This morning we were picked up from Hot Water Beach at 7:10am, the early starts and the unpacking and repacking are already starting to make everyone a little irritable in the morning! We jumped on the Bus headed further south to Waitomo. This is one of the stops I have been really looking forwards to because it is home to the famous Glow worm Caves!
Waitomo itself is a very VERY small village, with not much going on aside from the Caves. Our accommodation at this stop was quite cool...picture rustic, basic mountain chalets circa 1989 and you have a good idea of where we stayed. Once again the girls and I formed two groups and room shared. At 4:00pm we were picked up by the mini coach to be taken down to the caves. The company that arranges the Cave tours is called The Black Water Rafting Company and was established in 1987 so has been around for a while. They offer three main tours of the Caves:
Black Labyrinth (The Original Classic Adventure) - $135
This tour usually takes 3 hours and involves Tubing through glow worm studded stream ways and jumping over cascading underground waterfalls.
Black Odyssey (Get Hight, Underground) - $185
This tour takes approximately 5 hours and is a dry caving and high rope adventure. It involves exploring the Ruakuri Cave’s main network and hidden passageways, rock traverses, spider-walking through ancient rift passages, high rope work and flying foxes.
Black Abyss ( The Ultimate Caving Adventure) - $235
This tour takes approximately 5 hours and is the most comprehensive tour available. It involves abseiling into a 35 metre tomo, whizzing down a flying fox, climbing 3 waterfalls and tubing.
Myself and the other girls in the group opted for the original Labyrinth Tour. Personally my choice was mainly driven by the fact that I am slightly claustrophobic and would therefore have not enjoyed the parts of the caving which involved squeezing through tight crevices. My friend Ruairi who has previously done the Kiwi Experience did the Black Abyss not too long ago and wrote a great Blog Post about it with equally amazing photos, so if you want mote information head over here.
The caving/tubing experience was a lot of Fun. You are provided with all the necessary gear which includes wetsuits, rubber boots and a helmets with head torches, all you need is your bikini and a towel to dry yourself with after. You are not allowed to take anything with you including cameras, which is extremely annoying, however, having now done the tour I understand why - you need to keep your eyes on where you are putting your feet and both of your hands free. After the struggle of trying to squeeze into the wet suits, we took a few cheesy group pictures and headed down to the caves.
On arrival we were provided with floating rubber rings and were asked to do a practice backwards jump into the river as we would be required to do a real one in the cave during the tour. One by one we ‘bum flopped’ in the river (I of course, being the agile type, managed to drink half of the river when it was my turn) we were all then rearing to get started with the real thing!
The tour began with a small descent into the cave, the rocks were wet and it took a while to trust that the rubber boots would have enough grip to hold on to the slippery rocks. Once we got into the cave, we felt the power and cold temperature of the stream - thank goodness for the wet suits because the water down there is freezing (or ‘refreshing’ as the Kiwis would describe it). Head torches on, we slowly made our way further into the dark cave, holding our rubber rings with one hand and fumbling for anything that would offer support with the other. We eventually reached the waterfall, here is where we were asked to put what we had previously been told into practice by jumping backwards off the waterfall into the river. I was the second one to jump and as usual the idea of doing it was a lot scarier than the reality of it. It was an adrenaline boost which made the caving experience even more fun! For the rest of the tour we created a ‘human train’ and laisurely floated down the stream one behind the other in darkness, admiring what looked like a star lit ceiling above. The Glowworms are so breathtaking they almost don't look real.
We eventually came to the cave exit, climbed out and made our way back feeling slightly cooler than when we started (both literally and figuratevel). We were driven back to the main establishment where we (eventually) managed to get changed out of the wetsuits. As a post workout 'treat' we were also given hot tomato soup and toasted bagels to warm us up yum yum.
As previously mentioned you are not allowed to take your own camera with you, this is because the descent into the cave is quite challenging and you need both of your hands to steady yourself and both of your eyes to focus on where you are going. For this reason, the guides take cameras with them and take pictures of the tour which you can subsequently purchase in the form of a USB stick. The cost of the USB stick is $30 dollars so we decided to buy one and share the photos electronically between our group, meaning that we would only pay $3.50 between the 12 of us. The whole experience was great and I would definitely recommend it to a friend or even do it again myself, however, I was extremely disappointed if not straight up pissed off when back at the lodge, I excitedly went through the pictures on the USB stick. The pictures were awful both in terms of the angles and the quality, you couldn’t tell who was who or what we were doing. To top it all off, we had NO pictures of the Glow worms, which was the whole point of the tour! Having seen other people’s cool pictures, I was fuming with what we had been given which was only made better by the fact that we had payed $3.50 instead of $30 for them. After moping around for a little bit, some editing and swapping photos with friends I managed to get a few decent shots together (below).
Aside from the disappointment with the photos, the experience was great fun - another item ticked off my Bucket List!
Tomorrow we head to Rotorua for our Maori experience, another activity I am really looking forwards to!