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Waitomo Caves: Black Water Rafting amongst the Glow Worms

Posted by daveb on March 17th, 2009

Before we get to the caves, I’m going to collapse a few days journeying into one paragraph here. From Wellington, we travelled to the Martinborough wine region. I won’t write too much about it, because–in truth–it’s not that good and the cellar doors charged for tastings, which miffed us a bit (it wasn’t obvious that this was the case). We returned to Wellington to spend an afternoon at the Te Papa museum, which Claire likens to a miniature version of London’s Natural History Museum, with a focus on New Zealand, obviously. Highlight of the visit was the exhibit of a recently caught Colossal Squid, which was indeed big. Northwards, Squiffy hated me for opting to take the twisty, gravel road that follows the Wanganui River, instead of the straighter, faster highway which would take us to the same place much faster and without the travel sickness. Nevertheless, at least one of us enjoyed the drive!

Waitomo Caves are essentially famous for one thing: Black Water Rafting. Upon doing a little research, we discovered that the term “Black Water Rafting” was probably a New Zealandism, i.e. sexing-up the name of an activity to sell more tickets. In all probability, it should have been called “Underwater Lazy River, like at Wet n’ Wild with Glow Worms and it’s Really Cold Too”. Even with the more appropriate title, it still sounded like fun and so, after setting our expectations suitably low, we handed over our money and donned our classy caving gear: two thick wetsuits, a thermal fleece if your name is Squiffy, white wellies, rugged shorts, helmet, headlamp and rubber ring (the “raft”).

After performing a test waterfall jump in an open river, we set off towards our cave. The entrance was quite tight, which did little to ease Squiffy’s claustrophobia (remember what happened in Florence?) but once inside, the cave opened up a bit. The rest of the afternoon was spent sixty-five metres underground, jumping backwards off small waterfalls, floating along in our rafts, clambering across the terrain, gazing up at glow worms and, well, become increasing cold and wet. Very cold, in fact.

I’m glad that we lowered our expectations before the experience, as this allowed us to fully enjoy the day for what it was. We were really pleased that we did it, but probably equally pleased to have a hot shower afterwards!

(Apologies: we were not allowed to take our camera into the cave, so unfortunately can’t bring you any underworld photos on this occasion.)

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