After our heli-rafting and overnight hike to the Welcome Flat hot pool got cancelled due to Cyclone Ita we decided to get off the West Coast and head down to the Southern tip in search for better weather. After 9 hours of driving in the rain we finally hit Invercargill and were happy to rest after a very long day.

The next morning we jumped in the car and headed west of Invercargill to go explore the ‘off the beaten path’ Clifden Caves. We had such an incredible time exploring Cave Stream outside Castle Hill that we were excited to see what these caves had to offer.

Entrance to Clifden Caves

After a beautiful drive along the southern coastline, we pulled up to a sheep filled field with a small yellow ‘Limestone Caves’ sign marking the entrance. As usual, we were the only ones around so with a quick hop over the fence, we descended into the caves ready for our next adventure!

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Inside the entrance of Clifden Caves
Brent, me and Kristina inside Clifden Caves

Much different than the wet, flowing Cave Stream, Clifden caves were a dry labyrinth of underground passages. Luckily DOC had marked the path as there were often several options around every corner to choose from. I can imagine how easy it would be to get lost in there!

Kristina and I checking out the cave formations

This cave was much more of a scramble as you had to duck, crawl and squeeze your way through some pretty tight passages. Definitely not a place for someone who is claustrophobic! The limestones caves were filled with many unique characteristics such as stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone (aka cave bacon) and many more!

Flowstone (aka Cave Bacon)

When we turned out our lights we were surprised to see a number of famous New Zealand glow worms adorning the cave walls as well! They look much prettier in the dark 🙂

Glow worms

Although Clifden Caves is a fairly unknown attraction, it was once a popular tourist spot in the later 1800’s. Unfortunately the remnants of that can be seen as names have been carved or painted into many of the cave walls leaving a permanent mark on such a beautiful natural wonder.

Brent and I crawling through one of the passages

Despite the entrance only being 300m from the exit, the cave system covers nearly a mile underground, and after an hour into our adventure we came across a large underground pool – standing in the way of our exit. We spent a few minutes carefully calculating our attempt to climb around the pool, clinging to the sides in hopes of not falling into the unknown (but VERY DEEP) pool.

Having all made it across safe and sound we took some time to enjoy the area, stopping for a few photos including one with our CANADIAN FLAG!


Around the corner we could hear rushing water, so we went exploring to the find source. We came to a point of no return when a 7m drop stopped us from going any closer to the sound of the waterfall – if we had only had a rope we would have attempted the decent!

Kristina contemplating the decent into the unknown

Back on the main track, after a few tight ladder climbs we spotted daylight and were back on the surface just a few hundred meters from our car. Another incredible SELF GUIDED caving adventure in New Zealand – I hope we can find more of these to explore!

Clifden caves location map.
Clifden Cave Map (Source)