Ruakuri Cave

Cave of the Dogs - Den of Dogs

Useful Information

Ruakuri Nature Reserve.
Ruakuri Nature Reserve.
Location: Southwest of Waitomo Caves.
From Auckland follow State Highway 1 south to Hamilton, then State Highway 3 south to Waitomo. Caves are signposted. 200 km south of Auckland, 70 km from Hamilton, 16 km from Otorohanga. 2 km from Waitomo Caves in Ruakuri Scenic Reserve.
(-38.2681318, 175.0782455)
Open: All year Thu-Sun 10-15:30.
Check in 30 minutes early.
Closed 25-DEC.
Ruakuri Walk: no restrictions.
Fee: Weekend: Adults NZD 79, Children (4-14) NZD 30, Children (0-3) free, Family (2+2) NZD 190.
Weekday: Adults NZD 63.20, Children (4-14) NZD 24.
Ruakuri Walk: free:
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=3,880 m.
Guided tours: D=1.5 h.
Ruakuri Walk: self guided, L=1 km, D=45 min.
Photography: permitted in selected areas of the cave.
Accessibility: fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible
Address: Ruakuri Visitor Centre, 205 Tumutumu Road, Waitomo Caves 3985, Tel: +64-7-878-, Free: 0800-456-922. E-mail:
Department of Conservation, Te Kuiti Office, 78 Taupiri Street, Te Kuiti 3910, Tel: +64-7-878-1050. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


~1500 discovered by the Maori.
1904 opened to the public by James Holden.
1905 75 ha of land protected by the foundation of Ruakuri Caves Scenic Reserve.
1906-1908 39 ha of land added.
1987 First Black Water Rafting of New Zealand started.
1987 show cave closed as facilities required upgrading.
2000 Andy Serkis who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings spends time in the cave to get into character.
2003 Black Water Rafting Co. sold.
28-JUL-2005 cave reopened to the public.
2016 a photograph by Shaun Jeffers of the glowworms wins the National Geographic Photographer of the Year award.
2017 Katy Perry takes the Black Abyss tour while on her California Dreams Tour in New Zealand.


Soda straws in Gardner's Gut cave, the longer straws have a length of about 50 cm, Waitomo, New Zealand. Public Domain.
Ruakuri Nature Reserve.

The entrance hall of Ruakuri Cave was well known to the Maori for many years. The name is derived from an old Maori legend, that wild dogs inhabited the cave entrance. Rua means den, and kuri means dogs, so Ruakuri translates dogs den. According to legend it was named by the chief Tanetinorau who was travelling through the area when one of his party was attacked bywild kurī defending their den. The cave entrance was used as a resting place for the living, and a hollow high in the cliff above was used as a resting place for the dead. So the cave entrance is of high spiritual and cultural significance to Māori.

The cave was opened to the public in 1904, one of the three show caves at Waitomo. It is the longest and most complex of all three caves. The original entrance was through the natural entrance, leading into a large chamber known as Holdens Cavern. It was named after James Holden who was the first Englishman who discovered the caves. More highlights of the tour were the Ghost Walk, the Bridal Chamber and the Mirror Pool.

In 1987 the first Black Water Rafting of New Zealand started at this cave, using the infrastructure of the show cave as jetty. In the same year the cave was closed as a show cave, although the black water rafting continued. The reason was the poor state of the paths and light. During 2004 and 2005 the cave was restored, and 1,600 m of path with new bridges and walkways constructed. The new route is different from the old one and avoids the natural entrance with the sacred ground of the Maori burial place. It was opened in Juli 2005. Quite exceptional is the fact that it is fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

Next to the entrance of Ruakuri Cave is the starting point of the Ruakuri Walk, leading to various natural bridges, canyons and several small caves. The pictures on this page show small caves which are crossed on the 45 minutes return walk along the river. Highlight is the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel or Ruakuri Natural Bridge, a spectacular cave through which the Waitomo river flows. The trail leads to a viewing platform in the entrance, which allows the view of large stalactites and stalagmites. All along the trials the moss is full of glowworms, obviously their light can't be seen by day, but it is possible to see the worms in daylight. They are actually much less spectacular than their glow. Actually they are tiny slimy worms crawling along their threads. If you are silent, you can see them glow in the different cave passages along the trail though. At night, you can see them all along the trail. It seems night walks are allowed, but a torch is strongly recommended. Be careful not to stumble in the darkness.

Keep your eyes open, and you will see a lot of karst features along the trail. There are dolines, karren, and numerous small caves and crevices. All is covered by a dense rainforest with the ferns and fern trees typical for New Zealand. A number of native birds can be seen in the reserve, though they are rather shy. This includes kereru (native wood pigeon), tui, piwakawaka (fantail), and tauhou (waxeye). Like for the glowworms its the best tactic to be as silent as possible, move slowly, and be attentive.

Gardner's Gut is an extensive cave system in the reserve, which is accessible only to cavers.