Sign in or Create your own Travel blog
Select Location: 

View Entire Trip

Share |
    

Tuesday 19 Feb 2013
Waitomo, New Zealand

Ropes and glow worms and adventures in the dark

We left Hot Water Beach and set off for the caves of Waitomo. New Zealand exists as a result of numerous volcanic erruptions and movements in the earth's tectonic plates, so there is a fascinating geological variety around the coastline and throughout the country. In the Waitomo area, an enormous cave network was discovered by Maori tribes. Maoris beleive that the souls of their dead leave New Zealand via caves up at Cape Reinga, so they will never enter any caves further than the daylight can penetrate, in order to protect their souls while alive.  As a result, it wasn't until years later that European settlers began to explore properly. Even today it is estimated that only about 5% of the cave network has been opened to public access.

The Black Water Rafting company has been running for nearly 30 years and it was this that really caught my imagination before I left home. After looking at the different options, I decided to go the whole hog and signed up for a 5-hour adventure known as The Abyss: 

Abseiling: drop 35m down into the darkness with only your head torch for light...

Flying fox: a zip line set up inside the caves, which can be done in the dark

Tubing: float along an underground river in inflated truck tyre inner tubes while watching a stunning array of glow worms on the cavern roof

Caving: clamber over rocks, wade through streams and squeeze through holes

Climb a waterfall: clamber up and around two narrow waterfalls to reach daylight again

Given my years of climbing, you would think I would be ok with abseiling by now, but it still scares the pants off me. Bizarrely, I am far more confident if someone else is in charge of the rope and lowers me down. It's being in control of the rope myself that scares me, as I'm always convinced I won't be able to stop myself. But I decided I wanted to do the flying fox enough to make myself do the abseil first. We had a quick practice abseiling down a short slope outside the caves beforehand, mainly so we could practice stopping and controlling our speed. Then it was up to the platform and over the edge one by one. Turtle and Jed (our cave leaders) did explain that the descent would get narrow as it went through 'the throat', but it wasn't until I got down to it that I realised just how narrow. In reality, there was more than enough room, but I was mentally berating myself for choosing the abseil trip with a barrage of unrepeatable thoughts as I manoeuvred my way through the narrow gap. Below the throat, it widened out but the rock face was too slippery to maintain a decent abseil position, so the mental cursing continued. I was so pleased to get to the bottom!! Jed grinned at me and asked how my white knuckles were doing - he'd been steadying the rope so had felt every jerk as I came down at a snail's pace - I released my death grip and tried not to wuss out completely, but had a quiet moment of adrenaline fuelled shaking as I joined the others who had come down before me. Once I had calmed down, I realised we were sitting in an enormous cavern with tiny glow worm lights all over the roof above us. 

Once everyone was down, we set off along the cavern. With everyone's head torches, there was more than enough light to see by. We saw some narrow 'drinking straw' stalactites - very long narrow hollow tubes that form at around 1cm per 100 years. The mind boggles to think how long these had taken to form. 

The cave narrowed to a little rock corridor in which someone had embedded a metal mesh platform to stand on. We all turned off our head torches and awaited our turn. One at a time, Jed attached our harnesses to an overhead Flying Fox cable. Once we were seated and ready, he let us go and flipped off his own head torch. It was absolutely exhilarating to fly down in the dark, not knowing how far the zip line went. After whizzing down and back up a short way, there was a sudden jerk - which I punctuated beautifully with a scream - and I slid back to a stop. This gave me a chance to look about at a much closer cave roof covered in glow worm lights. Breathtaking! Turtle then flipped her light back on and made me jump again by standing only inches from my face and grinning madly. 

Watching everyone else have the same experience was very amusing. Next up was a refreshment break. We had zipped down to a wide ledge several metres above the underground river. We sat in a row with our feet dangling over the edge and were served a cup of hot chocolate and flapjacks (or a big piece of chocolate in my case). I thought standing on Hot Water Beach was an odd experience, but this was even more unexpected.

We then picked an inflated inner tube each and jumped off the ledge into the river - about a 3m jump - landing on our inner tubes with an enormous splash. So childish, but so much fun... We pulled ourselves along by a rope clipped into the wall. Eventually we gathered in a group so Jed could tell us all about glow worms. In a nutshell, they are larvae who use their lights to attract other insects into the sticky strings they have dangled from the rock. After feasting on their victims for long enough, they go into a cocoon and emerge as gnats with no mouth or digestive organs. They then copulate like mad for about 24 hours before dying (and often getting stuck on the web strings of the next generation). In other words, they spend about 90% of their adult life having sex! While we were talking, Turtle had in clipped the rope for us, so we were able to turn off our lights again and drift along following the rope in the dark while watching the glow worm lights on the changing shapes and levels of the cavern roof.  It was quite a magical experience.

We threw the tubes back up onto the ledge and continued along the river by swimming, wading or climbing over obstacles.  At one point they had set up a barricade and a slide, so we went down on our bellies and had a photo taken at the bottom.  Very attractive 'contact-lens-defence' screwed up face in my photo!  We had another hot squash and chocolate stop and took some silly group pictures on another ledge and crawled through a tiny rock tunnel (another photo op), before reaching our final challenge: Either walk up a 'chicken route' or climb up two waterfalls to find the way out.  Needless to say we all chose the waterfall option.  The waterfalls had formed a corkscrew effect in the rock, so we were climbing up and around at the same time.  There were plenty of hand and footholds to choose from and in only a few minutes we emerged into the daylight in a beautful quiet fern gully.  A short steep walk later and we emerged to see the last of the sun setting behind the hills.

It was definitely a challenging afternoon, physically and mentally, but one of the best things I have done in ages.  The sense of satisfaction was matched only by exhaustion, and they went some way to rectifying that by feeding us hot tomato soup and bagels back at the centre.  I felt like I had truly earned my t-shirt afterwards! 

0 Comments for this Travel blog entry

Zobeedoo's Big World Adventure, Part I

Travel blog by zobeedoo

Marahau Bridges, Abel Tasman

Marahau Bridges, Abel Tasman


The first part of my trip will take in South East Asia, New Zealand and Australia. I'm looking forward to seeing new places, revisiting some old places as well as meeting friends and family along the way.

visitors: 273,641

Currently in:

Orchard Road, Singapore

Buy this Blog on CD!  More...


Makes a great gift for anytime!

Photo Album

  • The Abyss:...

    Waitomo

    New Zealand

    The Abyss: Waitomo Black Water Rafting Co.
  • The Abyss:...

    Waitomo

    New Zealand

    The Abyss: Waitomo Black Water Rafting Co.
  • The Abyss:...

    Waitomo

    New Zealand

    The Abyss: Waitomo Black Water Rafting Co.
  • The Abyss....

    Waitomo

    New Zealand

    The Abyss. Waitomo