Waitomo Glowworm Caves
My first day in New Zealand was spent in the pastoral region of the North Island known as Waitomo. As I drove along State Highway 1 to the legendary home of the glowworms, I couldn’t help but think about the adventurous day ahead, especially the black water rafting through the caves.
Waitomo reminded me of England’s Lake District, but amplified. Everything was greener, hillier and just more. The best description would be of a Hobbit shire; everything was just so verdant and pleasant – even the cows seemed happy.
The standard tour of the glowworm caves was great, but tame. The real highlight of my day in Happy Cow Land was my afternoon with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. It takes a lot of gravitas to name one’s company ‘legendary’ but luckily for them, the adventure company lives up to the billing.
Black Water Rafting
I’ve been rafting and tubing many times and, oddly enough, I had even been whitewater tubing before. So, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Just in case, I consulted the web site in advance to read about the Black Labyrinth tour and everything seemed pretty straightforward. Guest enters cave, sits on tube, floats. The end. Well, like all things in New Zealand, my Kiwi hosts were guilty of a wee bit of understatement.
It was the low season in Waitomo, but it was hard to tell from the steady flow of visitors in and out of the Legendary Black Water facility. I was hoping for a small group, but instead was added to a group of high school rugby players from Queensland, Australia. Yeah, basically anyone’s worst nightmare.
Actually, the lads weren’t that bad and had a chaperon with them who was about as no-nonsense as Darth Vader. We went through the process of donning wet suits, picking out our tubes and practicing how to jump backwards off of waterfalls.
Yes, jumping backwards off waterfalls. Underground. In the dark. Just some of the minor details my adventurous Kiwi friends failed to mention when booking the trip.
A five minute walk through the forest brought us an entrances of the Waitomo cave system. The caves are one of New Zealand’s oldest tourist attractions. Visitors have been marveling at the bioluminescent fly larvae for more than 100 years, apparently unaware of the fact that they are indeed marveling at bioluminescent fly larvae.
We walked down the slippery rocks and finally entered the water. Edit: The absolutely freezing waters of the caves. The layers of water-resistant dive suits suddenly made sense as my feet and hands began to freeze. But I soon forgot the minor discomfort of the chilly waters as we descended into the depths of the New Zealand earth.
What happened next was a two-hour adventure through raging rivers, waterfalls and, of course, glowworms. In spite of my hesitation at the beginning of the adventure, I soon got carried away with the excitement of exploring the watery caves with just a headlamp and a tube. Even better, I faced my fears and jumped backwards off those waterfalls. More than just surviving the jumps, they were exhilarating and frankly made me feel proud.
The final moments of the experience are spent on a calm stretch of water, laying back watching the glowworms as you float by. That was what the afternoon was all about, enjoying some of the best of New Zealand’s natural wonders in a way most others don’t get to experience.