Waitomo Caves – New Zealand
A tiny silhouette of a person abseiling down a sun drenched 100m cavern. I stare awe inspired at the photo. Does that place truly exist? Convincing myself the answer must be yes and it wasn’t a Photoshop masterpiece, I add it to my bucket list – and most importantly, quickly make plans to tick it off. This experience had to be included as part of my New Zealand itinerary.
Once on Kiwi soil, the Waitomo Caves can be found a two-hour drive south of Auckland or a one hour’s drive from Hamilton. We arrive and anticipation mounts. Donning a t-shirt, tights and runners, I jump up and down to get the body warm and pumped for the adventure ahead. I’ve never been canyoning. Sure, I’ve abseiled at year 6 camp, but that was the extent of my caving experience. It didn’t matter. In no way do you need to be an expert to take on this experience. As long as you’re over 15 years of age, relatively fit and ready to take on a challenge, anyone can venture down to The Lost World.
Our guides, Sarah, Brad and Telli popped around from behind the desk and I instantly know we are in good hands. As we make our way in the van to the site near the caves, we indulge in the obligatory Kiwi / Aussie banter. Both their knowledge of the caves and their love for their jobs become apparent.
My sporty outfit was put to the side as I squeeeeze my body into a black wetsuit. Booties cover my feet and white gumboots are put on over the top. I’m zipped into a tight wetsuit material jacket. A helmet complete with GoPro on top and a harness, weighed down with all the gadgets one would need to take on the Grand Canyon, completes my outfit. I no longer walk but waddle under the weight of my gear. I’m sure that’s not how the pros do it but that’s the technique I’m rolling with.
We make our way (some walk while I waddle) to the entrance to The Lost World. As I walk out onto the platform, the cavern I had seen in the photo comes into view. Sunlight streams from above in large heavenly columns. The lush greenery lining the towering rock walls glistens in the light. “It’s a great day for it”, says Brad. He stands and admires the beauty in front of him. Despite taking people down into The Lost World sometimes up to twice a day, seven days a week, it’s refreshing to see he is still blown away by the beauty of his office.
He’s also quick to point out that we’re here to explore so we best get on our way. Easier said than done. This requires a 100m abseil combined with a dash of courage, a squashing of any fear of heights and unfortunately, a huge wedgie (the ‘joy’ that comes with most sports requiring a harness). Once I’ve overcome removing myself from the platform, the 30-minute descent is quite relaxing and the view unsurpassed. I pull the rope up and down, controlling how fast or slow I want to go – all the while Brad is there to help if need be; his presence reassuring.
Once we hit the ground, it’s time to get wet. We squeeze ourselves between rocks and plunge into icy water. The water rushes through my wetsuit and I can’t help but squeal – such a girl I know! Wading through the canyons, I can’t wipe the smile off my face, particularly when it comes to climbing up a small waterfall. The water pounds my helmet and makes it difficult to keep my footing. I make it and clamber over the top victorious.
Gumboots squelching with every step, I waddle my way across the floor of The Lost World, marvelling at every chance to see the cavern from a different angle. More wet canyons await. Despite the light from our head torch, we’re now surrounded by darkness. The light was shining through from behind us and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to strike a pose.
At the end of a series of waterfalls and boulders we reach a dead end and are told to turn off our head torches. The ceiling suddenly lights up with hundreds of glow worms. Words cannot do the sight justice. I’m blown away at both the beauty and ingenuity of these animals. We sit for a few moments in silence and take in their glowing light, feeling a world away from life above.
Given we had abseiled 100m down into the cavern and had ventured deep inside the cave system, there had to be a catch to get out of this place. The catch took the form of a 30m vertical ladder. One by one, we make the ascent, holding tightly onto the slippery, muddy rungs. My arms ached and my boots felt heavier with each step, the pair collectively filled with way too much water for effective ladder climbing. The thought of my fiancé, who is quite the adventurer, kept me going. It was that or the knowledge I was soon to enjoy a pizza once we were done. My fiancé seemed the healthier motivation.
I made it. Roge would be proud and a pizza was coming – wins all round.
Laughter and chatter about our Lost World highlights made the walk back to the site disappear in a flash. I happily rid myself of the harness, peel the wetsuit off and pour the water from my boots. What an adventure! The beauty of The Lost World, the professional and fun loving team who took us down and the challenges we overcame along the way combined to make for unforgettable trip.
If you’re heading to NZ, this is an adventure you 100% have to take on. Pop this on your bucket list now!
If you haven’t already penned this one on your bucket list (Don’t have one? Quick – grab a scrap piece of paper and make one now!), watch this video and I’m sure you’ll be planning your NZ trip in no time. : )
Written: 3 articles
Abseil(Rappel) 100m abseil into amazing Lost World Cave followed by exploration through massive cave vaults. See glowworms & many grand cave formations.