Hiding deep underneath the rolling hills of the North Island’s Waikato area are caverns, cave techniques stuffed with the sunshine of 1,000,000 glowworms and the roar of subterranean rivers. Fortunately there’s a method for us all to see this mysterious aspect to New Zealand.
Christina frowns at me. I can inform I nonetheless haven’t satisfied her that it is a good thought, however I persevere.
“I favor being up excessive – you recognize that,” she explains. “I’m a rooftop bar lady, not a caver. How are you going to see this panning out effectively?”
However I’m not being delay.
That is our first time within the Waikato Area – a big part of New Zealand’s North Island – and it’s additionally our first time to go blackwater rafting. It’s a type of loopy sports activities that NZ likes to do.
Zorbing, bungee leaping, jetboating – the Kiwis are mad for all of it. So tunnelling your method right into a prehistoric cave system with nothing however a tough hat and a truck tyre innertube then floating your method out of the darkness is totally their type of disco.
However earlier than we plunge into the icy waters of a river that’s by no means seen the sunshine of day, there are a few precursors that construct us as much as it.
Welcome to Waikato’s huge community of caves of the Waitomo and Ruakuri.
Visiting these caves for the primary time, and this being one of many few occasions Christina and I’ve ventured underground like this, we mixed three completely different experiences.
The Waitomo Glowworm Cave, the Ruakuri Cave and a Legendary Blackwater Rafting journey gave us a extra full perspective of the world and likewise acquired us used to being thus far underground.
Waitomo Glowworm Cave boat trip – 45 minutes
From the highest of the Waitomo Caves Customer Centre, our information leads us down into the aspect of the limestone hill. Down, down, down we march, previous enormous ivory-coloured stalactites and stalagmites.
By deep caverns and slim passages till we come to a low ceiling. Turning off the lights our information exhibits us the doorway to the river that flows beneath our toes. There within the rock above, are tons of of glowworms gleaming like green-blue jewels within the darkness.
From there, we board a flat-bottomed boat which our information manoeuvres alongside the darkish river as we glance up on the unbelievable mild present of tens of millions of glowworms above our heads.
It’s a beautiful introduction to the Waitamo cave system, studying about how the caves have been formed and to get us used to the sensation of being underground.
Ruakuri Cave journey stroll – 2 hours
It’s solely a brief drive up the highway to the subsequent a part of our caving journey: the Ruakuri Cave.
The image for this cave is 2 crimson canines leaping. That’s as a result of the Ruakuri Cave was found by early M?ori settlers after they chased two wild canines right into a gap within the hill. This led them all the way down to the grottos we have been about to discover.
It’s a spot of religious significance for the native M?ori, historically representing the doorway to the underworld, the place the lifeless reside.
Till lately, this cave system was solely accessible to probably the most daring and skilled of cavers.
From the registration workplace, we hike as much as the doorway of the cave within the aspect of the limestone hill. By a powerful space-age entrance, we learn the way we’re to descend into the Ruakuri Cave.
The spiral walkway, like an infinite screw, threads our pathway 50 metres to the underside. From there, our information leads us previous among the most stunning caves but – stuffed with towering limestone monoliths, translucent curtain-like formations, and delicate tendrils of stalactites and stalagmites.
There are many glowworms to see right here as effectively, however not as many as within the Waitamo Cave. At one level although our path crosses a river, the place loads of glowworms have constructed their properties.
Fascinating reality: these glowworms are in reality the larvae of fungus gnats – big mosquito-shaped flies that haven’t any mouth or digestive tract.
The glowworms’ ‘glow’ is the bioluminescence they generate to draw small bugs that they feed on till they’re able to pupate. Glowworms have a tendency to assemble above water techniques within the caves, the place bugs usually tend to come.
In mild of the glowworms, we see shapes transferring at midnight river beneath us. It’s a preview of what we’ll be doing after lunch: a gaggle are floating by with their Legendary Blackwater Rafting guides.
Our stomachs give a bit jolt on the thought… or maybe it’s simply the considered lunch.
The stroll again to the floor isn’t as arduous as we thought it will be. Actually, we realise as we neared the exit that this stroll is ideal for accessibility. The steel grid pathways all through the Ruakuri Cave are broad sufficient to take a wheelchair and there aren’t any steps. It’s an engineering feat.
Lunch at Waitomo
Again on the guests’ centre on the Waitomo Caves, we order lunch and take within the views out over the valley. Meals here’s a little costly, however the fish and chips we have now are huge and scrumptious.
There are options to the Waitomo Caves café. A brief bushwalk by means of the woods and over a hill (or a two-minute drive) will take you to the village of Waitomo.
Right here there are a couple of café and bar choices, however our information at Ruakuri really helpful the HuHu Café on the sting of city. It seems beautiful inside and the meals is meant to be nice, although maybe a bit pricy too.
HuHu additionally has lodging choices if you wish to keep within the space. We stayed about an hour up the highway within the stunning Henley Lodge in Cambridge.
Legendary Blackwater Rafting’s Black Labyrinth expedition – Three hours
The crowning glory of our go to to Waikato’s caves takes place a bit additional down the highway to the HQ of the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Firm.
We’re ushered all the way down to the altering rooms the place we’re fitted for full-length thick wetsuits, neoprene socks and waistcoats, gumboots and – most significantly – insulated fleeces to put on underneath all of it.
We’re additionally issued with hardhats and headlamps for when issues get darkish and low. We make our approach to the river that flows out of the part of the Ruakuri Cave we’ll be exploring and acquire our modes of transport: truck innertubes.
Above floor prep
The Black Labyrinth is a combination of caving and tubing. We’ll both be clambering by means of tight rock passages or bobbing down the subterranean river in our tubes. There are additionally a few underground waterfalls to barter, so earlier than we delve down, we have now a observe run.
I believe our information Jack secretly enjoys this half. And never that secretly.
From the sting of a picket deck overhanging the river, Jack makes me stand with my again to the water and my rubber tube round my bum. With a fast 3-2-1, I’ve to leap backwards into the water. On the identical time, Jack launches me additional backwards with an enormous shove within the chest.
It’s a baptism of ice and the chilly water envelopes me momentarily and I start bobbing downstream.
That is how we’ll be coping with the waterfalls deep underground. Simply with no mild and limestone cliffs both aspect.
And down we go
Our first impediment on the Black Labyrinth is clambering down into the cave opening. It’s not a large cave and our path plunges down into the rocky darkness beneath.
However Jack and Christine, our glorious guides, know the place each footfall and handhold is as we transfer on. The sensation of trepidation turns to pleasure as we go additional in and down.
As our group – there are solely 5 of us and the utmost to a gaggle is 12 – goes deeper into the cave, we realise how advanced this method is. Having explored this identical cave through the walkway above earlier, it feels a bit like we had the present from the walkway and now we’re backstage.
By gaps, over waterfalls, down lengthy stretches of river there’s a lot to this wonderful expertise. At one level, we have now the choice of testing our steel in The Squeeze – a decent craggy hole that doesn’t appear sufficiently big to suit a human.
There are different choices nonetheless, so that you don’t need to face that in case you don’t wish to.
The tip of the Black Labyrinth comes all too quickly for me and we’re clambering again out into daylight. Fortunately, there’s an additional choice of floating again down the river for some time, which is a superb approach to journey.
Again at base, we bathe, change and revel in some sizzling soup and bagels whereas we heat again up and debrief on what we’ve simply accomplished. And maybe have a look at the opposite experiences they provide at Legendary Blackwater Rafting.
Maybe subsequent time, we’ll strive the Black Abyss – a five-hour journey by means of the Ruakuri Cave that sees you abseil, zipline, climb and float into the darkish depths underneath the earth.
Waitomo – into the center of New Zealand
Any single a part of this expertise would provide you with an incredible perspective of this hidden underworld.
However doing all three – the Waitomo Glowworm boat tour, the strolling tour within the Ruakuri Cave and certainly one of Legendary Blackwater Rafting’s adventures – actually makes it a second in your travels you’ll all the time keep in mind.
We skilled the Waitomo glowworm caves and the Legendary Blackwater Rafting as visitors of Hamilton and Waikato Tourism.