Caving in Waitomo? Wai The Heck Not!

Caving in WaitomoSo, you’ve made your way to New Zealand woohoo! You’re keeping an eye out for those funny little Kiwi Birds, or perhaps searching for a glimpse of the big burly All Blacks players. You’ve heard New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and you’re eager to throw yourself off planes and bridges.

My question to you is this: Why not throw yourself off a waterfall?

Underground. Backwards.

You’re probably thinking I’m crazy. Maybe I am. But first, let me explain Waitomo to you. Waitomo is a pretty little place, with its name of Maori origin. ‘Wai’ meaning water and ‘tomo’ meaning entrance or hole. Water Hole? More like cave hole – but it’s not a literal translation so calm down everyone.

In Waitomo you have the opportunity to explore its famous Glowworm Caves. GLOW WORMS. If you are as excited by this prospect as me, there are a few ways for you to get involved. Something for everyone, isn’t that nice.

I would recommend booking through The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co – New Zealand’s first black water adventure tour operator. They really know their stuff. The easiest and least troubling option they offer is to take the boat and glide merrily through the caves.

For some unknown reason, we opted for the ‘Black Labyrinth‘ course. The Labyrinth is of medium intensity, lasting a little over 3 hours. Personally, I’d advise you take the word medium with a pinch of salt. You will be expected to tube, climb, jump and shiver your way through the underground maze. Seriously, why did I think this was a good idea?

The time comes to get suited and booted; a challenge in itself. Next, you pose awkwardly for group shots to remember how good you looked for the rest of your life. See below evidence.

Waitomo Caving Group Shot
See what I mean?

After that, you’ll practise jumping backwards of a small jetty with your tube. Everything seems very manageable at this stage – except maybe the group photos, I’ll never be a fan of those.

Black Water Rafting Co. Training Waitomo
Practise makes perfect!

A short bus ride and you’ll find yourself at the caves’ entrance, being instructed by a large man to plunge yourself into darkness. But first, smile for the camera.

Waitomo Glow Worm Cave Entrance
Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.

I won’t lie, the first few minutes are quite alarming. Though you have a head-lamp, everything else around you is pitch black. The opening tunnel you crawl through is pretty tight, and every instinct you’ve ever had is screaming at you to get the heck out of there.

It’s safe to say I was freaked out. We didn’t even know about this activity until earlier that day, and had made a split-second decision to just go for it. With no time to think, came no time to worry. But I was worried now, standing in the middle of some random cave on the other side of the world.

I’ve always thought of myself as an honorary adrenaline junkie. I love a good roller-coaster and am always up for a challenge. Yet as adulthood slowly takes over, I find myself presented with wild experiences less and less. So rarely in fact that instead of being excited by unusual escapades, the thought now makes me excited and nervous in equal measures.

After the initial panic of having to fully submerge myself to move forwards, I was reunited with the group. Fortunately I knew all of them pretty well, as we were Kiwi Bus friends by this stage (familiarity can be such a huge comfort in this type of situation). We were all given a lovely little pep-talk by the highly experienced and totally trustworthy instructors, and from that moment I was determined to make the most of this experience.

Waitomo Black Labyrinth Caving Experience
Back with the gang

The next hurdle came when we had to jump backwards off a waterfall. I watched my other half disappear into darkness without a second thought, I’ve never seen him so audacious (or wreckless).

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Just chillin’

Before I knew it, I was in position. I decided not to think about what I was doing, or else I might never make the move. With a jump, a shriek, and a little push from the man in charge; I hit that icy water bottom first.

What a rush!  It was all strangely empowering.

Black Labyrinth Waitomo Cave Waterfall Jumping
Bottoms Up!

The remaining challenges were a breeze and any worries I’d had dissipated, replaced by adrenaline and awe. This was liberating.

Time absolutely flies down there. So enjoy every second of it! Yes the water is absolutely freezing. No you can’t use the bathroom for over three hours. However I guarantee it’s all worth it once you reach the glow worms.

Waitomi Glow Worms Inside Cave Ruakuri Cave
Can you spot them?

We were told to link our tubes together and just float through the final tunnel. We had learnt a lot about the glow worms already, and seen some scattered around, the finale was absolutely surreal. As you turn off your lamps, thousands of glittering specks create an ethereal glow throughout the tunnel. Simply breathtaking.

Honestly, I could go on about it for hours. But don’t worry, I won’t! What I will say is that the whole experience wholeheartedly exceeded my expectations. It was exhausting, it was freezing, but it was oh-so brilliant. And whilst I’m sure you can hop, skip and jump through caves elsewhere; can you do it all whilst basking in the glow of a thousand worms?

I doubt it. 


Black Labyrinth Caving Experience New Zealand
We made it!



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