I was in a pitch black cave in the middle of a river system in the North of New Zealand… in a rubber ring. To say it felt surreal would be a massive understatement.
To make matters just that little bit weirder, the ceiling began to slowly erupt in a cacophony of light. We appeared to be floating under the night sky, the stars perfectly visible and twinkling fiercely above.
The only problem was that we were still buried in the bowels of the earth, cocooned in the ancient limestone walls.
What glittered above us was not the beginnings of the solar system, it was a blanket of Glowworms. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I had ever seen.
I had travelled to Waitomo, on New Zealand’s North Island. Above ground, Waitomo is a quiet, unassuming town with a pub, a couple of hostels and, well that’s it really.
What makes Waitomo truly special is what is hidden just outside the town, a network of caves, one of which is home to thousands of Glowworms. The town is a must-see, stop-off for many tourists and is a scheduled detour for the Kiwi Experience, who offer discount visits to the cave.
There are a couple of options when it comes to Black Water Rafting (tubing in a cave, unique to NZ). These vary in length and extreme-factor and mightily in budget. The two main options are the Black Labyrinth ($95), a 3.5 hour timid tour or the monster 5.5 hour Black Abyss adventure ($185).
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s array of available adventures had cleared out the bank but I desperately scraped together the pennies in order to get into the caves anyway I could. I could only muster enough cash for the cheaper Black Labyrinth option so that would have to do.
An 8.45 am wake-up call isn’t the best way to start the day but I was promised that this would be worth it. The morning was drizzly and cold and the thought of slipping myself into a damp wetsuit was enough to make me want to crawl back under my warm, fluffy duvet.
Geared up in wetsuits and helmets, we boarded a bus which zipped us 10 minutes down the road to the Ruakiri Cave System. Here, we all got out and chose a tube, using a Beyonce-style bum measurement system i.e. squeezing your behind into as many tubes as possible until you find the right fit. (It would be unladylike of me to reveal the size of my rather gargantuan tube…)
We then had to do a practice jump into a freezing cold river. We were instructed to hold on to our tubes and jump backwards into the ice-cold torrent. If I wasn’t awake then, I was now. After our initial soaking we headed to the cave through a tiny opening- this isn’t a trip for the claustrophobic.
Inside the cave you jump, float and scramble through the winding stalactite studded cave system. On the more extreme version, the jumps are higher and more dangerous and you have the opportunity to whiz through the caves on a zip-line. Black Abyss is not for the faint-hearted but the Black Labyrinth tour provides enough thrills and, of course, that amazing Glowworm experience, for your buck.
After your trip you are treated to complimentary tomato soup and bread roll, you will definitely need it after this goose-bump inducing escapade.
An extreme activity with a twist.
Location: Waitomo, New Zealand
Price: Black Labyrinth- $95/£48, Black Abyss- $185/£93.
Fear Factor: 2/5-4/5
More Info: www.waitomo.com