The Waitomo Caves region has a unique mix of Maori Tikanga/heritage, farming history, one hundred and twenty years of cave tourism, scientific interest in caves and the somewhat eccentric sport of caving. People with all these interests and backgrounds form a backdrop to this vital, energetic, small rural community that has developed its own colourful and interesting history.
Since 1981 the Waitomo Caves Museum Society has amassed a comprehensive collection of items relating to the unique cultural, biological and geological history of Waitomo Caves. The collection is constantly growing and we continue to be amazed at the interesting items donated to us by members of the public over the years.
For at least 500 years, Waitomo has been the home of Maori people descended from the Tainui waka (canoe) which landed and is buried at Kawhia. The museum houses a small collection of everyday implements and taonga (artefacts) once belonging to these people.
Our photographic collection contains many images from the early days of tourism in the three main tourist caves: Glowworm, Aranui and Ruakuri. Our postcard collection forms a large proportion of our photographic collection. These were once popular souvenirs of an era when very few people owned cameras.
To complement the photographic collection the centre holds many items of interest relating to the Waitomo Hotel. Opened in 1908 to support tourism in the area, the Waitomo Hotel was operated by the New Zealand Government for many years. It boasted silver service and a very high standard of accommodation for travellers visiting this remote region.
The large number of caves around the Waitomo district has attracted scientific interest from the very beginning of European visitation to the central North Island. Dr Arthur Thomson and Ferdinand von Hochstetter were two early scientific explorers to visit caves and find fossil bird remains. We have an extensive collection of fossil bird, bat and insect skeletons uniquely preserved for thousands of years in the stable cave environment. They are an extremely valuable resource, and the museum receives many requests for access to the collection from scientists wishing to study New Zealand’s paleofaunal history.
Waitomo’s farming sector stands side by side with Waitomo’s tourism industry as a major economic contributor to the region. The centre houses many historic photographs of farms around the region and some interesting accounts from pioneer farmers from the early days. The centre receives many requests from people around the world wishing to trace their family histories and wishing for a photograph of family with a Waitomo Connection.
Our collection of caving memorabilia keeps us in touch with the stream of colourful, intrepid and very interesting people who have travelled from every corner of the world to explore the caves of Waitomo. Some have stayed and settled here, others have moved on leaving a trail of old photos and discarded caving equipment. The centre preserves these items and thus the stories and experiences of the Waitomo Caves people.