Sometimes the best gems are hidden in plain site. The Waitomo Caves are just such a not-so-hidden gem in New Zealand.
Sharleen and I arrived in the morning. I had been spelunking once before, but this was a first time for Sharleen. We suited up with about six others in wet suits, head lamps and rope harnesses. There was no pre-instruction just: “Follow directions when you are in the caves.”
They lowered us into the cave. Like a mouth swallowing food, things were clear and light on the outside, but once inside all was dark. It got dark quick. We stood on the plateau in darkness waiting until everyone was down and giving our eyes time to adjust.
With our headlamps on we climbed down off the plateau and forged head through waist deep water. Something bumped my leg: “What the heck was that!” Any number of horror and science fiction movies flashed through my mind as I pictured horrible things happening to me and the group. “There are fish who live in this water, they are harmless.” (Harmless, but unsettling)
We passed through one chamber after another. In one we had to rappel down a waterfall, and in another we had to navigate a tunnel tunnel neck deep in water. This was not a place for claustrophobia. Periodically the narrow chambers opened to a magnificent glow-worm starry sky. Each worm glows with a blue hue and it really looks like a night sky with constellations. In another chamber, the guide showed us some fossils from pre-historic sea creatures that were caught up in the limestone cave formations eons ago.
A favorite part of the experience for both of us was when we floated on tubes in silence down a long calm stretch of the caves watching the glowworms above.
Time sped by, and the three hours was more physically demanding than I thought. There were rope systems, ladders, and rock climbing and abseiling challenges. The sound of running water was constant and relaxing.
When we finally exited the cave system and got out of the wet suits there was warm tomato soup and hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to finish off an amazing experience!