One of my most memorable stops on the North Island was in Waitomo. Waitomo can be literally translated from the Maori words ‘wai’ meaning ‘water’, and ‘tomo’ meaning ‘hole’ or ‘sinkhole’. The area surrounding the small village community of Waitomo is home to a caving system, famous for its population of glow worms. This particular species, Arachnocampa luminosa, live only in New Zealand. Many Maori people will not venture near the caves, as they regard them as a gateway to the underworld. My reservations were centred more on the prospect of black water rafting inside them for 5 hours, clad in wetsuit and gumboots however, this turned out to be one of my favourite activities. The Black Water Rafting Co. offer a range of cave related activities so those wanting to remain dry still have plenty of other exploration options.
Eight daring people signed up for ‘The Abyss’ and were rewarded with a full afternoon of adrenaline-pumping caving; we abseiled 40m down into the caves, zip-lined past hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites in the pitch dark, jumped into the flowing water 65m underground in a rubber tube, and then scaled two gushing waterfalls to resurface back out in the open air. Physically exhausting but wholly worth the money for two main reasons: firstly, the surprise flapjack and hot chocolate that emerged from the guide’s dry-bag as we dangled our gumboots over the edge of a cliff in the caves. Secondly, turning our head-torches off as we lay back in our rubber rings and looking up to see thousands of glow worms twinkling above us.
We only had a one night stay in Waitomo, but we found this to be enough – aside from the caving system, the town itself is very small. Curly’s, the local bar, located right next to our accommodation seemed like a solid bet for post cave escapades.