Day 2 & 3: Glow Worms and Black Water Rafting

In the afternoon of the same day we left Auckland. There was many more to see in that city, but we were hungry of countryside and nature. Next stop on our itinerary were Waitomo Caves famous for their glow worms and spectacular underground cave system. As soon as we left the big city we plunged into endless green countryside. Throughout the 300km between Auckland and Waitomo all we saw were bright green rolling hills, sheep and a windy road. With sun slowly going down to our right the landscape was like a fine art painting. It felt like driving through The Shire, idyllic, rich and peaceful land of hobbits from Lord of the Rings. The scenes from the movie could have easily been shot in any of those hills. I can’t remember how many times we stopped to take just one more shot.

When we arrived to Waitomo Caves we were still surrounded by hills and sheep. We looked at each other perplexed. We expected mountains or at least rocky hills, but instead we were surrounded by grassy pastures. Yet the map and information center confirmed we were in the right place. So we picked a spot for the night in a secluded bush not far from the caves and after dark went for a walk in the nearby Ruakuri Reserve. We took torch lights and went to look for the glowworms everyone was talking about. And we found some! Little blue lights accompanied us all along 45 minute track which went through bush and bridges hanging above a deep river 10 meters down and ending in a huge cave with glowworm illuminated ceiling. The walk was a treat. Well, we did expect to see more glowworms, but the track itself was a little adrenaline pumping experience not knowing how deep the fall was just a step from the path. All we could hear was thundering sound of water hitting rocks deep down and that only fueled our imagination. Next day we were planning on doing some black water rafting on that river and the night walk only assured us that it could be an experience to remember. And it was.

Next morning the first thing we did was signing up for black water rafting in the caves. We were 5 couples and 3 guides all dressed in wet suits, boots and helmets. Well it took us a while to get in the wetsuits not only because they were really hard to put on, but also because I somehow managed to put my two arms in the whole where my head was supposed to go and I was stuck with my shoulders twisted painfully. I was quite a sight when I went to ask for help. But I got it sorted out quickly and we all jumped into a van that took us to the location. Before entering the cave each of us had to pick an inflatable tube that best fit our bums and had a waterfall jump training on a river. All wet and shivering, we were ready to enter the cave. We spent an hour in the cave itself, but it was one of the most unforgettable hours of our life. Sitting on tubes, we were paddling through a labyrinth of caves, jumped backwards off waterfalls into pools in bigger caves and listened to stories and geographical facts told by the guides. All the way through the caves we had glowworms right above our heads, but the most breath-taking moment was by the end when we all formed an eel formation (row of tubes where each person had to hold feet of the person behind), we switched off our headlamps and drifted through a long river corridor. The walls of the cave were up to 30m up above us and all around us we could see constellations of little blue lights. It was truly magical. We could just lie there watching the little glowworms forever if it was not for the freezing cold water which after an hour started to take its toll on our bodies. Even though we wanted more of the magic, our lips and hands were starting to turn violet and we knew it was time to get back, have a hot shower and a cup of hot soup. Shower was especially welcome, as it was not easy to come by when camping in the wild.

An hour later with grins on our faces and red cheeks we went to do Ruakuri Reserve once again to see in daylight the track that we did the night before. It was equally exciting in the day as at night, with path going through thick jungle, river deep down and the cave at the end of the track.

Waitomo Caves are definitely a must-see and the best way to get to know them it is by getting wet and cold.

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