Thursday, 21 January 2010

Wednesday 20th January

Today we start reaping the rewards of yesterday's organisation ....!

Turned up first thing for our "Black Abyss" tour of Waitomo caves, billed as the best caving can offer we could not wait. When our guide arrived (tiny girl called Vashti) we discovered (even better) that we were the only people on the tour. We were kitted out in 8mm wetsuits, harnesses & helmets, and given a 2min NZ-style safety briefing, which included how to use the Voice Activated Stopping system on our abseiling kit - scream - and the words "I wouldn't fall if I were you, tried that once and it really hurt."

Abseiled down into the cave through a 40m deep water hole. That's a long way down when it's pitch black, the walls are 2 meters across and you have no idea when the bottom is going to arrive! Once there it is amazing! Limestone folded and eroded into strange shapes, the sound of water everywhere, drips, trickles, cascades and the thundering of distant waterfalls. We zip line across a cravasse, jump off a waterfall and then wade up a river which has carved a tunnel out of the limestone - we are about 65m below the surface at this stage.

Since there are only the two of us and Vash has deemed us competent we go exploring; Vash has seen a narrow passage on previous trips which she has never explored. We haul ourselves up out of the river and into the tube. Soon we are crawling on our bellies though 12 inch wide gaps, jamming our knees & back against the wall to edge up vertical sections. Exciting ....and a little scary. I keep telling myself it's fine, it's just a little tight, wish I had not had those pancakes for breakfast. Caving is a sport for the small! By now all three of us are covered in a sticky viscous mud. After more than 1/2 hr of slithering Vash declares it too tight and we turn round (easier said than done). Continuing in the wider tunnel, we find large black eels, and fresh water crayfish in the pools. We even catch sight of the granddaddy eel which is as wide as your thigh. There are also glow worms throughout, high on the tunnel ceiling. If you turn off your head torch out they are like constellations.

We've been making rather good time, so Vash takes a bit of a detour onto a different route (illicit touring apparently) and into a spectacular cavern covered in glistening stalactites and stalagmites. It's really amazing. The final bit of the tour is a gentle float through the deepest water on rubber tubes, staring up at more glow worms, before finally emerging back into the sunlight after about 5 hours. Most of the mud from our previous exploits has washed off by this point, but even so a couple of the other tour guides are moved to ask "What the hell have you three been up to?". I think possibly Vash got a little carried away...

After we have dried off and warmed up we drive to Tongariro, planning to walk the Alpine Crossing. We did this last time in NZ; it is the most spectacular day walk we have ever done. Here the planning starts to unravel a little as there is a severe weather warning out for tomorrow; heavy rain and 70mph wind @ 3000m. We set up the tent and fall asleep with fingers crossed for a fairer outcome.

(Piccies to follow)

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