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Black-Water Rafting Waitomo Caves – Day 17
Wednesday 13th April 2005
I wanted to try my hand at some Black-Water rafting today in the Waitomo Caves. The idea was to glimpse the notorious glow worms that apparently were in abundance along the roofs of the caves of Waitomo. I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed.
The first thing on the list today was to wake up, and I achieved this with little trouble. This lead me to the following task of getting ready and having some breakfast. These were also of little hindrance to me. With a belly full of cereal I headed down to the caves to begin my exploration.
The guides were waiting and a group of lads turned up shortly after I did, as well as a couple of others. We were kitted up and taken up the hillside to the entrance to the caves. Here we were given a short lesson on abseiling and how to manoeuvre throughout the cave system, and were given strict instructions not to touch the stalactites above our heads. After we had all had a practice turn on the training rope, it was time to enter the caves.
I had imagined a grand entrance with a high ceiling and water dripping from the roof, the eerie sounds emanating from deep within echoing to a bone-tingling groan by the time the sound had reached our ears. So you can imagine I was a little surprised when the entrance was revealed to us as being a very small hole in the ground. My face lit up with excitement at the prospect of abseiling deep into the heart of the cave system. I couldn’t wait for my turn.
The harness was attached to my waist and I was strapped up nicely, then I was asked to jump in, so I did. You couldn’t see anything of your immediate surroundings, and you really are dropping blindly into the hole in the ground, and have to feel your way down. The walls around the already-tiny hole began to close in as I descended further into the abyss. I was glad I am not claustrophobic. At one point you had to stand tall to make your body as thin as possible to enable the negotiation of the final part of the tunnel. Here you were hoisted down by the guy waiting at the foot of the cave. It was altogether scary, exciting, and completely new to me. I loved it!
Once the party was assembled together in the cavern, we were lead down a well-mapped path to a high-wire further down. The path was thin and the stalactites were visible all around – although well worn and contaminated by human hands.
The high wire was designed to deliver you into the main cave, where it was also very dark. (The guys deliberately switched off the torches for added effect). It was really good fun as you had no idea of when you would reach the end of the zip wire. You could only hear the yells from those already on the wire as they disappeared into the darkness, yells ever-quietening.
I was already having a lot of fun at this point, and once the final person was accounted for, the torches were switched on. Suddenly we could appreciated where the sound of water was coming from, which was right in front of us. Over the rocks-edge was a river running through the cave. It was quite a drop from the platform we were on, and would surely be an adrenalin-fuelled leap into it from the platform. I could see no other direction for us to go. It was made even more exciting with the addition of rubber rings that were presented to us. We would have to leap off with our rings and land on our bottoms on the rings. Sounds simple, right?
One after the other, the explorers successfully achieved this, and I was no exception. It was actually very easy, although the impact of the water on my private parts was nothing short of breathtaking. I had slid through the ring a little too much and so my bum took most of the impact, my privates also sharing some of the thud. I had to shout that I was OK as we all did, but the sound wasn’t there. After a minute or two I regained my breath and explained that I had pained myself, which brought a smile from the two guides.
From here we floated down into the cave along the silent river. The water was slow-moving and it was so nice to relax. Almost immediately we were blessed with the most surreal sight. Hundreds of thousands of glow worms lit up the cave, evenly separated as they occupied all available space along the cave ceiling. We floated along on our rings, mesmerised by the dazzling beauty, almost as if looking into a clear night sky up at the stars above. Each one of us was silent, the odd gasp breaking the silence occasionally. It also reminded me of a ride in Epcot, Florida, with thousands of fibre optics displaying astonishing colour. I was in another world.
Time passed by and we were wrenched from this dream back to reality, and back-tracked along the river to where we had come from. Here we parted company with our rubber rings and set off in a new direction on foot, past the waterfall that was more audible in this direction.
We walked through large, open caves, and through small, narrow tunnels. Sometimes we even crawled through very small passages on our hands and knees. It was lots of fun. We concluded the tour of the caves by ascending the small passageways up to the surface, with a waterfall gushing all about us.
After emerging from the caves and back into the sunlight, we had a drink with the guys back at the tour building, as well as a bit of lunch. A few tales were exchanged between the party before we headed off in our opposite directions. I took a trip to the accompanying museum.
During the afternoon I drove back along the road I had explored yesterday, this time stopping at various points to admire the beauty. Everywhere you drive in New Zealand, you will always find signs to areas of interest. It may be a waterfall or a lake, maybe a forest area or a river. There is also an indication of how far the attraction is by foot. It was these places I wanted to see.
One such place was a cliff with a huge hole through, resembling a bridge. This is indeed what it was called. I also found a small cave in the undergrowth, and ventured inside with a low-powered torch, realising it was actually fairly large inside. As I walked further in, the light faded and the dark engulfed the beam from my torch, slowly forcing the light back into my hand. As I could no longer see where I was going, I retraced my steps, stumbling a few times on rocks invisible to me. I wanted so much to go further in and explore the cave but I knew it wouldn’t be a sensible thing to do as I couldn’t see a thing.
My last stop along the stretch of road was a waterfall, far better than Haruru Falls in Whangarei, but I made a mistake that I wouldn’t make again. I forgot my camera. This is a lesson I was sure to learn as I decided to drive back to the hostel and get it. Some 2 hours later I made it back to the waterfall, with the sunlight fading fast, and I knew I was too late. Still I persevered, and hurried down the path to the cascading water, but by this time there was no light at all. I would never forget my camera again, that’s for sure. As I trudged back up the pathway to the car, night was upon me and the glow worms could be seen along the path edge under the rocks, little pieces of light the only clue as to their whereabouts. I was tempted to touch one but had a feeling they may be poisonous or dangerous in some way. Maybe I’m just a wimp. Noises from the forest all about me made me feel slightly weary as I negotiated the path.
Back at the hostel I had a pizza and watched a film with some of the other guests, sharing stories of my days adventures. It was a good day today again but I was thoroughly exhausted and needed a good night sleep.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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