Written by Mike
Today was our first step into the well renown adventure side of New Zealand – a 7 hour adventure cave tour into the “Lost World” including a 100 meter abseil/rappel into the cave. It is officially (and all these words are needed to make it true) the “highest, commercial, hanging abseiling into a cave”.
The day started early in the morning as we had an almost 2 hour drive to get to the tour office. Once registered our group of about 15 were shuttled in minivans to the cave site on a private sheep farm. Here we got fitted in our caving outfits which consisted of wetsuit overalls, a wetsuit jacket, wetsuit booties, helmet, harness and rubber boots. The whole outfit was quite difficult to get on, and snug doesn’t even begin to describe how tight they were. For Teresa, a guide grabbed the front of her overalls and I grabbed the back and we literally lifted her off the ground, shaking her into her overalls. Once all done up we were like a bunch of sausages – there was no hiding the fat rolls in these things!
Getting excited! Our group (although we split into 2 groups later on). Our guides taking a selfie. Squeezed into our suits!
All geared up and ready to go, we made our way to the mouth of the cave. We did a little safety lesson, practicing clipping on/off our safety harness and getting general safety tips. While waiting for the first part of our group to get into the cave we took a quick look at another opening to the cave, just to get a sense of what we were getting ourselves into.
Now for the scary part – the 100 meter descent into the cave with only a thin rope separating you from the cave floor. If you were afraid of heights, you would pee your pants just walking onto the grated platform. Even the knees of those of us who aren’t afraid of heights were a bit wobbly at this point. One of the hardest parts of the whole process is, before you are actually harnessed in, you must walk to the edge of the platform, and somehow get turned around and get your butt seated on a bar that is 2 feet away from the edge with a whole lot of nothing in between. The next hardest part is once you are actually harnessed in and ready to go, taking that first step off the edge 100 meters high, hoping they strapped you in right and the equipment works the way it should. Luckily for us everything was good! Once everyone was hanging free, it was time to start going down.
Peering over the edge at the group before us. Ready to go! Getting ready! Let's go! We're ready!
The descent was a lot slower and harder than we thought it would be – and while super cool and awesome, it was not quite as enjoyable/exhilarating as I thought it would be. Because all 4 of us (Teresa, Kathy, Tom and myself) were all hooked up to one guide (for safety reasons), we had to go really slow. If any one person went too fast, it would trigger a lock on the guides system and we would all jolt to a stop, and stay there until he reset his safety system. Also, we were all very close together, and the more rope we got, the more we would swing. We were eventually all swinging into each other and kicking other people in the head. You also had to strain to stay upright, which was actually quite tough and tiring. We eventually had to resort to essentially hugging our rope just to stay upright. The final thing that kind of took away from the experience was the fact that they didn’t give us gloves, so the rope started taking a toll on the hands. So the first 50 meters was “Wooooo this is awesome!”, and the last 50 meters was “OK, I’m starting to get really sore and tired, can we go faster and get this over with?”. Overall it was still pretty amazing!
That's a long way down! Just hanging out. Ab work-out! Kathy and Tom on their way down. Group pic Our group at the bottom.
Once at the bottom, we had a quick and yummy sandwich lunch, and proceeded deep into the cave.
Tom cooling off in the water after a climb. Tom posing in the light. Mike Teresa Kathy Teresa was not a fan of the cave spiders!
We clambered over/under/between boulders, and it wasn’t long before those wet suits came in handy. Most of our 5 hours of trekking though this cave was in frigid water, sometimes so high you actually had to swim. It would take way too long to describe the whole journey, so here are the highlights:
Crawling through some very tight crevices/tunnels. It is during these that being a big guy is a huge hindrance. One of the crevices was actually too small!
Jumping off ledges into pools of water below – one was pretty high and shallow. Everyone hit their asses on the bottom except for Kathy, who didn’t listen to instructions about cannon-balling in and went feet first – lucky she didn’t get hurt!
Teresa jumping Ha ha - awesome Mikey - plugging his nose! Tom jumping Legs BENT Kathy!
Climbing up the “impassible waterfall”. Holy crap was this hard! It was near the end and we well getting tired, and you literally need to rock climb up a waterfall while the water is pounding you from above, get up to a little ledge, and then rock climb some more to get to the top. Teresa almost fell once but the guide grabbed her. She did great once she made it to the ledge though. My inflexibility in my hips killed me on this, try to lift my leg up sideways into a new foothold in the thick and restrictive wetsuit with water-filled rubber boots did not work very well. I eventually made it up, but had to belly flop onto the ledge! It was by far the toughest part of the whole experience.
Laying in the pitch black cavern with our lights turned off, surrounded by glow worms. This was amazing! It was like being in space, surrounded by stars. Or looking at cities at night from high above. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. So surreal!
What a great day! Sitting on a waterfall. Glow worms! Yes, it was EPIC! Final group shot. Light at the end of the tunnel! Literally! Leaving the cave.
At the end of the cave we were absolutely exhausted. Walking/climbing in the wetsuits for hours in the water really took a lot out of you. Unfortunately we had ventured underground for a few kilometers, so once out of the cave we had to walk back across the farm to the main building. This was by far the worst part. Walking in these waterlogged suits, boots still half filled with water, up and down hills, exhausted, in the heat. It sucked! But we made it, and after undressing and getting a shower we sat down as a group to a pretty good dinner before being whisked back to the tour headquarters.
Our evening consisted of a fairly long drive to our next stop, Rotorua, where we would be staying with a friend that Kathy met while traveling a few years ago.