Eric and I heard the the Waitomo Caves was a “must do” in NZ. Several months ago we booked the 9am  “Black Abyss” tour run by Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. It is the most expensive tour at $225 (10% off if you book online) and the original cave tour. It also happened to be the best tourist activity we have ever done in our lives! More than worth the money and highly recommended!

The company is located just across the street from the hostel. After checking in and filling out some forms we waited on the porch for our guides. There were 8 folks in the group total all in their twenties and all adventurous (1 Canadian, 4 americans & 3 Brits). The group did help make the trip awesome as our guides later informed us. Sometimes there is a group that is just a dud.

Chris and Kannen, our guides, led us all the the back of the building and outfitted us with wetsuits, harnesses, boots, helmets, lights, biners and racks (a specialized caving rappel device). Changing rooms were provided and our clothes and belongings were locked away in a cabinet by the guides. Then we all headed over to the shuttle and drove to Ruakuri Cave.

It was clear the Chris was the most sarcastic person possibly in New Zealand and Kannen had no lack of humor. They were also skilled teachers. Four ropes were set up on a hill beside the cave entrance. Here, they taight all of us how to use the rack to abseil into the cave. Some folks have never rappeled before by the way (fireman belay given). After only 15 minutes of instruct they deemed us ready (this would never be allowed in America.

Chris went down first, then I followed. The rack was difficult to use. It seemed to either have too little friction, but I made it down the 35 meter hole in the ground into the darkness of the cave. When we also got to the bottom we were led deeper into the cave. Kannen disappeared at some point and Chris told us to turn all light out. He left his on and attached each of us to a zip line called flying fox. We were sent down in the black with glow worm illuminating our way. Kannen waited at the bottom.

At the bottom of the zipline our harnesses were removed. We were told to sit by the river. Hot chocolate and large cave cookies were handed out. While we munched the men regaled us with jokes and cave stories. But we didn’t sit long. Black inner tubes were by the river. Chris told up to get a tube and hold it over out butt. Then he showed us how to leap into the river off a 5-6 foot ledge (also not allowed in the States). We each leaped into the 10-14 degree Celsius water. Ropes were attached along the river edge to the rock. We pulled ourselves along these ropes admiring the beauty of the cave. Then Chris told us to form a conga line and turn out our lights. I was inform from of the line so he took my foot and drags us all through the pitch black cave (his light was off too). The glow worms were amazing… and the water cold!

After leaving our tubes we walk and swarm though the next sections of the cave known as the Drunken Tunnel and a tight squeeze hole called the “Re-Birth Canal”. Along the way the guides provided us with hot tea and chocolate. In that cold the company recognized the importance of eating and drinking… plus the tour is 5 hours.

The final, and best part of the tour was climbing up two waterfalls. I should add here that the falls were not frozen. but full liquid. Not ice tools required.. and no ropes. The guides stood beneath us as we each took our turn navigating the running water and rock wall. Definitely not allowed in America.  A long tunnel then led us back into daylight.

We were shuttled back to the Center where were were rewarded with a shower, hot bagels and tomato soup (including in price). Freaking amazing tour as I mentioned before. Note, no cameras are allowed in the cave. The guides have a waterproof camera and take photos along the way. The photos are sold on a USB drive for $30 and not not the best quality (see below). I only included the best ones below. However, I thought it was worth it since we had such a great time.

We drove to National Park after finishing our lunch and checked into YHA National Park Hostel. This is where things began to go downhill. The weather is looking grim for the Tongaririo Crossing in the morning. Chances are there will be no views with the cloud cover and rain. The hostel is also horrible. Eric and I stayed here because it was the cheapest place in town (but not very cheap for a hostel. There is a climbing gym in the hostel which seems awesome until you discover that your room’s doorway is in the climbing gym. Thus, folks not staying in the hostel are around causing security concerns and the music is blasting all night. The kitchen had flies everywhere and was filthy. There were only 3 spoons and two sharp knifes in a hostel that accommodated about 100 folks. The towls meant to dry the dishes were so filthy we questioned whether be were making freshly cleaned dishes dirty again. There was no code for the front door after hours either. I know this this is a hostel…. but this is A Hi-Hostel YHA certified hostel. How they got this certification I have no idea. Eric has been to hostels in South America with better conditions. This is not the fault of the staff… the problem is that there are only two folks running  the entire hostel expected to clean everything, take care of the climbing gym and work the front desk. Every other hostel I’ve been to have a separate staff of about 10 people just to clean.

I suggest spending money on a hotel camping  or sleeping in your car. You’ll be much better off.


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