Now what is Black Water rafting? I hear you say, well it is a underground adventure that involves one going underground into an cave network that has underwater rivers and waterfalls and who knows what else and using a large inflatable tube to navigate through these waterways. Waitomo is famous for its cave network and this apparently world famous activity!!
The option we went for was the Black Abyss, obviously, this included not only clambering through the cave network but also abseiling down into the caves and then zip lining further into the network….Happy days!! In preparation we get dressed in a wetsuit, harness, helmet and a cracking pair of white boots!
Once we were all geared up we set off on our underground adventure, we headed to the cave head which is where we practiced our abseiling techniques that would enable us to go down the 100ft to start our Black Water Rafting Adventure. Neither Steph nor I had ever abseiled before so we were excited but nervous to go down into what looked literally like a black abyss! We were due to go last down the hole but we were to follow some ‘tough’ ex-Israeli military chaps who had already become the joke of the group for asking for large wetsuits and came out looking like clowns! They were also useless at abseiling as well, it later turns out they basically worked in office orientated departments within the military! The ‘tough guy’ image soon wore off!!
The abseil down was awesome, after going down what looked like the forest equivalent of the Sarlacc from Starwars we squeezed through a hole a few inches wider than our bodies, this then opened up into a cavern beyond in which we were both pushing way off to get big jumps and glides down the rope to the bottom, great fun!
Once we were all down next up was the zip line, I had zip lined before Steph had not, so in her usual manner she asked the guides, Drew and Terry, a few details about it just to ease her nerves! This was probably where she went wrong; we were doing this in the dark across another cavern with a river at the bottom. Like all guides Drew and Terry are always looking to add a little spice to the experience. So when Steph was next to go, Terry got her in the harness and asked her to step off the rock edge and allow the line and harness to take her full weight! Once in position it was torches off so it was all black…
Terry: “right you can let go of the edge”
Steph: “ok, I have let go”
Steph: “what’s wrong am I stuck?” (Slight concern in her voice)
Terry: “I think so; try jumping yourself up and down”
Steph: “I am its not working”
Terry: “Hmmm that’s not good, hold on”
Steph: “That’s not good at all” (Great Concern in her voice)
Terry: “Let me check something…”
In an instant we hear screaming first of panic and then into joy, Terry had been winding Steph up and had hold of the brake the whole time….genius, I was in hysterics as I could hear the panic in her voice in the dark as the joke had continued, Terry turned to me and said “I don’t think she will speak to me again”, to which I replied “don’t worry I will!”
Once we were all down the line, we were almost to the river and it was tubing time, this meant a 15ft jump with our large inflatable rings into the dark river below us…..splash….. We were in and it was pretty cold as you can imagine being 150ft below the surface.
For the next section of the trip we floated upstream through a series of caves and tunnels, it was pretty amazing floating this far underground through this strange underworld. But the return journey was even more spectacular.
What I did not mention earlier was that the Waitomo caves are also famous for glow worms, and on the return tubing back we went with the current, with torches off. We were given an amazing show of thousands upon thousands of Glow worms through all the tunnels and caves, it was spectacular, an underground night sky!
During our journey we were also treated to a couple of hot drink breaks which allowed for a snack of chocolate and Hot Orange squash/tang and also Hot chocolate and flapjacks, It was cold down there and this helped keep the cockles warm! At one drink stop we got a great team photo in complete darkness and light only by a torch we got the below. The previously mentioned ‘tough guys’ are on the left!
Once we had floated back to the cliff where we had jumped into the river, we left the tubes behind and started a new section, which was a mix of swimming, floating, crawling, sliding and climbing our way through the cave network. As you can see below it went well, Steph in mid slide praying she makes it to the bottom and me floating/crawling through a tunnel that afforded me a mere two inches between water and rock for my face to fit and room for me to breath, I look possessed, but its probably madness creeping in for being underground for so long!
The final section for us was a climb back up to the surface, this was going to be through a tight network of tunnels and 3 major waterfalls and a few smaller ones. This sounded like a bit of a challenge but it ended up being a fantastic climb through a windy and steep tunnel network clambering over high pressure waterfalls to finally reach the surface, daylight and air! A unique and unforgettable experience of another world!