I’ve never been a fan of caves.
Honestly, when was the last time you heard something GOOD about one?
Growing up, I remember watching Disney’s Tom & Huck, freaking out when they were lost in a cave and presumed dead. More recently, we’ve had the Chilean miners get trapped under ground for weeks. On top of that, movies like The Descent and Sanctum are designed to make you poop your pants at the mere thought of going in a claustrophobic cave.
Caves are like a Vegas casino without the gambling or booze – when you’re inside one, you have no idea where you are, what time of day it is, or how to get out.
So, I did what any rational human being who is afraid of getting lost in a cave would do:
I went underground glowworm cave tubing.
Underground Glowworm Cave Tubing?
On Monday, I was hanging out in Rotorua after a kick-ass afternoon of mountain biking through the Redwoods and decided that heading southwest towards Wellington was my best course of action.
I remember reading in my guidebook about Waitomo, a city southwest of Rotorua that was famous for its glowworm caves. I went down to my hostel’s front desk, grabbed a pamphlet for the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co, and proceeded to read about the coolest thing I’d never heard of before:
the Black Abyss.
What’s The Black Abyss?
The Black Abyss is the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co.’s flagship tour in Waitomo: it involves abseiling (rappelling), zip-lining, tubing, caving, and climbing. This is all done underground, in a cave, that is loaded with glowworm colonies.
This is one of those “absolutely cannot happen anywhere else in the world” experiences, so I knew I had to be a part of it.
After arriving in Waitomo on Tuesday morning, I headed over to the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co.’s basecamp to meet Angus and Logan, our group’s two guides for the day. Angus is one of the original founders of the company (which he helped start way back in 1987), and Logan has been running adventures there since 1995.
Years ago, I went “cave tubing” in Bolivia while on a cruise. I was handed a giant inflatable tube, a beer, and a headlamp, and then proceeded to float down this lazy river which dipped in and out of “caves” for a few hours.
I knew this cave tubing would be WAY different right from the start.
First, we had to put on booties (think wetsuit boots), followed by a pair of wetsuit pants, and then a wetsuit jacket. After this, we were given big-time boots to go over our booties, a climbing harness, helmet, and a bunch of rappelling gear.
Fortunately, I went to the bathroom before I put all of this stuff on.
Into the Darkness
After a quick car trip we arrived at our “entry point.” Except that I couldn’t see any entry point…just a hill and some ropes. We spent 15 minutes learning how to lock ourselves in properly and rappel down the rope.
Then, Angus led us around the corner to a deck/plank of sorts that hung out over this massive hole in the ground. The picture above will give you an idea of what kind of hole it was.
Think Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi.
I watched others disappear down the hole, but didn’t really know what to expect until it was my turn to descend into the unknown (yeah that’s me in the picture!)…after about a 30 foot drop, the hole narrows to probably only eight feet in diameter.
I subconsciously held my breath, released the slack in my rope, and dropped through the hole into complete darkness.? Immediately I was freaked…all I could see was the stone wall a few feet in front of my head (thanks to my tiny headlamp), and had absolutely NO idea how much farther I had to go until the bottom because I truly couldn’t see a damn thing.
After what felt like ages, I reached the bottom of the cave where Logan waited with the rest of the group. He pointed to the boulders we were sitting on, with a big grin on his face: “By the way, there are fossils in that rock you’re sitting that are millions of years old. Sort of puts things into perspective, huh?”
We started hiking through the cave while observing some incredible stalagmite and stalactite formations. After a quick five minute hike, we were asked to all turn our headlamps off…pitch black again.
Logan grabbed the nearest “volunteer,” strapped them to some sort of contraption, asked them to sit down and then let go. The zipline shot Sally (the poor girl who had to go first) down quickly through the blackness as she screamed her head off. When it was my turn to go, I had already watched seven or eight from my crew go before me.
It didn’t matter.
As I was yelling and flying through complete darkness, having no idea how much further I had to go or what was underneath me, I looked up into what appeared to be the night sky..which is unusual at 2pm on a clear sunny day. ? If you’ve ever been on Space Mountain, then you can picture what was going through my mind at this point – lots of fast movement, tons of tiny lights surrounding you, absolutely no clue what direction is which.
Suddenly the zip-line came to a halt, I was unhooked, and free to look up at my “night sky” –? hundreds upon hundreds of glow worms populating the cave ceiling above me.? I can try with words and pictures to explain how beautiful and surreal it was, but really only seeing it in person will do it justice.
At this point I had dropped ninety meters into the earth and zip-lined through the darkness underneath a glowworm community.
Not bad for a Tuesday.
Once everybody had zip-lined down, it was time to go tubing!
One problem…the underground river was at least ten feet below us. Luckily, Angus showed us the safe way to get in: grab a tube, sit in it, and then launch yourself into the river.
Add another “is this really happening?” moment to my list for the day.
Holy shit! That was awesome!? Holy shit! This water is freezing! Of course it is Steve you idiot! You’re in a freaking cave!
(Note: the above picture is one of their promotional photos with the cave lit up – I wanted to show you what we were dealing with!)
The Glowworm Float
After hiking upstream with our tubes for a brief period, Angus pulled us aside to look at some glowworms that were hanging underneath a very low ledge.
He gave us a quick biology lesson on how glowworms work:
Glowworms each create 10-15 “fishing lines” of silk that hang down beneath their particular area. Thanks to the GLOW of the glowworms, flies that are underground are attracted to the light and get trapped in the fishing lines – the glowworms quickly hurry over to that particular line, pull it up, and then suck out all of the insides of the bug. Delicious.
After we finished our hike up the river, it was time to float back down the river…but not in the way I expected. Angus instructed us to sit down in our tubes, link our feet with the person’s arms in front of us, and then turn off our headlamps.
Angus turned off his light as well, and proceeded to tow us through the darkness, down the river, as we sat there in silence and looked at the dozens upon dozens of glowworm colonies in the walls and ceilings above us.
Again, here’s another instance where words and pictures cannot do justice to the awe-inspiring beauty we witnessed over those next twenty minutes.? I honestly felt like I was floating through space, moving from one galaxy to the next.? To reference Space Mountain again, think of the exit room after finishing the ride – spacey tranquil music is playing, you’re on moving walkways, looking at different solar systems and nebula.
That’s what these twenty minutes were like (minus the spacey music), except none of it was manufactured and we were 100 meters underground – thank you Mother Nature!
This was my favorite part of the tour.
Crawling in the Dark
Logan rejoined our group at this point, and helped lead us through waist deep water as we hiked past more and more glow worm colonies. It was then time to visit some side passages, crawl through holes, and wiggle in and out of tight spaces.
We set up shop on some dry rocks, drank some (much needed) hot chocolate, ate a snack, and attempted to to write “NERDFITNS” (we only had nine people) using our headlamps, empty colored drink cups, and a long shutter time on the camera.
Here’s our how it turned out:
Have you ever rock-climbed up an underground waterfall?
Because I have…now…twice!
For the final portion of our adventure, Angus and Logan led us to a tiny passageway and gave us explicit instructions:
“When you get into the opening, there’s going to be water pouring down on top of you. That’s coming from the waterfall that we’re going to be climbing up. Crawl around the corner, and wait for us there.”
- Crawl around the corner: check.
- Get dumped on by waterfall: check.
- Listen as Logan tells me exactly where to put my hands and feet under the rushing water of the waterfall: check.
- Climb up a freaking waterfall: CHECK.
Yet another unusual experience.? Although the climb wasn’t completely vertical nor terribly long, the added element of difficulty that comes with a waterfall gushing over your handholds and footholds certainly made up for it.
After a few more tight passageways and climbs, we climbed another small waterfall and finally found ourselves back on the surface.
That is the only word to describe my experiences in this cave.? I can honestly say that this is something I could not have done anywhere else in the world. Sure, there are other glowworm caves.? Sure, you can go cave tubing. But I know there’s no place else on earth where I could combine all of these activities into one giant adventure, and have it done so well.
It was easy to see that Angus and Logan (pictured below with me and Gandalf) absolutely LOVE what they do. I guess if you love caving, you love caving, right? These guys have been doing it for decades, and they know how to do it right. I never once felt unsafe, bored, or unsure of what to do next.
After it was over and we all sat around enjoying some much needed hot tomato soup, Angus told us about his past. Way back when he was a little kid, the older cavers would bring them down to the caves, tie ropes to him and his brother, and have them wiggle through tiny cracks and crevices to see if they led anywhere. I can see how he had become so comfortable underground.
Back when they started the tours in 1987, the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company coined the term “blackwater rafting.” Not surprisingly, a bunch of competitors popped up and stole the term, which unfortunately couldn’t be? trademarked by that point.? They added “legendary” to their name to let folks know that they were the ones that started it all and have been doing it the longest.
I had planned on heading to Waitomo and doing one of these adventures regardless, but I emailed the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. and asked if I could join one of their groups in exchange for writing about my experiences on Nerd Fitness. They called me and said they’d be happy to let me tag along with a group the following day free of charge.
They made absolutely NO requests or requirements for me on what I could and couldn’t write about. They simply added me to a group and put me through a normal tour.? They also provided me with the photos from our adventure along with some promotional shots to better show what happened in the darkness.
Obviously if you are highly claustrophobic or you’re afraid of the dark (remember that show on SNICK?), then this probably isn’t the adventure for you.
Beyond that though, I cannot recommend this experience enough. I can tend to get slightly “epic” with my recaps (if you haven’t noticed), but this tour isn’t reserved for only fitness nuts – they help you through the climbing, you don’t need to jump into the water if you don’t want to, and they guide you through the entire abseiling process.? It’s an adventure, but it’s a controlled adventure.
The Blackwater Rafting Co. started this whole industry in Waitomo, and although their tour might be more expensive than others, I can understand why: these guys are absolute professionals in every sense of the word.? They know every corner and crevice of their cave, even in complete darkness, and go out of their way to make sure that everybody has an amazing experience.
My life was in the hands of my tour guides a few times throughout the 3+ hours underground, so I’m glad I was with people who knew what they were doing.
Big thanks to Megan, Logan, and Angus for being such great hosts for the day.
If you are ever anywhere near Waitomo, go see the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. and try out the Black Abyss; you won’t be disappointed.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake just the other day. Fortunately I was nowhere near Christchurch when it happened; more importantly, Dantes, my friend and one of the moderators on the NF message boards, was not hurt either (he LIVES in Christchurch).
I received a lot of emails, Facebook messages, and tweets asking if I was okay – thank you..sorry I couldn’t respond quickly in each case.
Moving forward, it’s best if you follow me on Twitter – as I’ve said earlier, internet is very tough to come by most of the time down here (and will be in many places along my trip), but I can use my Amazon Kindle to get free 3G anywhere free of charge. It’s impossible to update my website on it, and I imagine it’s a similar nightmare updating my NF facebook page, but I can make simple updates to Twitter relatively easily so that’s where I’ll be keeping everybody up to date on what I’m doing down here on a day-to-day basis.
My thoughts and prayers go out to those in the Christchurch community.
Want to know how beautiful New Zealand is? I took the above picture outside a bathroom on the side of a? highway (seriously).
Starting tonight, I’ll be moving Nerd Fitness over to a brand new template…that’s right – NF is FINALLY getting a face lift! If you check into the site at some point between now and Monday and it’s not functioning properly, DON’T FREAK OUT! KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE! – it’ll be up and running shortly. I’ll be doing a full post on the new look and features on Monday, but just get ready for a whole new look.
I’ve decided to scale my posts back to just twice a week again. While on the South Island of New Zealand (currently in Nelson), internet is brutally tough to come by, and often costs me 5 dollars per hour (or sometimes I even get charged by the megabyte…hello 1997) to use it.? I’m spending way too much time on my computer trying to do three updates a week along with everything else that comes with running a mobile business.
Because I’m working so hard to finish up the Rebel Strength Guide E-book (working title) AND not desperately trying to NOT spend all day every day behind my laptop screen, I’m going back to the regular formula of just two posts per week.
You can expect a normal NF post every Monday, followed by an Epic Quest update every Thursday.
Moving forward, I will disclose each time that I’ve been fully or partially “sponsored” to do an activity. I have money set aside for my adventures, but I’m also actively reaching out to companies who run activities I’d like to do and asking them if they could help defray the expensive cost in exchange for having their company appear along with a review on NerdFitness.com
There’s an activity I might be doing this weekend that will certainly allow me to “level up my life” to level 2. It’s something that’s not on my list but certainly should be there (so I’ll be adding it next week). Let’s just say that it involves my favorite movie as a kid, a movie I somehow haven’t written about yet.
Until next time…
WOOT of the Week: Anivair, who weighed in at 299 (down 40 pounds already) for the first time in a long time the other day!? He’s switched to eating Paleo, does push ups and squats in his office during the day, and gets out of bed early to work out.? Congrats Anivair, thanks for posting your success, now keep it up!
Want to be the next WOOT of the Week? Post it in the Woot Room on the NF message boards and inspire others!