Brendon counts down to 10 million kilometres in a glorious caving adventure, Kiwi style!
It took around 100,000 years for the vast Waitomo Caves to be formed. They have a magical effect on those who visit. They were found in 1887 by Tane Tinorau, a Maori chief, and Fred Mace, an English surveyor, who built a flax stem raft and drifted along an underground stream using candles as their only light source. Within a year, the enterprising Tane was taking guided tours to the caves.
Waitomo is around 200km south of Auckland on New Zealand's north island. The tiny village has a huge reputation for its marvellous caves and karst limestone features, with between 400 and 500 underground systems. Dry valleys, streams flushing into funnel-shaped holes, craggy limestone outcrops, fluted rocks, potholes and natural bridges caused by cave ceiling collapses are all there.
Below ground, seeping water has sculpted rock into eerie and beautiful shapes. The cave creation process is ongoing and can be seen from underground floats through glowworm-lit grottoes. They can also be seen by hundred-metre abseils into the void and through tight squeezes.
Waitomo Adventures offers safe fun in this exciting place.
Tumu Tumu TOObing is blackwater rafting at its best. Float, swim and walk through a cave under the light of glowworms the four-hour trip includes two hours underground.
Haggas Honking Holes are three abseils in waterfalls, rock climbing and grovelling in a spectacular cave.
Lost World can be seen two ways a four-hour 100m abseil then ascent through a cavern or the epic seven-hour 100m abseil, walk, climb and swim along the underground streamway.
St Benedict's Caverns is the newest activity. This is said to be the prettiest known cave in New Zealand. A three-and-a-half hour dry trip takes you abseiling and exploring the country's “best dressed” cave.
Its ceiling is hung with hundreds of delicate, icicle-like stalactites. Rugged walls have soft, rounded lines and on the floor are stalagmites of all shapes and sizes. The formation gradually changes from pure white to rich gold, black to white, then dark reds and just before a cemented rockfall, you come to a small and beautifully decorated chamber.
The surrounding rock is an old sea floor, 34 or 35 million years old. You see fossilised shells which have been lying there for millions of years. Every bend you take reveals another creation.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves were formed more than 30 million years ago and have two levels, 16 metres apart. The upper level is dry and has the entrance to the cave, the Catacombs and the Organ Loft. The lower level has stream passages and the Cathedral.
Aranui Cave is a dry, straw formation cave. It has one entrance and is famous for a beautiful array of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and unusual formations.
Ruakuri Cave means "den of dogs" in the Maori language. The cave is the longest and most complex of all three tourist caves, with some unusual features, including an ancient Maori burial ground, set high in the cliff above the entrance, fossil shells and a large chamber known as Holdens Cavern. Key points are the Ghost Walk, Bridal Chamber and Mirror Pool.
Believe it or not, your photographs can be ready to collect when you arrive back at your base, all thanks to carrier pigeons. They take digital memory sticks 20km from the cave to the base in 10 minutes.