Friday, January 26, 2007


Updated at home Tuesday 30th

Waitomo has been a pleasant surprise all round. I was expecting a busy tourist mecca... and some of it is, but you don't need to know that. Most of the action centres around the main caves where a zillion tour buses pull in each day. But it is quite possible to avoid all that!

I am staying two nights in the Top Ten camping ground. Highly recommended. Very peaceful, vey well run, extremely clean.

This morning I went on a Spellbound Tour. More expensive than the 'major' caves, but just exquisite. Small groups, as in a mini-bus load of 12 or so. First cave we had a short walk in, to see some glow-worms. We had ample time for our eyes to adjust to the dark, then it was just magic. We sat in a boat watching the ceiling of the cave, just covered with a huge display of glow-worms (though we learned the glow actually comes from the rear-end of what is basically a fly maggot!)

Spellbound gave us some morning tea in a purpose-built shelter out in the middle of a farm. Then in the second cave we got to see formations in the dry. We saw a moa skeleton, and several tomos, where a section of the roof of the cave had collapsed. In some cases this meant you could see the light above, but in other places the 'chimney' up was not straight, or not to the surface. This second cave was quite dry, so did not provide such good conditions for glow-worms, though we did see a few, especially near the tomos.

This afternoon I actually went blackwater rafting. Goodness how brave of me! This was quite an adventure, and far more like 'real' caving than I was expecting. I was wondering what I had got myself into when I had to don the wetsuit, in which I felt very much like a sumo wrestler. We then had a short drive out in the country to the farm where Caveworld has leased a cave.

It was a warm afternoon, and with my sumo suit, I was already feeling very warm! The next surprise was that we had a walk ahead of us over some of the farmland. I had checked I was not going to have to abseil, but I never thought to make sure there was minimal walking involved! It was tricky getting up a hill with my sumo suit, but then we headed downhill and through some bush which was very pleasant. Before I knew it, we had entered the cave.

There was a short bit of clambering to do before we got to the stream way. It was never too much of a squeeze though - I had sought assurance beforehand that the gaps would be wide enough for me! I also managed to negotiate the uneven muddy bits without falling over which was a blessing.

Then came the stream-way in our tubes, the part I had been waiting for. I was surprised to find our stream-way was not entirely natural. Well, the water did flow there naturally, but 'unaided', it was only ankle-deep. The company had put in two dams to make the water deeper. I came to really enjoy the floating down the stream in the tube. Our guide was superb, and for the first section she helped us join our boots onto the tube ahead, and then she guided us down in a line. We did it in the dark, and the water moved at quite a gentle pace. So I was able to relax and enjoy the glow-worms overhead, as we did most of it in the dark with our helmet lights off. I had thought I might find this a bit scary, but I was surprised to realise I quite enjoyed it.

But then we came to the first dam. Having to jump backwards off the dam, holding my tube behind me to fall into, was almost too much. But you gotta do what you gotta do in these places! I was fine to do it once I had watched someone else do it first.

We got to do some more floating along together in the next section as well and I was totally relaxed, just looking up at the glow-worms. The water was surprisingly warm, but it apparently isn't often quite that warm. Then we reached a deeper section and had to work in our tubes individually. It took me a while to work it out, but then I got in the groove, pulling myself ahead by the edges of the cave walls. This was fun.

Then we came to the water slide. Uh oh, very steep. But our guide was great, explained how to do it, then when it was my turn I just shut my eyes, and before I knew it was at the bottom!

Our 'tubing' was now over. We had a short easy walk out of the rest of the cave in ankle-deep water, then a climb up quite a few stairs out of the cave and back to land. The van was near the exit though, so I never had to feel quite like such a sumo walker again. By now, my gumboots were full of water.
Back at base we had hot showers and soup. I realised how full my wetsuit had become of water, as I could barely carry it once I had it off! No wonder my muscles felt tired that evening... they had done a lot of weight-lifting!


  1. Sounds like you had a fantastic time. I never got to Waitomo, though I did see glowworms elsewhere. And I never did anything exciting like rafting!

  2. I have to say I was bowled over by the magnificence of the glow-worms at Waitomo. I went with a smaller operator, Spellbound, only 12 per boat, and plenty of time for eyes to get night-sight.... and the vision on the glow-worms in the cage they took us to was jut magical.

  3. cave....just..... simon... I am as bad as you;-)