So what you’re going to want to do is….put the tube on your butt and jump backwards into the water.
But don’t jump too high, otherwise you’ll hit the ceiling.
I’m sorry, what??
And don’t jump too far because you’ll hit the back of the cave.
But not too close to the edge either, because there’s a ledge below us.
What have I signed up for!!!????
Perhaps I may have underestimated the statement that I read on a blog a couple of days before we headed to New Zealand. New Zealanders are Masters of Understatement! Kiwi’s are so used to extreme activities that they don’t think to warn outsiders about it.
Or perhaps I have gotten softened by the safety parameters that we come to expect with activities in the US.
Despite the description:
The original Waitomo subterranean adventures that will have you climbing, black water tubing and leaping through Ruakuri Cave.
Over three hours you’ll take leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls and float serenely down an underground river as you enjoy the glow worm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above.
Maybe I focused more on the ‘floating serenely down a river’ part than the ‘leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls’. And so, with the blindness of my ‘selective reading’, I looked at Nathan in fear and shock when our guides took us to a platform above the river and told us to jump backwards into the water. Because this backwards jump, in the light of day, was to prepare us for jumping backwards off of waterfalls in pitch black caves into icy cold black river water.
Yes, I was the one that brought this activity to Nathan’s attention. And yes, I told myself, can we really go to New Zealand, and NOT experience this? But yes, I also do not like to jump in water (clear pools!) or to go into water that I cannot touch the ground, or really have my head under water at all. And so, I looked at Nathan in fear, turned around and jumped into the water…backwards.
And as per usual, Nathan took this in stride…
And so we headed out, happy and outfitted in wetsuits, jackets, booties, boots and helmets with headlamps into the forest and towards Ruakuri Cave, a natural cave discovered 400 – 500 years ago.
So happy…before entering the caves…
By the look on my face in the photo below, you can probably tell how cautiously I was moving through these caves. A naturally clumsy person, this may not have been the best choice for me, but I have to admit, I loved having the right footwear on – these boots were great at trudging through rock caves!
We climbed down rock ledges, sloshed through tunnels, crawled through rock mazes and played limbo while we floated on our tubes – out of necessity since the jagged cave ceiling was 4 inches above our faces as we lay flat on our backs with the back of our heads in the water.
For half of the tour I kept trying to show Nathan how dim my headlamp was. I swear I could barely see. Finally, one of our guides told me it was okay to turn my light back on…and then she said, oh it already is on. Time for a battery change! And I was back in action! It was like a whole new cave adventure!
Long exposure with light painting (it was not this bright down there)
When we finally got to our backwards waterfall jump, we were pretty acclimatized to the dark, the cold and the water rushing under our feet.
We made the jump and were quickly linked into the Eel formation, where we were linked up feet under arms, all 12 of us in a row, and finally, we were floating serenely down the underground river as glowworms glittered the cave ceiling. It actually felt like a Disney experience. It was really quiet, kind of magical. You just had to ignore the fact that you were floating in really cold water, the stars were actually larvae, and Disney would never let you do something like this.
And then we floated into a larger cavern with metal walkways built overhead, and we realized that we were now part of the attraction, since there were tour groups watching us as we materialized out of nowhere and continued on floating serenely down the river.
At the beginning of the tour, before we had hit the water, we had to pick an inner tube. One that was big enough for your butt to fit into, but not too big that you would fall out. It’s kind of a funny sight when you see everyone bending over, sticking a tube on their butt, and saying, ‘does it fit?’
Somewhere along the way, I got my tube mixed up with someone else’s and so for most of the ride, my tube was too big for my butt. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem. I didn’t think too much about it.
Until we had to float down the river on our own power. My butt slid further down into the inner tube, my knees and arm pits preventing me from falling right through. I was essentially folded in half, my abs burning as we moved with the current, my arms – like little T-Rex arms – trying to paddle and pick up some speed. But I had too much drag!! My butt was hanging so far down below the tube I think it was acting like a sea anchor.
We got to the last stretch of river and were told we better paddle if we wanted to get to the end. Well I tried to paddle, and I just ended up floundering and spun into a wall. I was not making much progress, handicapped by my built in anchor! All of our headlamps were off, it was pitch black and we were using the glow of the glow worms to lead us out.
Nathan hooked his foot into my tube, and I thought, well, of course Nathan would come to my rescue and help push me out of the cave. How thoughtful of him to help me this way. So I did a little paddling, trying to help how I could.
And then Nathan told me to let go of him and start paddling. What??!! He thought that I was holding on to him and slowing him down! Then he realized that he hadn’t even noticed that it was his foot hooked into my tube.
Well, by that time, the light was literally at the end of the tunnel. And our Black Labyrinth experience was coming to an end.
And so…..We made it!!
We had prevailed the darkness, the icy water, the rock ledges, the waterfall jumps and the extreme adventures the Kiwi’s had to offer us.
It was a crazy experience and like nothing I would have ever expected. But very worthy of our second big adventure in New Zealand!