New Zealand's Waitomo district in the central west of the North Island is a beautiful place of rolling green farmland and grazing cattle. It may look tranquil, but don't be fooled Waitomo is a Mecca for adventurers who like their action underground.
More than 300 limestone caves have been discovered beneath the hills of Waitomo. They took around 100,000 years to be formed and were found in 1887 by Tane Tinorau, a Maori chief, and Fred Mace, an English surveyor. They built a flax stem raft and drifted along an underground stream using candles as their only source of light. Within a year, the enterprising Tane was taking guided tours to the caves.
Limestone rock was forced up from under the sea by earthquakes, leaving its faults exposed to acidic water which has carved out huge underground passages and created some natural features perfect for tubing action.
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 it can all be seen from underground floats through glow-worm lit grottoes. They can also be seen by 100m abseils into the void and through tight squeezes.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves were formed more than 30 million years ago and have two levels, 16m 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 cavern.
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.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company will share the exciting underground adventure with you. It was established by cave explorers in 1987. Be prepared to get a little wet as you venture deep into the Ruakuri Cave system. You will scramble, crawl and slide through the dark over wet rocks before launching yourself into the water when the fun really begins.
You're around 30 metres down and the air temperature is around 15°C, comparatively warm compared to the 11°C water temperature! This is probably where you think the wetsuit was one of man's greatest inventions! Or maybe the second-best after the hot shower you will enjoy shortly after you resurface.
Your adventure starts with a 4km drive. You grab a tube and practise jumping into the stream. Then you enter the cave, jump into a pool and head into the huge main passage and main cave stream. You go over a 1.5m waterfall, enjoy the glowworm float, pass under walkways and float the cave system to daylight. After that, it's a gentle float down a bush stream to the jump site and then back to the base for a hot shower and soup.
200km south of Auckland in New Zealand.
Black Labyrinth Tours, including all gear, showers, soup and bagel, costs around $80 per person. They are around three hours in duration.
Europcar has car hire starting at $29 a day.
Air New Zealand has flights to Auckland.
One-way fares from:
Gold Coast $339
Flight available online only and conditions apply.
Prices correct at June 19, 2008.
For further information
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company
Ph: +64 7 878 6219
Ph: 1300 131 390
Air New Zealand
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