeous place to camp for the night as it's only accessible by boat. 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The North Islands best and most diverse Great Walk. Tongariro Alpine Crossing leads to awe evoking volcano craters and epic geothermal activity. The hike takes 6-8 hours and is worth every minute. 

How to photograph Tongariro Alpine Crossing. (b)

Feeling inspired? Discover more of the majestic New Zealand landscape in this video. 

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