Caving Areas in New Zealand
The vast majority of caves in New Zealand are formed in limestone, or in its metamorphic variety, marble. Other than this, there are sea caves in a number of areas, and some lava caves, formed in volcanic rocks as they cool, principally in and around Auckland city.
Virtually every part of New Zealand contains caves. The most important caving areas are at Waitomo, north-west Nelson, and north Westland.
In Northland, there is a small limestone block containing some popular caves at Waipu. Beneath Auckland City and environs are lava caves, formed as the lava cooled. The region around Waitomo, extending southward to north Taranaki and to Te Anga near the coast, contains most of the North Island's best-known caves, including the longest, Gardner's Gut, which is 12 km long. Other major caves are the stream caves of Mangapu and Mangawhitikau, and the Waitomo Headwaters System.
To the south towards Awakino, the limestone block becomes narrower. Popular areas in north Taranaki include Puketiti, Matawhero, and Mahoenui, containing several caves more than four kilometres long.
On the East Cape is the Whakapunake area, containing the Te Reinga Cave, and the Mangaone Valley with the Mangaone Cave. To the south, between Coonoor and Makuri in the northern Wairarapa, there are numerous small caves.
Other small North Island caving areas include Pohangina (north of Palmerston North), Taihape, Martinborough, and Mauriceville.
Caves are found in both limestone and marble throughout north-west Nelson. The marble areas - Takaka Hill, Mt Arthur, and Mt Owen - are alpine in character, with caves found up to 1700 metres above sea level. These three marble mountains contain all of New Zealand's deepest caves, as well as the three longest caves - Bulmer Cavern (67 km) at Mt Owen, Ellis Basin System (33 km) at Mt Arthur, and Greenlink system (26 km) on Takaka hill.
There is an important limestone area with numerous caves, mainly easy and well-decorated, at Paturau, west of Collingwood, as well as significant areas of limestone in the Aorere, Anatoki, Takaka, and Cobb Valleys. Moonsilver Cave in the Cobb is about five kilometres long.
The other major South Island area is north Westland. At Karamea is the 13 kilometre Honeycomb Hill Cave, with 70 entrances, plus New Zealand's largest limestone arches. To the west of the Paparoa Range, a band of limestone stretches from Charleston to Punakaiki, containing caves such as The Metro near Charleston, with eight kilometres of mainly large passage, and the Xanadu system near Punakaiki, which is five kilometres long.
To the east of the Paparoas is a smaller area of limestone, with Profanity Cave at Inangahua of nearly three kilometres length.
Around Greymouth there are pockets of limestone with small caves, and one cave is recorded from Jackson Bay.
Along the east coast of the South Island there are only small cave areas; in Marlborough near Blenheim and Kaikoura; in Canterbury at Waiau, Broken River, and Pareora; and in North Otago near Palmerston.
In Southland there are minor caving areas at Clifden, Monowai, and in the Stuart Mountains, as well as a more extensive one on the west shore of Lake Te Anau. This contains the six kilometre long Aurora Cave.