We woke up early Friday morning in anticipation of our first adventure activity in New Zealand…abseiling! The area around Te Kuiti has hundreds of limestone caves, some of which are filled with glowworms. Tour operators in the area have taken full advantage of the caves and their glowworm inhabitants by offering a variety of activities beneath the earth’s crust. The options range from black water rafting to abseiling and rock climbing. After researching the plethora of options, we signed up for the “Lost World” tour offered by Waitomo Adventures. The highlight of the “Lost World” is a 300 foot abseil into a cave. This seemed like the best choice given that it’s a bit more challenging than some of the others options.
We arrived at the tour office and were introduced to our guide for the morning and a man from Belgium who had also signed up for the abseiling adventure. On our way to the cave, our guide mentioned that the Amazing Race reality show visited this area of New Zealand about seven years ago and the contestants actually did the “Lost World” tour as part of a challenge. Those of you who know me are probably not surprised to hear that this fun fact from our guide helped to convince me that we had definitely signed up for the best underground activity!
Once we reached the cave, our guide provided us with our gear for the morning; coveralls, a hard hat with a headlamp, gum boots and a harness. We walked a short distance and suddenly came upon a large sinkhole. A metal platform had been built so we could peer into the large hole and down 300 feet to the bottom of the cave. After a five minute lesson on how to abseil, we were directed to sit on a metal beam while the guide hooked us up to the ropes. Each of us then slid off the beam and then the four of us descended simultaneously. Controlling the speed at which we descended was as easy as pulling up on the rope to increase our speed or pulling down on it to stop. Apparently the abseil lasted 30 minutes but the time seemed to fly by way too quickly.
After reaching the bottom of the cave, we disconnected ourselves from the ropes and began our hike through the cave. Walking further into the darkness, we turned on our headlamps and squeezed through some tight spaces until we reached a spot where the guide directed us to get comfortable and turn off all our lights. Out of the darkness, hundreds of lights appeared on the ceiling of the cave. Glowworms!
After admiring the bright lights and learning all about what makes the insects (aka glowworms) glow, it was time to head out of the cave. But how do you get out of a cave that you abseiled 300 feet into? The experts at Waitomo Adventures had thought of everything. They had conveniently built a ladder that took us about halfway up the cave. Climbing this slippery metal ladder was almost more intimidating than the abseil and certainly more physically challenging. We each took turns clipping into the safety ropes and making the ascent. After reaching the top of the ladder, we were able to hike the rest of the way out of the cave and into the fresh air. Although we only visited one of the 600 odd caves in the area and there were certainly plenty more opportunities for underground exploring, the open road was beckoning, so we headed back to our car and continued the long drive south.