Black Water Rafting in the Caves of Waitomo

When we arrived to Waitomo we were super excited to see what the area had to offer.  Waitomo is famous for its glow worm caves and also has a number of other caves to explore to get your adventure on.  We found an excursion that would take us black water rafting through the caves to see not only glow worms but also tons of other cave wonders just waiting to be discovered underground.  We decided to go with one that was going to be the most awesome and memorable.  We didn’t want to pussy foot around with this adventure, so we chose the longest and most “dangerous” black water rafting excursion available through the Black Water Rafting Co. in Waitomo.  We would spend at least 3 hours down in the caves and were require to enter the cave by repelling down through a small hole entrance and then float through some glow worm caves and then trek through the caves on foot sometimes in water so deep you cant touch the bottom, climbing water falls, crawling through tight passages, and generally just doing the most exciting routes through the caves.  We got to do all of this and more!

First we arrived at the Black Water Rafting Co. and they briefed us on our adventure without revealing too much info.  Our guides, Lucas and Karl were really fun and awesome and told us everything we needed to know.  We got our own tank-top style wet suits, wet suit jackets, boots, harnesses, and helmets and took a few pictures before heading into the small van that took us out to the Ruakuri Cave.

After arriving at the cave entrance, we were taught how to repel down the side of a hill on a rope and got to practice it a few times.  I really didn’t know what to expect in the cave until Karl told us that instead of the incline being a 25 degree angle it would be more like 90.  And guess who was the first to go down…you guessed it.  ME!  The depth of the hole was about 200m and in the beginning it started squeezing into a small hole that I wasn’t sure if some of the others might fit through, but we all made it.  After getting past that small hole, the cave really opened up and was really cool.  Lucas was waiting at the bottom for all of us and I think the repelling part was one of the cooler parts of the caving experience because I had never tried it before and it was awesome!

Once everyone was down we started heading in toward the cave and then came to a stopping point where we were supposed to zip line over a large underground stream onto a small cave plateau.  Uhh…What!  This time they made everyone turn off their helmet lights and really tried to freak us out with this and oh man it was fun!  We all had to wait in line on this grate like structure in this narrow hallway of the cave that had a drop below us.  Good thing the grate was there?  The other girl in our group ended up getting tricked by Lucas who was holding onto her on the zip line and he was saying “Oh I got you, hold on, ok we are gonna count to 3…OH NO” and let her go early.  So fun!  I went on it and shrieked a little but it was so cool.  We took a small break on the cave plateau and got our harnesses off and as we did that I sort of whined saying “Aww, we aren’t using these anymore?!”  Then we had some hot chocolate and cookies to give us a bit of energy before heading in to see the glow worms!

We were all given a black inner tube that they had on the plateau and our next step was to jump butt first into the still black water river below us.  It was about 15ft or more of a drop and almost everyone nearly completely submerged when they landed in the water.  The water was kind of cold, as you might expect in a cave, but it wasn’t entirely unbearable.  So then we all started pulling ourselves along a rope that was attached to the side of the cave wall behind us and started heading down a long long tunnel on our tubes.  We all turned our lights off and headed on down.  I was in front for a while and at first it was kind of terrifying not being able to see anything except little tiny glow worm specs all above you.  It was beautiful, but totally spooky, especially after seeing movies like the Descent.  After a while I realized Lucas had gone far ahead of all of us and I knew he was scheming something.  I could totally hear some rustling and saw a glint of a silhouette on a rock ledge ahead and as soon as I floated by him he beamed on his light and scared the crap out of me!  I knew he was there, what the heck!!  He told us some cool info about glow worms and then we headed on back to that plateau area, but this time we all interlocked our feet and arms with everyone and their tubes and we got a ride back as Lucas pulled us along the water.  At this point, since we weren’t really moving much ti did get quite cold.

When we got back to the plateau, we chucked our inner tubes back up on the top of the ledge and started doing jumping jacks and hopping around to get warm.  Then we headed by foot down the opposite cave path treading through the water.  Sometimes the water would get really deep and I couldn’t touch the ground so I was basically swimming.  We then reached a corridor that was dubbed something like the drunken walkway because the path was full of uneven surfaces and covered in water so when you walked you were constantly flailing all over the place to find your footing and balance.  We found some small tunnels to climb through as well and here is Steve coming out of a short small tunnel.

We then treaded more water, hopped down slight ledges and even climbed waterfalls!  The path after this point was getting smaller and a bit more narrow, but it was never so small we had to entirely crawl.  The waterfall climbing was awesome and sometimes we came to passages where there would be more than one way to go, Lucas and Karl would shout out to us that we should go Left, Right, Right, etc.  They let us all go first which was really cool too.  Then at one point they played a game with us where they said “Ok here are the rules, everyone turn off your lights aaaaaand…..SEE YA!  Now you have to try and find us!!”  We ended up just meeting them up ahead a little ways and they took us up another waterfall.  We also came to a spot where the water was really calm and it was in a pool like area and there was a resident freshwater eel that lived in it.  He came around and saw us all and said hi.

After an amazing time in the cave we climbed the last waterfall and up ahead I saw light at the end of the tunnel.  It was really sad to see it because I wanted to keep exploring and seeing more of the cave :(  It was the cave exit.  But we all came out right smack dab in the middle of the rain forest and took a quick photo of us before heading back to town.

We got back and I wanted to do it again!  I wish we could have gone longer or done different cave paths.  It was by far my favorite activity we did in New Zealand.  It was just so unlike anything I had ever done and it was awesome!  They gave us some free soup and bagels at the cafe back in town and we of course bought the CD with all the pictures of our adventure.  Since it was very wet I couldn’t take my own camera, but Karl managed to get some pretty cool shots of our experience.

After all was said and done and after a hot shower, we started driving a long while toward the Coromandel Peninsula.  We had heard that there were supposed to be some cool things to see here before we headed off to Auckland to return home.  So that’s where we are off to next!

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1 Comment

  1. Marti Says:

    Hi! It is absolutely unbelievable how many costumes you are wearing on your trip and how many different things you got to do and experience in NZ! I love your necklaces–Steve, your design is really beautiful! I’m afraid I probably would have made just a smooth stone (there’s a name for it but I can’t recall it) that you can rub to help calm you etc. Alix, yours turned out really pretty! You will find that you will meet people here at home that will let you relive your fun and experiences when you get to share travel stories– Alix your last bit about doing the caves again reminds me of that commercial where a dad and his son are sitting watching the sun set, and after it disappears, the son says, “Daddy, do it again!” Are you sure you didn’t photoshop yourselves into all these pictures? just kidding.
    love mom

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