Exploring Waitomo Caves

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Just as stunning as the rolling New Zealand landscape is what lies underground. In the little town of Waitomo in the north island, the main attraction is the massive tangle of caves and underground rivers which are home to the infamous glowworms. Many companies have staked their claim on sections of the cave to offer guided tours.

The Legendary Black Water rafting company will test the limits of even the most daring traveller, especially with the five-hour Black Abyss tour. The nine in our group — from Germany, Australia, United States, Ireland, Japan and myself the lone Canadian — were suited up into wetsuits to prepare us for our sojourn into 13 degree water up to 60 metres underground. The first task was perhaps the scariest — abseiling down 37 metres into the cave, through a gap in the rocks so small I almost regretted having breakfast that morning. As I lowered myself down into the cave, all I could see was the jagged rock wall in front of me and a sea of darkness below. The reassuring voice of one of the guides, AK, a 20-year-old Kiwi redhead nicknamed AK47, led me safely to the bottom. My feet weren’t long on solid ground. After walking across a hole on a grated plank as wide as my shoulders, I was hooked onto a zipline that flew me across the river. The other guide Ben, was testing our wits by greeting our arrival on the other side with a deafening bang, which made the next person in line expect to slam into a solid wooden door. He was actually smacking an inner tube against the rock face. The inner tubes were actually for our butts; standing on a platform, we each kicked our feet out from under us and let the inner tube break our fall into the chilly water. With our headlamps flicked off, we float down the black river guided only by the constellations of green glowworms stuck to the roof. AK told us that anywhere there’s caves and water in New Zealand, there will be glow worms, which are not actually worms but maggots... and the bioluminescence is actually their feces. “So what you’re actually looking at is glowing maggot shit,” AK said. The glow attracts their prey which get tangled into the sticky “fishing lines of death” that droop down like strands of chewing gum. The little creatures kept us mesmerized as we craned our necks back and stared at the vibrant clusters that formed patterns on the black roof of the cave. Next was a passage way called the drunken stumble, on account of the uneven floor that had us wading through the water like intoxicated sailors. That led to what they called “nipple pool” because of the depth of the water. A few people took the mud from the bottom of the river and smeared it on their faces like war paint, making us feel all the more courageous for the next challenge: Climbing a series of waterfalls. The first ledge was about three metres high and rushing with water. Ben yelled over the crash of the water to instruct me on the footing while AK was at the top to make sure we conquered the waterfall. When I finally crawled through a hole revealing a patch of daylight, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief to make it out of the cave unscathed. 

Overall, the black water caving was an amazing way to see the natural beauty of the Waitomo caves in a way that's challenging and engaging. Ben and AK and their goofy sense of humour kept us all laughing and made the experience that much more memorable. 


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