2003
03.06

Then last stop on our journey through the North Island of New Zealand would be the Waitomo Caves.  Located in the area where they filmed The Shire in Lord of the Rings, it is beautiful country with lush rolling hills, beautiful streams and crystal clear lakes.  Though it is what’s underground that brings most people to Waitomo.

Over hundreds of years the rain has worked its way through the limestone rock and formed a multitude of caves underneath the surface.  Literally miles of caves weave their way around this area and several guide services offer various opportunities to explore the Waitomo Caves. We decided on a 5-hour trip with Black Water Rafting. The next morning we met with our guides and a group of six English travelers and we all suited up in wet suits, harnesses, helmets and head lights.  Though we looked a bit silly, we were properly suited for cave exploration and we headed out to the cave entrance.

After doing a bit of practice for our abseil, we crowded around the metal platform that hovered above the cave entrance and one at a time we descended into the cave.  I clipped my harness to the line that dropped off into the nothingness below and swung out off the platform.  I was surrounded by a vertical tunnel of ferns and grasses, all glowing green from the area’s ample rainfall.  I descended about 40 feet on the wire seeing the platform disappear above me and looking down at a hole below me so small that I wondered if I could actually fit.  I squeezed myself through the narrow entrance and found myself descending another 100 feet into a dark abyss.  Below me I could only see the headlamps of the others and as I looked around my own light illuminated the walls of the cavern, affording me glimpses of the rock formations that covered the cave walls.

I reached the bottom of the abseil with little problem and followed my group through a tunnel, scrambling along the rock and following a well-trodden path.  Before long we reached another platform and we were instructed to turn off our headlamps.  It was amazing to be in such absolute darkness hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface.  But even more amazing was what we would do next.

The guide strapped my harness onto another wire, but this time I saw that the wire had a much more diagonal drop and less of the vertical drop of the abseil.  With my light still off, he told me to sit down and lay back and then he pulled me back as far as I could go before he released me and I went hurdling down the wire into the darkness of the cave.  Little did I know that the tunnel through which we had just passed was still only the cave entrance.

Now I find myself flying down a zip line into a much larger underground cave through which flowed a river that I could hear gurgling beneath me.  It only took seven or eight seconds to descend on the zip-line, but it was by far the most exciting feeling I have experienced in New Zealand.  Completely surrounded by darkness and zipping quickly down the line, I could feel the expanse of air that surrounded me and as I looked around quickly I noticed countless glowworms illuminating the walls around me.  The ceiling and walls were literally covered in patches of glowworms that appeared as neon green lights placed sporadically about the cave.

I came to a stop quicly and found myself standing with the others on a large rock above the underground river.  We sat and ate lunch and used our headlamps to take into the intensity and beauty of the cave in which we were about to travel.  Then we were presented inflatable tubes and instructed to sit on the tube and jump from the rock into the river.  While only ten or twelve feet, it felt a bit risky throwing myself off this rock into a river that I did not know the depth of, but we followed instuction and before long we were all floating in our tubes adjusting to the coolness of the river.

After we had all gathered we held onto a rope that led upriver and began to pull ourselves along using the aid of the rope.  As we floated along the river in the darkness of the cave, we stared dreamily above us at the multitudes of glowworms.  It really was an unbelievable feeling, but it would only get better.  After some time floating up the river we were instructed once again to turn out our lights.  The darkness of the cave enveloped us except for the mild glow of the worms above us.  We hooked together by placing our legs under each other’s arms and lay back in our tubes to stare at the ceiling above.  Our guide pounded his tube on the water surface so that the echo would bring out the glowworms then began to pull us slowly back down the river as we all lay back and enjoyed the silence and beauty of the cave.

The next ten minutes or so while we drifted downriver in the darkness was more like a ride at Epcot Center in Disney World.  We watched as countless glowworms appeared and suddenly everything around us appeared as tiny green glowing lights.  Our awe was apparent in the silence of the moment and I must say that it was everything I had expected after reading about the glowworms.  I truly felt like I was in another world floating in a tube over a hundred feet below the surface of the earth with a wallpaper of glowworms above my head.  It was indescribable.

We then put away our tubes and began to follow the river downstream further into the cave.  We scrambled along rock, waded  through water and swam through the river, and once we even overcame a waterfall by coasting headfirst down a water slide that had been placed in the cave. Around every corner lay new wonders and excitement as we observed more glowworms, rock formations and enjoyed a snack at a pretty spot along the river.

Finally we found our exit out of the cave.  Still nothing could have prepared us for this- only in New Zealand. We followed a small crack in the cave where a stream was flowing from ground level down into the cave.  We waded upstream through the water climbing over ledges, along rocks and even over two waterfalls where we had to use a bit of skill and a lot of confidence as we ascended using precarious footholds.  But finally after squeezing through several holes barely large enough for a person and successfully climbing the waterfalls, I began to notice a bit of light.  Then I found myself squeezing through a narrow opening out into the light of day.

It was an amazing feeling looking down at the hole through which I had just come and knowing all that lay beyond in the infinteness of the cave world.  We had been in the caves for over 3 hours and had only explored a fraction of what existed.  But in that time we had completed a 140-foot abseil, zip-lined down into the cave, floated along an underground river in a cave only lit by glowworms and then climbed over rushing waterfalls in order to return to solid ground and the light of the sun.  This was by far the most exciting experience that I have enjoyed in New Zealand thus far.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here almost three weeks now.  Already so much has happened, it’s difficult to recall all of my experiences and especially the highlights which seem to grow in number each day.  This is an amazingly diverse country with so much natural splendor that at all times I find myself overwhelmed in new and wonderful beauty.  Around each corner are new adventures and new sights to see.

I have been so lucky as to see nearly the entire North Island of New Zealand now.  After our adventure in Waitomo Caves we travelled with John’s parents to the northern tip of the island at Cape Reigna and then back down Ninety Mile Beach and through ancient Kauri forests back to their home in Auckland.  And here I am now trying to take in all that has happened and give you a slight summary of the trip while I prepare to leave for the South Island this week.  I imagine that the New Zealand journey has only begun and by the next time I write, there will be so much more to tell.  This truly is an awesome country.

*The photos on this entry were taken from Google images to serve as visual representation for places mentioned in the story and should not be reproduced in any way.  Thanks for enjoying them and respecting those who worked hard to produce such beautiful images.

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  1. WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait .. ;)…