For those of you who followed us through Hoku Lodge in Taipo, our next stop is Black Water Gloworm Caves in Waitmo, New Zealand.
Waitomo is a Maori word made up of two parts. ‘Wai’ which translates as water and ‘tomo’ which means entrance or hole. Waitomo can be translated as the ‘stream which flows into the hole in the ground’. This meaning is reflected through its fantastic geological history and landscape, however it also has a rich tourism and cultural history. As a region it is one of New Zealand’s original tourist destinations.
The Waitomo District, encompassing the main town and service centre of Te Kuiti and the townships of Waitomo, Mokau, PioPio, Awakino, Marokopa and Benneydale amongst others, is home to around 9,700 people. The prosperous local economy is built around tourism, farming, mining and forestry.
Our adventure was a 5 hour underground trek through these gloworm caves. There are several ways to see these caves, and packages to fit almost any thrill level. It’s something I will remember forever! So unusual…breathtaking and frightening all at the same time.
We did have a few travel pals who opted out of this adventure…..first, you change into these wetsuits and booties. Now, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of trying to slither into a wet/cold suit. There was a fair amount of whining in our locker room over this part. We had perfect weather in New Zealand with the exception of this one day……of course! It was raining and chilly when we arrived at the caves. You then get into your climbing harnesses and practice with rope and inclines before we dive into the cave.
Check out Courtney’s face! She was soooo worried that I’d plummet to my death …..
After our practice session, we were ready for our actual cave dive. The “entry” into the cave is a 175′ drop into darkness. You have to repel down into the hole and down the sides until you land at the bottom of the entry area. Luckily, there was a really big guy waiting down there to catch you if your rope slipped. It was super scary and thrilling all at once. I watched as my daughter disappeared into the hole. It was my turn!!!
Still foolishly smiling here……about half way down you begin to consider what might be living in a dark, slimy hole like this…..then all you hear is water rushing….it’s pitch black as you descend…….
Once our entire group had repelled down, the adventure began. It’s beautiful…..the water is constantly moving and turning. The gloworms live on the ceiling and look like this throughout the cave (forgive the photo….really hard to get a focused shot in rushing water that, for the most part is waist-deep).
These gloworms are only found in this part of New Zealand and live in these particular caves. It was like having a “worm” chandalier underground. It really was stunning.
We all assembled to move to the next part of the cave. You may notice that we all have cups…they serve hot chocolate during the trip to help with the chill. They also have the most AMAZING cookies they share at this time. What they don’t tell you until later is that there are eels in the water who LOVE the cookies! I was moving along a rope (area with particularly fast moving, deep water) and thought someone had touched my leg. Everyone was hanging on for dear life…..I’d just been tagged by an eel. EWWWWWWW! Every move as you travel the cave comes with a surprise challenge…..so, to recap….you are in clunky wetsuits and helmets….you are in rushing water the entire time and you now have cookie-eating eels….just saying. So, next challenge up…..
You reach a cliff with rushing water about 10 – 15′ below…..the guide gives you an tube and tells you to jump. One of our pals was a teeny bit reticent in jumping….no worries they push you to help get you started:) haha A gentle people….
Often, you had to lie flat to get through the arches in the water……on the other side of the wall, a waterfall you have to scale in order to move forward.
At this point you’ve been in total darkness and water for about 3 – 4 hours. Forget looking cute…..soaking wet and a bit concerned about your next challenge.
Climbing toward the final waterfall exit.
YESSSSSSS! We made it. Now, possibly the most unbelievable aspect of this trip was that The Good Doctor, had just had MAJOR knee surgery just three weeks prior! He performed all of the challenges and lives to tell the tale…..
If you are looking for something super different and group friendly, this is it! The guides are great and I know I will never forget it……