Waitimo was one of the places we were really looking forward too before we left for New Zealand, so we both really hoped it would be good! On the bus journey there we were show a few sights such as the world famous L&P drink HQ quarters. Well, world famous in NZ maybe! After that exciting detour we arrived in the tiny town of Waitimo. The joke was that when the Kiwi bus arrives the population doubles, and I can well believe it. This place pretty much exists now to service the various caving companies and walks that dot the area. The caves are famous for being the home of millions (billions?) of glow worms that light them up. In typical Kiwi bus style we were all booked to do various activities that afternoon, so we could leave the very next day. Annabel and I, being us, had signed up for the most hardcore trip on offer; a 5 hour journey underground that included abseiling down into the cave, a zip wire, 'tubing' on an underground river and climbing back out again. Awesome.
8 of us, including Jen and Emma who we had previously become friends with, were picked up to be the last group of the day
. We arrived and met our guides Reno and Lloyd who, in-between lots of banter got us suited up in wetsuits, harnesses and helmets. Then it was off to the cave entrance for some abseil training. In typical NZ style this lasted about 20 minutes and basically involved playing on some ropes on the surface, and Lloyd telling us how to ‘look cool’ whilst abseiling. This was slightly more important than safety he assured us. Once we’d all had a bit of practice we were taken over to the whole in the ground we would be lowering ourselves through. The whole was on the edge of a forest, and you really would miss it if you blinked. It became exceptionally narrow about 5 metres down from the surface so you had to sort of shimmy yourself through, whilst remembering not to let go of the rope (otherwise you would reach the cave floor a bit faster than you’d like). After squeezing through the cave really opened up, though you couldn’t see much as it was obviously very dark! I got down first and was told to wait by a rock with some of the other guys on the trip. We were told to have a good look around us, and we saw some glow worms high up on a rock, which was pretty cool. When Annabel got down she actually looked properly and immediately saw some fossils in the rock I was sitting on and noticed that one of the huge rocks must have fallen from the ceiling some time ago. The guides were suitably impressed and I felt a bit foolish!
After everyone was down the shaft we were lead through a tunnel to look at some stalactites and stalagmites forming (as well as some ‘monkey snot’, which is water forming on the cave wall)
. We were told not to touch, as it takes hundreds of years for a centre metre to form. After this we were led to a narrow gangway in-between two cave walls. This was where we would go on the zip wire! Before we could get a glimpse of where the wire went, we were told to turn off our headlights as we would be doing it in the dark! I was at the back of the queue so had to wait and listen to everyone else go down first, which was fun. There were loud bangs, splashing sounds and screaming. Well, only screaming from the girls, the 4 Scandinavian guys made no sound whatsoever! Annabel went before me, making plenty of noise and when my turn came I make sure to scream good and loud. After falling through the dark there was the loud banging sound, which it turned out was Lloyd banging one of the tubing tyres on the rocks. Cheeky begger.
After Reno zipped down by himself and pretty much did a somersault to get off the zip wire, we were told to shuffle over to ledge next to an underground river. By this point we were already absolutely freezing, so the part was possibly the most pleased I have ever been in my entire life. Reno and Lloyd had brought down hot chocolate for everyone and possibly the best flapjacks in existence. Definitely hit the spot. Which was good, because we were going to be very very cold for the next few hours. We were all given a tube and told to throw ourselves off the ledge into the water. Wow, I don’t think I ever been so cold as when I hit that water. Despite having the tube you still went under, and the shock hit you like a wall. I was gasping and spluttering for the next minute. We were told the water temperature was about 12°, but given no sunlight and no warmth in the surrounding air it felt a lot closer to freezing! Anyway, after composing ourselves we had to paddle down the water to find some glow worms. After a minute or so we were asked to turn off our lights and look up, where you could see hundreds of the glow worms, and they were really quite spectacular
. It was rather like looking at the stars, just in a cave. We gathered around Reno sitting in our tubes, whilst he told us the story of Bob the Glow Worm. To cut a long story short, Bob is born, eats his unborn brothers and sisters, then starts to glow to attract prey. He lowers down a long string, like a web which bugs get caught in. After a few months of eating he makes himself into a cocoon to turn into a fly. He emerges looking rather like a giant mosquito, with huge wings and body. However he forgets to develop a mouth or working digestive system so can’t eat. He then has 48hrs to reproduce as much as possible before he dies. Nice.Annabel:
After our evening story time, we all got up on the rock ledge, where the glow worms were above us, and had a photo taken of us all with the glow worms. It was them back into the freezing cold water where we had to try and organise ourselves into a chain in our rings by linking feet under arms, in the pitch black! With the torches back on we were able to asses our organisational ability in the dark, which was actually pretty good, and we then floated down the water, looking up at all the amazing glow worms above us. The second part of the caving experience was most definitely the more challenging sector, but before we started that, Reno had a little activity for us to warm us up. Going around in a circle, we each had to show the group a dance move so we could all do it and get warm
. This activity led to one of the funniest things ever, when Redo got round to one of the Scandinavian guys who said he couldn’t think of a dance move but we all noticed that he was really blatantly grabbing his crotch! We then proceeded to make this into a dance by all grabbing our crotches and thrusting backwards and forward, hilarious! The next section started with us walking/swimming through the water while using the ropes on the rock wall as a guide. It was such an unpleasant feeling when you had to swim and the first bit of cold water came into your wetsuit! But on the other hand, it was such a nice feeling when you then got out of the water and all the water ran out leaving a warm pocket! It was then time for another welcome drink and snack stop, this time hot squash and some chocolate! We then had to make our way over what was known as the ‘drunken walk’, which was a very uneven rocky floor under about a foot of water. After navigating that, with only a few minor stumbles, it was time to tackle the final obstacles, two waterfalls!
Both of these climbs were pretty tough, especially as I am so short, at one point the foot hole Lloyd told me to use was definitely further away than my entire leg span! We both agreed that you would never be able to do something like that in England. Conor even asked Lloyd and he said that you wouldn’t! It’s just because in New Zealand the liability law basically says if you break it, it’s your own fault
. We all successfully got up the falls and emerged into daylight from a small opening with water running down it. When you looked back at it was hard to believe what was inside there. When we got back to the office there was hot tomato soup and toasted bagels for us, dinner was definitely not needed that night! I can definitely say that the caving was one of the best activities I have ever done in my life.
It was getting pretty late by the time we got back to the hostel, so I just called it a night but Conor headed off to the local bar for one and ended up having quite a chat with our instructor Lloyd. The next morning we were off to one of the main geo-thermal and Maori cultural areas of the country, Roarua.