Black Water Rafting

Trip Start Oct 29, 2009
Trip End Dec 24, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, November 8, 2009

Normally, Rotorua to Taupo would be a very short trip. But we went via Waitomo, which is a bit out of the way, to say the least. Oh, and the bus broke down, which means we didn't get started until about three hours later than anticipated. Waitomo is really in the middle of nowhere, but it's home to the world famous glowworm caves.

You can, if you want, do a "dry" tour, where you walk into the caves, see the worms, and have a guide tell you a little something. Or, you can be adventurous and get "wet" with black water rafting. I really had no idea what this meant when I signed up for it other than it would be active and exciting. Well, here's what it entails:

First, we have to put on our swimsuits and then don a full body wetsuit, with a miner's helmet, jacket, socks, and huge wader boots. That process takes a good half hour. Then a mile or so in the bus to the cave site, where we walk another five minutes to the entrance. We each grab a black inner tube, and descend a few flights of stairs into the darkness.

In the first room, everyone sits down and turns off their lights to get our eyes adjusted to the dark. We then introduce ourselves as we each turn on our helmet lights. Then, a 100 foot walk or so on muddy, slippery ground to the next chamber. Off go the lights again, and there's glowworms all over the ceiling--they look like stars in the night sky.

More walking until we get to a place where the water is about ankle deep. Our guide tells us to slide our inner tubes over our heads and let them drop to the ground. Then, right hand on the wall to my right, left hand on the shoulder of the person in front of me. Off go all the lights. Pitch black. Guide says to keep walking forward, always keeping right hand on the wall until he tells
us to stop. We walk for several minutes in the pitch black as the water rises until the inner tubes are above our waists. Finally, lights back on. A few more meters ahead is the waterfall. Only a few feet or so high. To get past it, I climb a few steps. Then put the inner tube on my butt. Stand backwards, and fall back over the falls and land in the stream below.

Finally, the actual black water rafting. It works like this. Inner tube around the waist under the
arms. We all line up. Guide has the last person in line lift his feet onto the inner tube of the person in front of him, who then grabs his toes. Next person does the same, all the way up the line, until we're an eleven person caterpillar. Again, no lights, as we float down a narrow underground river, using hands and elbows to maneuver between the narrow rocks on either side. After a few minutes, guide tells us to turn our lights on so we can see what we're doing, and we "raft" a few
more minutes.

Later, we disconnect and swim/ push our way ahead for a few more minutes before reaching the final part of the experience: A twenty foot long slide that we slide down feet first into a
shallow pool. From there, the water shallows even further, and it's a good ten minute walk out of the caves back to where we started.

Oh, and did I mention the whole time there's a 400 pound Maori guy named Whinnie taking up the rear, and snapping pictures of us the whole time to put on a CD and sell to us later?

Finally, after getting out of the cave, it's back to the changing rooms to strip out of our
wetsuits and take a hot shower and have a hot cup of soup before driving another three hours to Taupo.

I loved the black water rafting, and definitely put it as one of my top three experiences in New Zealand.
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