Whangarei Falls to Abbey Caves

This gorgeous walk takes you past waterfalls, along a beautiful stream, past meadows and all the way to the adventurous limestone glowworm caves. The scenery is very divers for such a small walk. You really feel that you are in ‘The lord of the rings’ country. The forests look like the lothlorien elven forest, the meadows make you feel like you’re in the shire and the caves make you think about Gollum creeping around and talking to himself.

a 300 meter walk from my accommodation brought me to the Whangarei Falls. The view from above is alright but the view from down below is pretty amazing. Down there is a bridge with a good view that leads to a viewing area for a closer look.

Whangarei Falls

I recently bought a new gadget for my camera. A 10 stop ND filter and a graduated ND filter. The first is basically a really dark peace of glass you put in front of the lens so almost no light comes in. This allows for a much longer exposure during daylight creating movement in your shots. sp perfect for water. When you see pictures of waterfalls and streams with silky smooth water then the photographer probably used these tools. Below you can see what it does. On the one you see that the water is ‘frozen’ showing every water drop. On the other you see how smooth the water looks due to the long exposure.

Whangarei Falls
Without ND filter
Whangarei Falls
With ND filter

After taking many pictures of the waterfall I started walking along the river. Couple meters further I looked back and the view of the waterfall was even better so there I went again setting up my tripod and everything.

Whangarei Falls

This sort of became the way I spend the whole day because every couple steps I took there was another view I wanted to take a picture of. All along the river are some cool photo opportunities.

Hatea river walk

At the end of the walk along the river lies an area with some amazing Kauri trees and there is another (less spectacular) waterfall.

Kauri park at Whangareikauri forest loop track

If you are going to do this part and the caves on separate occasions I suggest to start on the Kauri park side and make your way to the Whangarei Falls. This way the waterfall will be much more rewarding.

Continuing to the caves, the second part of the walk is along a road. There is no footpath so be careful with passing cars. On this part you can make up for the extra time you spend on the first part by walking at a higher paste because there is not much to see. You do pass some meadows with animals like sheep, cows and deer.

After crossing that I arrived at the entrance of the cave loop track where the landscape changed again. The loop is 1.3 km long and takes you through small meadows, forest and past the 3 caves. There is the Organ cave, the middle cave and the Ivy cave.

Because of the way the path leads you, most people walk clockwise. I decided to go counter clockwise. This way the Ivy cave would be the first cave and if I remembered correctly I read somewhere that this cave was the best out of the 3. This part of the walk is lovely. The track passes through small meadows with limestone rocks dotted around. Because I was there in springtime there were flowers everywhere.

meadow at abbey caves

From the Whangarei falls to the caves took me more then 3 hours because of all the picture taking. Walking at a normal speed it would only take 1 hour.

At 2.30 pm I finally arrived at the first cave. The Ivy cave. It’s a bit of a climb to get in. At first I went in with my backpack but decided to go back and leave it outside. This way I can manoeuvre a bit easier.

Ivy Cave entrance
entrance Ivy Cave

This one has the most water out of the three which adds to the adventure level. The cave goes from corridor to a larger open space to small opening that lead to another corridor. Just meter in you can see the first glowworms. It’s not that there are millions of worms but it’s magical non the less. After turning my torch off I could tell the distance between the different worms creating an image of where the cave walls are. I was the only one there at the moment so it was just me in the darkness with the sound of running water and a galaxy of glow worms. The same as outside I wanted to take a picture of every thing I saw. I mounted my camera on top of the tripod that was set up in the water. After putting in the right settings it was time to take pictures. Most of the time I used a 30 seconds exposure so for 30 seconds the camera registers all the light that enters it. Because of this you can do some light painting. This means that you shine your light at places you want to show on your picture. The brighter the light and/or the longer you shine your light, the brighter it will be lit up on the picture. To get a picture that I’m satisfied with takes a while. dozens of tries are necessary before I got the one I wanted. So every time it’s 30 second and every time it’s trying new things with the torch and seeing what the result is. After 3 hours I went back into daylight! 3 hours long I was there by myself. Absolutely awesome.

Ivy caveIvy CaveIvy Cave

I only had 2 more hours of daylight left and the walk back would take me an hour as well so I had to hurry up a bit. luckily the caves are just minutes away from each other.

The second cave was a lot smaller but the glowworms were better. In the first cave little groups were dotted around. In the second cave all the worms are situated in 1 big stream at the highest point of the sealing like the milky way.

The rock formations in this cave weren’t that spectacular so I didn’t spend much time in this cave.

Middle Cave
Glowworm highway
Middle Cave
Glowworm highway


Middle Cave
Natural light at the end of the Middle Cave
Middle Cave
Glowworms at the sealing and natural light in the back

By the time I arrived at the third cave it was about 7.15pm. The entrance of this one is the most challenging one. You’ll definitely need some sturdy shoes. The rocks are slippery and the entrance is pretty steep. quickly I went in. Because my limited time I had to turn around at one point but it seemed to be the biggest of the 3. I think this cave had the most glowworms. They were on the sealing as well as on the walls all the way down to knee hight. I got my best glowworm picture in this cave.

Organ Cave entrance
Entrance Organ Cave
Organ cave glowworms
Magical Glowworms

After a short time I went out the third cave and made my way back to the hostel. The sun was already set and it was just about to turn dark by the time I got back at 8.30 pm. I could have easily spend more time in those caves.

Organ Cave

Every cave had something else to offer. The Ivy cave was really adventurous and had the best rock formations. The middle cave was less challenging. but cool because it led to some openings with natural light coming in and the Organ cave was the biggest and had the most spectacular glowworms.

Can’t wait to see some more caves in the country.

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