After spending time alone exploring the Bay of Islands and Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, I was now 2 days into a tour of the island with Haka Tours. This afternoon we had left the Coromandel behind and now we were journeying towards our next stop, Waitomo.
3 hours later, we arrived at our accommodation for the night, a small motel on the outskirts of Waitomo. I was allocated a comfortable 3-bedroom ensuite room to share with 2 other group members and after settling in, we met up with the rest of the group at the adjoining pub spending the rest of the evening eating, drinking and chatting.
I had taken a tour of New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours just a few months earlier and kept in touch with most of my group in a Whatsapp chat. As most of them had toured North Island with the company immediately before our South Island trip, I had made sure to ask them to recommend which optional extras I should book. There were 2 unanimous ‘must dos’ according to my friends – the Tongariro Crossing in Taupo and Black Water Rafting at the glow worm caves in Waitomo.
There were actually 3 options available to use for viewing the Glow Worm Caves – a boat tour, black water rafting or, the most expensive, time-consuming and high-energy option, an abseiling and caving tour.
I wasn’t completely sure what Black Water Rafting was but had done White Water Rafting a few times and loved it so taking my friends’ advice, I had upgraded my travel insurance cover (as apparently it was a higher risk activity than anything I’d previously done!) and signed myself up for it!
So the next morning, we were up early and those of us going black water rafting were picked up and taken to the headquarters of the Black Water Rafting Company. Once there, we were handed skin tight wetsuits, special boots and a helmet with a flashlight on the front to change into and led to a pile of black inner tubes to choose from.
Now, I’m not sure what I did expect from the tour but what I certainly didn’t expect was to have to leap from the top of a waterfall into the river below. Backwards. Landing in my inner tube! Upon finding out exactly what was involved in the black water rafting experience, a few of us (ok, all of us!) in the group started exchanging worried looks – You want us to do what?!
We got to practise outside first, all nervously lining up then standing as near to the edge of the small waterfall as possible, back to the river behind us, jumping backwards aiming to land lying down in our inner tube. I watched the first few group members go first, all successfully landing in their tubes and floating off down the river before scrambling back out. Soon, it was my turn and somehow, I managed it straight away too!
Practise over, we were told to hook our tubes over our shoulders and lead off to the cave entrance. Now I knew there’d be caves involved – they’re glow worm CAVES, where else would we be going?! But I’m not sure I’d realised that caving would be involved. Squeezing ourselves along with our tubes through narrow, dark passages underground with nothing but the light on our helmets to guide the way.
But it was too late to back out now so I dutifully followed the rest of the group and our guide into the darkness.
Once in the cave, we scrambled down the dark damp recesses until we heard water in the distance. It go louder until we realised we were at the top of a waterfall with an underground river running below. It was a much higher waterfall than the one we had practised on above ground. Wanting to get it out of the way, I volunteered to be the first to leap off backwards into my tube. Somehow, I again managed it without injury. Landing in the cold water flowing below and drifting off down the river, I grabbed onto the wall to steady myself and wait for the rest of the group to also be sat in their tubes in the river.
From this point, it was less strenuous and more like a lazy river in the dark! Led by our guide, we drifted through the cave system along the underground river until we came to the glow worm caves. Here, we formed a train, all grabbing the ankles of the person behind us. We were then asked to all turn the flashlight on our helmet off so we were in complete darkness.
Being at the front, I was then led through through the caves by the guide and pulling the rest of my group behind me. The darkness surrounding us was suddenly lit up by what looked like a million stars shining brightly above us – glow worms! And suddenly all the stress of clambering through the caves and leaping backwards off waterfalls before seemed worth it!
As we left the caves and then Waitomo behind to head for our next stop of Rotorua, we were exhausted but extremely glad we’d all gone through with it.
Black water rafting through the caves of Waitomo was certainly an experience and one I’d absolutely recommend to anyone. As our one week tour of North Island came to an end a few days later, we all agreed that seeing the glow worms in that way was definitely a highlight of the entire week!