11 August 2007

Waitomo, New Zealand

Last Tuesday morning, we left Auckland at sparrow's fart (early) to head for Wanganui via Waitomo. Although this trip is about visiting friends and family, there are a few touristy things I want to do. Black water rafting is one of them, and Waitomo is the only place to do it.

George drove while I drifted in and out of sleep in the passenger's seat. By 10:00am we'd arrived in Waitomo. We checked in, George drank some V (NZ/Australian energy drink), and our adventure began. To start, everyone gears up in damp wetsuits, hideous shorts, dollar store rubber boots, and a helmet rigged with a headlamp. Thankfully, we don't have any photos. From there, we load into a van, drive down to the site, jump into a freezing river, get out of the river, hike to the cave (through beautiful vegetation, I must say), and enter the underground cave.

Parts of the tour include walking and wading through the river, jumping off waterfalls, and floating on the tube. The water moves at varying speeds, but remember that this is an underground cave formed by the underground river still flowing. The water is only relatively still within eddies. The size of the cave varied throughout the tour. There is one particularly claustrophobic piece where the river is about a meter wide and the cave is just high enough to pass through. This would be the place where the girl behind me broke into hysterics.

We had our lights on most of the time, though you could actually see more when our headlamps were off and eyes adjusted to the darkness. We stopped at one point in the tour to look at glow worms (and enjoy a chocolate fish). To the naked eye, this looks like a series of tiny, glowing specks on the ceiling. The glowing bits are actually maggot feces that are used as bait to attract insects to the clear, hanging mucous that acts as a net. The mucous lines are actually quite beautiful. Better than seeing them in person is the footage captured by BBC's Plant Earth. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

The wrapped up the adventure with a hot shower and my favorite pie so far (steak, chili, and cheese).

I'd heard so much about black water rafting that I was a little disappointed by the experience. It was definitely cool, but it didn't create the adrenaline rush that I'd expected. That being said, it was worth our time and is probably worth the time of doing the 5-hour trip that includes repelling into the caves.

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