The Waitomo Caves are famed for their glow worms, a small maggot that creates a bio-luminescent secretion that gives off a bluish light. Many people come to the caves and take a walking or boat tour of some of these caves. That’s not for me, and numerous other adventure seekers however.
For those that want a bit of adrenalin with their sightseeing, there are numerous other companies in Waitomo that cater to that kind of thing. The one I went with was the largest and most well established, a company called ‘The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co.’ Blackwater rafting isn’t really related to whitewater rafting at all, other than it involves water. But more on that in a second. They had two different adventure options, a 3 hour ‘Black Labyrinth’ and the 5 hour ‘Black Abyss’. I chose the Abyss.
First things first was getting our gear, which included a full body wetsuit, harness and a few attached items, helmet and light. Once myself, 7 other paying customers and our 2 guides were ready, we hopped in a van and sped off towards our awaiting cave.
Because of the nature of the activities you can’t bring a camera (even though mine is waterproof and rugged). That way they can charge you $20 at the end, something I didn’t opt for this time because the photos were only of us sitting around during breaks. Instead, I’ll illustrate what we went through!
First up was getting into the cave. Nope, we aren’t simply walking in here, we had a 35m abseil down into the black.
The cave narrowed considerably about 1/2 way down, and it you were a big guy it would be a tight squeeze indeed. I was first down and got to enjoy watching the rest slowly make their way to the bottom.
After that, a short walk brought us to the second item, something called a flying fox.
Pretty much like a zip-line, you are strapped in and let go, and you zip along the wire. Oh, did I mention that your helmet lights are off so it’s nearly pitch black, so you don’t know what is coming next? The only light seen is given off by the glow worms, which zoom overhead as you travel along the flying fox. It was probably only 20-30m long, and it rushed by quickly.
Next up was a quick hot chocolate break, and then it was time for the tubes. Each of us was given a rubber inner-tube for flotation, and then one at a time we jumped from a cliff edge into a calm river below, landing on the tube. The water, as expected, was COLD.
Once all of us were in the water and splashing around, we started to pull upstream using a rope.
Eventually the water reached a dead-end part of the cave where the ceiling came down too low for us to continue. At this point, we linked our tubes together and began the slow return journey, relaxing as the current took us (and pulled along in spots by one of the guides).
But the view looking down at us wasn’t what made this part special – it was the ceiling of the cave that did. We all had our lights off, but it was far from pitch black in this area despite being far under ground. Thousands upon thousands of glow worms adorned the ceiling, creating a brilliant starry sky-scape. It was a spectacular thing to see as you simply floated on down. If you sat up in the tube, you could see the contours of the cave height ahead, given shape by the glow worms. While the adrenalin stuff was a lot of fun, this part truly was memorable.
After about 10 minutes of enjoying the show, we made it back to where we had jumped in the river originally, and this time continued downstream. There was one small waterfall we went over by sliding down. But this was a cheat – the slide was manmade and metal. We went down headfirst.
Then it was about 15 minutes of trekking down the cave river. The glowworms were still present above, but not quite as many as before, so our lights were on to illuminate the way. The water often would be deep enough that swimming was necessary to get around, then at times would quickly get shallow again.
After one final hot-tea break and some chocolate for energy, we entered the last part of the adventure. Climbing back to the surface, via waterfalls. THIS part was my favourite of the adventure activities, especially since I had abseiled, zip lined and gone caving/spelunking on prior vacations. But I’d never climbed waterfalls (free hand at that).
It was a bit challenging, requiring a few twists and stretches here and there, but the guides were always nearby to help and point out where to aim for next. After a couple 3-4 meter waterfalls were scaled, the last one was a shorter 2 meter climb, where sunlight awaited.
And about 3 hours after I had entered the Abyss, I was back in the sunshine. While the tour itself is 5 hours, a lot of time is spent preparing/getting equipment, and getting to and from the cave. Still, a fun and unique experience. The glow worms and waterfall climbing were the highlights for me, and everyone had different things they loved.