Clifden Caves New Zealand offers a free and self-guided caving adventure like no other. In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated adventures on New Zealand’s South Island, so don’t miss it!

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, 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 intersection for 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.

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 at 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.

Cave entrance at Clifden Caves

WANT TO HIKE THE KEPLER?: Read the full Kepler Track guide

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.


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

Image source: DOC

Finding Your Way – Follow the Markers

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.


What to Expect at Clifden Caves New Zealand

Cave Length: 1KM
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

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

Clifden Caves Glow Worms / Titiwai

Clifden Caves New Zealand 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.

glow worms new zealand
Long exposure to try to capture the glow worms

More South Island Travel Guides and 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:


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