Starting Point: Waitomo
Ending Point: Waitomo
Kilometers Traveled: 4
Today we went on an underground adventure with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. We headed out on a 2 hour visit to Ruakuri Cave, including spelunking, walking, and floating 65 meters below the ground on the Huhunui river.
We showed up at their offices and got all kitted out with full wetsuits, jackets, booties, and gum boots. Then it was off to the entrance of the cave, where we picked out tubes and did a bit of training. We had 2 waterfalls along the way which required jumping off backwards into the pools below. But first, we had to practice by jumping off the dock into the river outside the cave.
Ever since we started talking about this tour and booked it, I’ve been excited and nervous about the waterfall jumps. I am a recovering acrophobic, and it’s always a craps shoot whether or not I will panic in a heights situation. So we had no idea what would happen. But suddenly it was my turn on the dock. Time to stand with my heels off the edge and take a backward leap of faith. And I did it! Even if it was followed up by the nervous laughter that is just one tick away from crying as I floated down the river to the stairs. And it was empowering! It set the tone for the rest of the day.
Then it was off to our entrance to Ruakuri. Ruakuri means Den of the Dogs. It was discovered 400-500 years ago by a young Maori hunter who was attacked by dogs that lived in the entrance of the cave. Caves are sacred to the Maori, and they often bury their dead at the entrance to caves, including the main entrance to Ruakuri.
We had a quick safety briefing and then it was into the cave through an impossibly small cleft in the earth. We stopped for a photo while there was still daylight and then it was onto the river, floating down for a bit, then getting out and walking/wading over uneven rocks. We came to a place where the ceiling of the cave got very low and we floated through by walking/pushing ourselves along the ceiling as it was mere inches away from our faces. Then we came to our first waterfall.
One of our guides was helping people get set up, and then pushing off their shins as they jumped to help them clear the rock ledge below. Luckily, I wasn’t the first to jump, so I could see that it was only about 2-3 meters high. I turned around, lined up, and leaped, splashing into the water below. I had just survived my first underground waterfall.
Kyle was right behind me, but he slipped a bit at the last second as he was about to jump. But, being incredibly coordinated, he went with it and landed in the water perfectly situated in his tube. After that we did a bit more floating down the river, and a bit more spelunking and walking/wading where the water got too shallow. And then it was on to the final waterfall. We leaped over that one, most of my fear gone by now, and then got into a formation called an eel, where you hold onto the feet of the person behind you and form a long chain. We all turned off our headlights and floated along in the blackness for a while, admiring the thousands of glowworms making up constellations and galaxies of twinkling lights above our heads. It was so quiet and peaceful and beautiful…and a bit cold…the water was only 14 degrees Celsius (that’s 57F for those of you in the states). Our guide actually commented on how warm the water was today. I suspect he is crazy.
Glow worms are actually not worms at all. They are the larva form of a fly called Orfelia fultoni, or the Fungus Fly. They create waste products that are bioluminescent in order to attract prey to their filament-like traps. So what we are actually admiring far above us is the glow in the dark poo of maggots. But wow, that shiny shit sure is beautiful!
As we float along in the darkness, I feel like I’m in a cocoon, enveloped by the earth and the darkness with the twinkling of the universe up above me. All fear of heights and the unknown is gone by this time and we all just sit back and enjoy the ride. Too soon we start to see light up ahead and our time in Ruakuri is over. We all stand up out of our tubes rather ungracefully and stumble out into the light.
We load back up into the van and head back over to the main office for hot showers, tomato soup, and hot bagels…all included in our tour. What a fantastic way to spend a morning!
Many people say that being in Ruakuri cave is very spiritual, and we certainly experienced that today. There is a special kind of peace in the darkness below, floating along on a river, admiring the glowworms twinkling above. We’d definitely recommend it to anyone.