New Zealand Adrenaline Junkies
You'll feel the wall against your face, and pressing up on your back. Just ease yourself down between the gap and watch out for any creatures that might jump in your face. That's it slowly, slowly.
That was my guide Nix speaking. I was attempting to do as instructed and abseil down a tight one-foot by ten-foot gap going underground in Waitomo, New Zealand. The harness was pulling tight around my thighs and my left hand was burning from gripping the rope too hard and letting it shave a millimetre off my palm as I went. With my right hand I gripped the calibrator, more out of a desperation to hold onto something still and sturdy rather than any actual safety aspect.
I was on a Kiwi Experience Tour from Auckland to Taupo over six days. Obviously I wanted to make the most of the short week and do as much as possible. The Black Abyss Tour with the Black Rafting company was all part of the plan, but I hadn’t quite processed exactly what it would involve before I signed up.
It all started at Black Rafting HQ - we were staying just five minutes up the road at the Kiwi Paka Hostel. Our awesome guide Nix came to get us and we were fitted for shoes, thick wetsuits, socks, helmets and harnesses.
Please, do not pee in your suits.
Apparently, the closeness and fabric of the suit meant that if you did, the pee would be pushed inside the sweat glands around your groin and as you went about your daily activity the next few days you would emit the pissy smell – not good for sitting on the Kiwi bus, so they said. Of course, ironically I was immediately shitting myself about needing a pee while we were down there and left it till the last second to empty my bladder to give myself the best chance possible of lasting.
So, brighter, younger and more enthusiastic than I'll ever be again I was ready for action. Ready for the 35m abseil into the ground and under it.
Our guides Nix and Flash were very reassuring and seemed fairly confident I'd be able to do it. Between them they had loads of experience and I felt safe in their hands. Good enough odds for me. We did a little practice with the abseil ropes on the grassy verge before we went for the real thing. When it got to stepping off the platform into a 40m drop, doing it on the slight incline we'd been practicing on soon seemed very different.
It seemed to take an age to work my way down, the walls were slippy, it was hard to get any purchase and I was terrfied of creatures jumping out at me like they warned.
Am I nearly there yet?
I shouted into the abyss as the rope burn was starting to get too much for me. Foolishly timed as usual, one more release of the rope and I'd finished. Of course, the moment it was over I decided it hadn't taken long enough and just wanted to go back and do it again.
After a little respite on the rocks waiting for the rest of my group we carried on to the flying fox.
The flying fox is a zipline, in this case it was underground and ended in a thwack against the cave. Or that’s what it sounded like from the people in front of you. When I actually did it I realised there was a stopper on the zipline preventing you from bashing into anything but leaving you spinning in the air if you go at it full force, like I did. Still I screamed and squealed to scare my co-cavers yet to do it.
After the trauma of this we had a little break with some hot chocolate and a flapjack to give us the energy to complete the next stage. We sat drinking on the edge of a 10 foot drop into water while Nix and Flash packed up the zipline stuff. I was terrified they were going to make us jump off into the water.
The leap of faith
They did. We had to hold an inflatable ring under our bums and jump into the freezing water and onto it. One of the girls in my group cried, she really didn’t want to do it. I toughened up and went for it. Jeez it was cold.
Glow worms everywhere
Flanking the side of the caves was a rope and we could pull ourselves along, admiring the glow worms as we went. We got to a certain point and Flash made us connect our feet under the arms of the person in front. We glided along the water in a chain as Flash sprung story time on us and told us all about the glow worms, including a few extra surprises that I won’t ruin for anyone thinking of going.
Turns out top travel vlogger Louis from Fun for Louis was a day ahead of me on the Kiwi Experience tour and he took a video of the caves. Sadly I wasn't allowed my camera (saw me coming and didn't trust me) but if you watch from around 4:45 you can see the caving and ziplining.
After we’d cruised around for a bit in the inflatable rings we got up, got rid and started to walk around in the underground wilderness. We dived down slides, had to push ourselves through ‘the birthing canal’ and navigate the rocky terrain in the dark, with just our head torches to light the way.
We had another break for some hot orange juice and a block of chocolate before the final stretch. The piece de resistance was to climb out of two waterfalls freestyle. The water was pummelling down and you had to go around it and up, carefully placing your feet as you went. Flash was on hand to give some climbing tips, but at this point, four hours after we’d started, my legs were ridiculously tired. They were weak and trying to push myself up over the brow of the waterfall I feared would finish me off.
Like millions before me and millions to come, I made it out. It felt weird to be in daylight again. We had a quick snap under the waterfall outdoors and it was finally time to take the wetsuit and shoes off.
From the smell coming off the suits in the changing rooms I can guarantee there were a few wetsuit wee-ers, but no one was going to admit that one!
After a much-needed hot shower we met again in the cafe to see our photos with some hot soup and bagels and reminisced about our awesome day at Black Water Rafting in New Zealand. Definitely an experience to remember.