At 9:30am we were at the Waitomo Adventures office and filling in our medical forms…signing our life away for the next 4 hours. The sales leaflet of the trip describes it as a ‘ripper of a trip’, combining ‘blackwater rafting with walking, climbing, swimming and tubing through sections of the spectacular TumuTumu cave’…and with the current water levels we were not going to be disappointed!
As we got kitted up at the giant tin shed near the cave entrance the adrenalin started to kick in. The thick wetsuits, jackets, booties, gum boots (wellies) and helmets all being worn to protect us from the elements. Outside we were talked through a ‘map’ of the cave, and started our walk to the cave mouth.
The countryside around Waitomo, meaning water hole in Maori, is covered with shafts that drop down into cave systems, and there are more than 300 mapped caves, all of which are limestone. We were going down into the TumuTumu network, to see glow-worms in their natural environment, and get wet in the process.
The hole that we were to descend into was a squeeze, and on arrival at the bottom of the ladder all that greeted us was pitch black…so on with the helmet light and off we went into the great unknown, with our experienced guide leading the way.
What followed in the next 3 hours was GREAT fun; we climbed, squeezed, swam, floated and heaved our way through the massive cave network. Some caves/passages were huge, others tiny, and could only be got through on our stomachs crawling. Unfortunately, as no cameras were allowed the only picture we currently have is from Waitomo Adventures, the ‘official’ pictures of us are on CD and we have yet to get them onto the laptop…so something for all you followers to look forward to!
In the ‘cathedral’ cave, the biggest in this network we turned our helmet lights off and stood in the pitch black…what we saw was an awesome sight, hundreds of glow-worms lighting the ceiling. As we stood learning about these little creatures it certainly took the romance away from the name…google people, google! Apparently glow-maggot is a more appropriate name we have been told!
After a walk through some more tunnels and donning the customary ‘disguise’ of cave mud on our faces we jumped in our tubes and in the dark, in a ‘conga’ style laying backwards we floated down the underground stream. The glow-worms were within touching distance, and we had to cover our mouths and noses to avoid breathing on their delicate sticky threads that hung down from their bodies.
The halfway point marked a stop for hot lemon cordial and chocolate to get the sugar levels back up, and then onwards towards the end of our journey. This stretch involved a lot of climbing, squeezing, and swimming…oh, the water was SO cold!! The last challenge was through ‘pin ball alley’, a narrow channel where the water went at speed, and you could float along (Goonies style) on your back into the next chamber…great fun!
The scramble out brought us up into a farmers field where we walked back to the shed and showered and changed, before looking back over the open fields to see the course we had taken 30 metres below.
We had entered the cave network where the conifer trees form a ‘V’ in the hillside (middle top of picture), and travelled along the course of the dip in the land, to the bottom right corner of the picture.
After driving back to pick up the campervan at the Waitomo Adventures office we headed back to the campsite for lunch and a rest….recharging the batteries before tomorrow's adventure – The Lost World!