A Night Of Lights And Magic
Natural beauty, wonder, luxury, adventure, hospitality, tranquillity, cultural insight and education all come together in a magnificent 3-hour+ journey to the Mangapapa Canyon where thousands of tiny luminescent larvae cling to steep rock walls.
This daily tour has been running since 2004 and attracts everyone from high-end international travellers to Kiwis who want to enjoy a romantic escape or a family treat.
Participants meet late afternoon at Waimarino Adventure Park on the outskirts of Tauranga and are driven 15-minutes through quiet country roads to McLaren Falls Park – home to one of the largest botanical collections of trees in the country.
Within minutes you’ll be sipping fine New Zealand wine and indulging in delicious cheese and crackers beside the lake while getting to know your tour guide. There’s no rush or set script here – just genuine hospitality right down to the locally-made venison salami that was caught by Waimarino’s owner, Blair Anderson.
Lake McLaren is picture-perfect. Black swans, geese and ducks gently float past, and sheep are dotted on the far hillside, grazing in the late afternoon sun. As dusk falls, the double kayaks are unloaded and you’re given a short tutorial. Warm clothing is recommended (especially in winter) but Waimarino also provides fleece jerseys and waterproof rain jackets to wear. You’ll be given a kayak skirt (which fits snuggly around your seat so you don’t get splashed), a life jacket and optional mittens attached to your kayak paddle to keep your hands toasty and warm.
Your kayak seat is carefully adjusted to your height and you’ll be shown how to use the foot pedals to steer in the right direction. Once everyone is on the water, you’re given time to practice and get in sync with your kayak partner before heading upstream.
The 1.5-kilometre journey to the canyon takes around 30-minutes – during which time, the sun completely sets. It’s a surreal feeling to paddle along in the dark and the surrounding water transforms into black ink as stars appear in the night sky above.
Your guide wears a headlamp and always stays close by, so there’s no chance of getting lost! An explanation of the Southern Cross star constellation and how to find due south also provides a tiny glimpse into what navigating by the stars must feel like.
Before you reach the canyon itself, you must first make your way past a working hydropower station. There’s little to see except a tall concrete shadow but the sound of rushing water does get your heart rate going. Fortunately, all tour guides are strong and experienced paddlers who will do 95 percent of the work for you. Simply follow their instructions about holding onto the kayak next to you and they’ll tow you through this flow and into the calm waters beyond.
The Mangapapa Canyon is only accessible by kayak and its dark, sheltered, damp conditions provide the perfect home for glow worms. In fact, this is one of the most densely populated glow worm spots anywhere in New Zealand.
Steep cliffs rise up on either side of this narrow canyon, with native bush and ferns providing a canopy over the top. One tiny spot of blue-green light soon gives way to thousands as you gently float along. It’s hard to believe what you’re seeing is real and not a Disney theme park ride because it is so spellbinding and perfect.
Once inside the canyon, you can relax peacefully while your guide explains the miracle of glow worms and the Māori legend of how ‘titiwai’ (meaning ‘light reflected over water’) came to be.
Despite 16 years of glow worm kayak tours, there are now more twinkling lights here than ever, proving Waimarino take excellent care of this secret spot and nature is continuing to thrive.
The return trip home is just as exhilarating as the first kayaking leg. Your ears will now be more in tune with the birds calling through the dark and your eyes adjust to see all the different shades of black along the riverbanks.
Plenty of photographs are taken on your behalf by your tour guide as you paddle along so you’ll have some special mementoes to look back on. This tour costs $135 per person and runs year-round. It’s just as fun in the rain as it is on a clear night!
Waimarino also offers a ‘Big Kanu’ tour where you’ll ride in an 18 or 14 seater canoe. This option does not include wine and cheese beforehand and costs $99 per adult and $79 per child. Scenic daytime tours and kayaking down the Wairoa River are also available.
All up, the Waimarino evening glow worm kayak tour takes 3 to 3.5-hours and you’re delivered back to shore bone dry, elated, and full of admiration for Mother Nature. A unique adventure that’s not to be missed.
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