Keen to amp up the adrenaline on winter adventures, Aucklander Ariana headed down to the mighty Waikato for her first Black Water Rafting experience. Ariana shares her story of getting extreme underground and leaping into the DARKNESS.
In search of adventure and always up for a roadie, Black Water Rating had been on my radar for a while. Mates who’d done it raved about it and I was keen for mid-winter adrenaline pumping activity that we could do rain or shine! Apparently, the tours are even BETTER when it's raining outside! Plus we’d been told that with thick wetsuits the underground rivers wouldn’t be too cold... Rounding up the crew, my flatmate Manu and bestie Laura were both keen to give this NZ must-do a crack. We opted for the full works with the Black Abyss trip because we wanted to take the underground flying fox/zip line through the glowworms! Five hours of caving adventure locked and loaded.
Waitomo-bound, we kicked off early on a Saturday morning. The traffic was a breeze (not always the case!) which meant we did the Auckland - Waitomo trip in about 2.5 hours. With time for coffee on the way, we pulled into the Black Water Rafting centre feeling very caffeinated and amped for the day. Beow you can se their awesome facilities out back, this is where we got ready for our tour.
Ready to rumble!! Well not quite yet, first up was the briefing with our guides Scuba and Cassie. Both really friendly, they had done hundreds of trips into these caves, and still seemed to have a ton of energy for every trip. Grabbing our all-essential caving gear, it was time for the first challenge… Squeezing myself into a very thick, rubbery wetsuit. After battling with it for a few minutes I was all zipped in, complete with booties to match.
Any fears of being cold were soon gone - no chance of body heat escaping through this 8mm of neoprene. Ready for the obligatory pre-caving photo-op, we got some nice cheesy team photos with the others. Good vibes all around, there was eight of us on the tour, a couple of internationals and two other kiwis, all as friendly and excited as us.
Jumping in the Black Water Rafting van we headed further down the road to Ruakuri Cave where the trip takes place. Before we got into the real deal Scuba and Cassie got us on the high ropes for abseiling 101. Thanks to some solid coaching, our abseiling game quickly got up to speed. Confidence levels at an all-time high we were ready to put our new found rope skills into practice.
Once we got sight of the small dark hole we’d be abseiling into, our confidence levels were reined in, the situation was looking a whole lot more extreme. Harnesses on, Laura disappeared into the dark depths, then Manu, before it was my turn to tackle the 35m drop. With sweaty hands and not-so-cool demeanour, Scuba’s guiding voice was the most reassuring thing an amateur abseiler could ask for.
Epic entrance over. The small hole actually morphs into a large hollow space, much to with impressive limestone formations to match. Feeling pumped to be fully amongst it, the trip’s epic-ness unfolds right from the start. First up - a series of zipline flying foxes. No ordinary flying fox, these ones involved throwing yourself into the darkness, with only the shimmering glowworms (and a very strong steel cable) to guide you. Cue a whole lot of squealing and whooping, these ziplines are a seriously wicked was to go point A to B!!
Point ’B’ in this case turned out to be the launching spot into the fast-flowing streams we’d seen beneath us. Time to put the wetsuits into action. The guides kitted us up with our rubber rings, getting us jumping into the inky depths. These streams aren’t the geothermal kind, but they aren’t as cold as I imagined they could be. Our guides were on fine form, keeping us entertained with tales of toe-munching eels who dwell the water’s depths (they were joking!). Good encouragement to keep up a decent speed to avoid the aforementioned! In any case, the wettie was earning its keep, I was warm and my toes were solidly protected!
Feeling like I’d had a decent workout and a double shot of adrenaline, I think I speak for the whole team in saying that the hot juice and ‘cave cookie’ break was about the best thing that could happen right about now. A quick stop for a breathless chat, another round hilarious cave guide stories and our sugar-fuelled selves were ready to get back into it.
Back in the rubber tubes, we made our way to a far-flung corner of the cave to check out what must be one of Ruakuri Cave’s best glowworm displays. A trip highlight for many of us, floating under an illuminated cave ceiling of turquoise glowworms was the perfect contrast to the heart-racing first half. The guides are also experts on all things glowworm biology related, so I came out of this part knowing a lot more about how glowworms eat and reproduce!
Before we got too relaxed, it was time for one last challenge for the day. Time to chase some waterfalls! Well more like squeeze and clamber between the cave ceiling, and the waterfall streaming down below it. No time to freak out about getting stuck between the rocks, tackling this one head-on I came out the other side feeling like a total caving pro. Probably one of the most challenging parts for me, it’s things like this that really make it feel like a true adventure.
With the bright green light getting stronger, it was time to say goodbye to this fascinating underground world. Getting back out of the caves involved one last shimmy between the rocks, before popping out into the lush green forest. Strolling back to the van, the three of us were amped by the last couple of hours and feeling pretty smug about what we’d accomplished. And also very ready for a hot shower!
Back at the Black Water Rafting centre, hot showers were ticked off before making a beeline for the hot soup and bagel - a belly-warming treat they throw in at the end. It was also a good chance to sit down with the rest of our team to re-live how epic the last few hours had been. The whole crew agreed that the Cassie and Scuba made the trip for us. There were a few moments that if they hadn’t been so reassuring I would have struggled to leap out into those dark depths and push myself through what looked like impossible spaces!
Saying bye to the team we were back on the road home, feeling very smug about ticking off an NZ Must Do, joining the league of awesome people who’ve been through this legendary trip.