Bilingual glow worms and Maori language tours at the Waitomo caves

By Thomas Bywater

They say the best way to learn a language is through total immersion. It's an opportunity to throw yourself in the deep end and learn new words in a unique context.

So, what better place to pick up or practice your te reo Māori than underneath the living lights of Waitomo?

For the first time in 130 years, Waitomo Caves will be running tours completely in te reo Māori. Tours of the underground titiwai (glow worms) will cater to manuhiri with all levels of proficiency but are aimed towards those wanting to pick up kupu kupu in the caves.

From 13 to 19 September, throughout te Wiki o te reo Māori, visitors will be invited to take the classic subterranean tour, with a te reo twist.

You'll hear Korero of how the networks were first explored in the 1800s by local chief Tane Tinorau, all in te reo along with an English translation.

Waitomo is inviting you to pick up new kupu kupu in the caves. Photo / Supplied

"Māori Language Week is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate te reo Māori and the Māori heritage and ownership of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves," says Discover Waitomo General Manager, Tim Loxton.

"Our full immersion and bi-lingual tours will take manuhiri on a rich cultural journey, which can be enjoyed regardless of their own te reo proficiency".

There are few places more deeply steeped with te ara and te reo Maori than in western King Country.

Tours are running daily from 13-19 September 2021. To learn more visit

An underground guide to te reo Maori

Titiwai the Māori name for glow-worms refers to shining light (titi) reflected in water (wai).

This is, of course, the stem of Waitomo - an entrance to the water tunnels.

The star-like glow of the underground caverns is something that translates across all languages. In some creation myths, the origin of light and the universe is referred to like a cosmic glowworm cavern.

Te maramatanga namunamu ki taiao refers to the dim, first glimmers of light at the beginning of time, belonging to Moko-huruhuru the glow-worm.

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