New Zealand Caving

The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, Waitomo Caves, The Black Abyss Tour

When you travel you do so many things that push you out of
your comfort zone. Things that you never thought you could do, or that you have
never thought about doing. It’s all part of the adventure and New Zealand is a
land abundant in amazing and daring experiences.

The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company in Waitomo
definitely offers some of these experiences. I had never been caving before and
I threw myself in at the deep end with the Black Abyss Tour, which was
described to us as being the most extreme of the different caving options. It
was explained as a 5 hour journey, which included; abseiling, a zip-wire (or as
New Zealanders call it, a flying fox) and climbing and tubing. As the saying
goes, ‘if you are going to do something, you should do it properly’, so I
decided this would be the best way to make the most out of my first time
caving.
We arrived slightly anxious and were greeted by our guides
to be kitted out for our descent in to the dark. It felt a bit strange pulling
on the tight suit, but I was glad to have been wearing it by the end of the
day! The guides were really friendly and showed us how all the equipment worked
to make sure we were comfortable before we went in to the cave. Our first task
was to practise abseiling. We had a bit of fun with it, as you can see.
After practising, it was time to actually abseil 35m down in
to the cave. We had to control the abseil ourselves and it was a little
unnerving, as you couldn’t see where you were going. The cave entrance was also
a bit like a traditional sand egg timer, so it quickly got quite narrow. I felt
like my helmet was stuck at one point and I got spun around a little bit, which
messed up my position. Safe to say, it wasn’t the smoothest descent. Luckily
the narrow section didn’t last too long and I was relieved to be back out in
the open space. My hands felt stiff from holding the equipment too tight and I
almost felt like I couldn’t feed the rope through the device. I did eventually
get down fine, despite being a bit shaky!
The first thing I was told to do when I reached my friends
at the bottom was to turn my light off and look up. There were loads of luminous glow worms in the ceiling, they looked like stars, it was incredible!
This photo was taken on our second visit to the caves. Sorry it’s not the best image, but the glow worms were difficult to capture on camera due to the lighting conditions.
Once we had all made it to the bottom we walked a little way
in to the caves and were faced with a zip-wire into the dark. The zip-wire
itself wasn’t too long, but because you couldn’t see where you were going it
gave you an adrenaline rush. We had to get ourselves into position, hovering in
a gap between the rocks, before we were released to go whizzing off in to the
darkness. It made my stomach turn a little, but it was fun. I think I enjoyed
that more than the abseil! The fear of hitting a rock on the way added to the
excitement.
After we had all got over that obstacle we were given a
quick hot chocolate break with some flapjack. I think this was to warm us up a
little before we plunged in to cold water in inflatable rings for some tubing.
Apparently the water was 9 degrees Celsius, but it felt like 5! We pulled
ourselves downstream holding on to a rope at first and then we had to paddle
for a bit. I found this quite challenging, especially with only my arms to use
as oars. I didn’t move as fast as everyone else and panicked a few times, as I
kept bumping in to rocks. Luckily, my partner Jamie helped me and I got through
it. It seems funny that the tubing would seem like the easiest part of the
trip, but it was the worst part for me. I guess everyone has different weak
points and fears. I don’t like water much, particularly when I can’t see the
bottom or what is in it! Thankfully, we didn’t have to paddle back. We painted each other’s faces with clay from the cave and we were pulled in a long line, in our rings, so we could relax and look at the glow
worms above.
Our final challenge was to climb up three waterfalls to get
out of the cave. The water was powerful and fast flowing, so it was a little
daunting. We basically had to free climb, one at a time, with instructions from
the guide behind you. They directed you as to where you needed to place your hands
and feet to pull yourself up. The water was so loud that you could barely hear them,
but they did point as well. Some of the foot holes were quite a stretch and I
needed a helping hand from the top at one point, to pull me up. We were told
when we reached the top of the first waterfall to crawl on our hands and knees
through the water, any other way and you would get knocked back down. We all
made it though, without any issues or injuries. I was definitely relieved to see the light
at the end of the tunnel by the time we reached the third waterfall (below). Believe it or not that was actually the tamest of the three waterfalls and we were able to climb out unassisted, obviously caving pros by then…
Overall, it was a brilliant experience and I was proud to
have conquered my fears. I will remember the Black Abyss Tour for a long time
and would recommend it to anyone who loves adventure and wants a challenge!
For those of us less attracted to adrenaline rushes, there
are still opportunities to see the caves. You can opt for a mild guided walk, or
a boat ride to see the glow worms. I also did the Ruakuri cave walk to see the
cave formations up close. Although it was not quite as thrilling as the Black
Abyss Tour, it was nice to have a more relaxed look around. The formations
really are impressive. Which ever cave trip you choose you will not be disappointed, the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand are a must-see.

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