After the dizzy heights of skydiving the previous day, on Thursday we sought out adventure in the opposite direction: underground in the Waitomo caves.
Having donned wetsuits and helmets with lanterns, our adventure began with a 35m abseil into a dark hole. This was lots of fun, although much harder work than it looks on TV! Our excellent guides, Logan and Fraser, then gave us a quick introduction to the cave system we would be exploring and asked us to avoid stepping on the 10,000 year-old mud. After a short walk we had to make another descent, this time by zip-line and into complete darkness — awesome!
So, here we are, quite a long way underground, illuminated only by the light of our helmet lanterns, sitting on the bank of an underground river dangling our legs over the side, really not sure what to expect next and our guides produce a couple of thermoses of tea and coffee and flapjacks — an underground picnic! (The flapjacks were really good too.)
After the break we discovered why we were wearing wetsuits — the next part of journey was going to be water-based. We were each given a large rubber-ring which we had to sit on and jump into the water, preferably without falling out of the ring and dunking ourselves in the rather dark and cold looking water… Having successfully managed this we pulled ourselves up the stream using the static line attached to the wall of the cave before extinguishing our lights and floating back down lit only by the illumination given off by the many, many, glowworms that lived on the ceiling of the cave! To be honest, I found glowworms to be a little disappointing—they’re so tiny they really don’t give off enough light to be able to see, even in the huge numbers found in this cave system but the sight of all these small, blue, pin-pricks of light shining down from the ceiling, like stars in the night sky, was still very pretty.
After abandoning our tube-rings at the picnic spot, we continued down stream by walking and swimming. There was another snack-break for hot orange and chocolate, and then we started our ascent back to the surface, scrambling over rocks and climbing up three waterfalls — such an awesome experience. Emerging from the cave was a little odd as we had been underground about three hours and so instead of emerging from the darkness into daylight, it was almost as dark outside as it had been in the caves!
Although I hadn’t found it too cold underground, a hot shower, bagels and soup were an excellent way to round off a really good trip. After such a disappointing first few days on the North Island, our last few were proving to be some of the highlights of my trip.