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Clifden Caves Glow Worm Caves – New Zealand South Island

Clifden Caves Glow Worm Caves – New Zealand South Island

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Clifden Caves offers a free and self-guided caving adventure! Here you can explore glow worm caves in New Zealand’s South Island.

In terms of free, self-guided adventures, we all know that New Zealand is the place to be. Clifden Caves, however, is a whole other story. It’s honestly hard to believe that this cave is completely free to visit.

Stretching over 1 kilometre underground, Clifden Caves has several long, winding tunnels, and sections of built-in ladder drops. Along the way, you’ll get to see glow worm-lined limestone caverns and hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites!

If you enjoy exploring cave systems, this one is an absolute treat.

How to Get to Clifden Caves

The entrance to Clifden Caves is located on the side of Clifden Gorge Road. Access to this road is found just near the intersection of Clifden-Blackmount Rd and the Ohai-Clifden Highway.

The best bet is to just plug in the pin found in the map below. Then, once you reach the pin, there is space for your car or camper just on the side of the road opposite the caves.

Clifden caves location on map
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Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand

Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.

I always DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, I've had good experiences in NZ with Spaceships & Travellers Autobarn.

Glow Worm Cave Entrance

The Clifden Caves entrance is just on the other side of the fence opposite the parking area. You'll find a small DOC signpost just near the entrance.

You will have to walk over the fence in the designated area. Remember to be respectful because Clifden Caves is actually located on private land. It's a testament to the Kiwi landowners that they've decided to keep this cave open to the public! Legends.

The cave entrance itself is large and easily visible once you find the location.

Once you enter, the first few tunnels are large enough to easily navigate without bending over. However, this quickly changes as you'll find out.

Clifden caves entrance
Cave entrance at Clifden Caves

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Do I Need a Guide to Explore the Clifden Caves?

Clifden Caves does not require an official guide to explore. In fact, when I arrived here, there was no one else around.

However, caving is a dangerous adventure activity that can easily turn south for those that aren't prepared. Remember never to enter a cave following heavy rainfall and to be prepared by bringing the essential safety items listed below.

Clifden caves entrance

What To Bring: Essential Safety Items

Here are some DOC-recommended safety items for exploring Clifden Caves New Zealand.

  • Torch - recommended 2x per person with spare batteries
  • Suitable, loose fitting clothing
  • Sturdy footwear

Remember also to let somebody know of your intentions. Beware of falling rocks and try to stick to the marked routes only. Have a plan to come in and out with a set time frame.

Clifden Caves Map

Clifden caves map
Image source: DOC

Finding Your Way Through This South Island Glow Worm Cave

Shortly after entering the cave, you'll come to the lower entrance. This section is the narrowest and most difficult tunneled section of the entire cave system.

It might seem a little off-putting at first. However, this is pretty much as tight as it gets as it opens up quite a bit once you get further into the cave.

The path is marked out by reflective markers that point way. Remember to avoid crawling through any unmarked passages to prevent damage to the cave and to avoid getting lost.

Exploring clifden caves

What to Expect at Clifden Caves New Zealand

  • Cave Length: 1 km
  • Total Time: 1-2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy but can get claustrophobic, only recommended for fit individuals and kids over 12.

Exploring the Clifden Caves was one of the most underrated adventures that I had in the South Island. The caverns and tunnels are epic to explore, with loads of limestone formations to check out.

The tunnels wind back and forth before opening up to several large caverns. It's possible to make your way all the way through the cave system from the entrance and exit at the southern exit. If you do this, you'll have to drop down a few ladders (see map above).

Clifden caves
Exploring clifden caves

Remember to try to experience the blackout by covering your torch! You'll probably spot some...

Clifden Glow Worm Caves / Titiwai

Clifden Caves is one of many glow worm caves in New Zealand's South Island. This cave is home to a species of glow worm known as Titiwai. These worms are actually the larvae stage of a species of flies known as fungus gnats.

The glow is used by the larvae to attract prey which they catch in their sticky, glowing threads that you'll spot throughout the cave.

Clifden caves glow worms
Glow worms new zealand
Long exposure to try to capture the glow worms

More Glow Worm Caves In the South Island

Looking to explore more epic glow worm caves on the South Island of New Zealand? Below are a few more worth checking out.

  • Waitomo Caves - Waikato
  • Te Anau Glowworm Caves
  • Hokitika Glow Worm Dell

More South Island Travel Guides & Blogs

Honestly, if you're on the fence about visiting the Clifden Caves - go do it, as long as you're prepared and conditions allow. This was one of my favourite and most unexpectedly epic adventures along the south coast.

If you're looking for more free travel guides or articles for New Zealand's South Island, you'll find them here:

Clifden caves new zealand
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.