Guides take visitors into the caves by boat, gently gliding beside stalactite and stalagmite formations and getting close up to the wonder of glowworms. Each cave has its own character - the Aranui Cave has ornate decorations, while the Ruakuri Cave has a spectacular spiral entrance.
Visitors learn of the recent history of the caves, first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane and an English surveyor, Fred Mace. They built a raft from flax and explored the caves, using candles to light their way. They discovered the ceilings of the caves were lit by thousands of glowworms. By 1889, Tane had opened the cave to tourists but in 1906, administration of the cave was taken over by the government.
In 1989, the land and cave was returned to the descendants of the original owners. Many staff at the caves today are descendants of Chief Tane and his wife Huti.
For the more adventurous, The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company provides the chance for visitors to abseil, weave, jump and float through the caves using rafts in the dark. They have been operating black water rafting adventures since 1987.