Yay! I overcome the Black Odyssey!
Caves: dark, wet, and narrow… I dislike it, I am scared of it! I am slightly claustrophobic and I usually get really uncomfortable in caves, all I want to do is run out. The thought of getting trapped in caves freaks me out, and I remember I got really panicked when I was walking in the Gyokusendo limestone cave in Okinawa. I got through it, but I just don’t prefer going to caves again.
I figured everyone has to conquer or overcome something once in a while; Since I was in New Zealand, I participated in a Black Water Rafting tour which is a Waitomo Cave adventure featuring activities like climbing and abseiling through the cave. The company features three types of tours, namely Black Abyss, Black Labyrinth, and Black Odyssey. The first two are more popular and available all year round. I chose the seasonal Black Odyssey, which is a dry, rock climbing tour in the fascinating Ruakuri Cave.
In fact, visitors could enter the caves in a less “adventurous” way. There are guided walking tours available at the visitor center of the Aura Cave. The cave has a built-in suspended walkway for groups of all walks of life and ages except for those who are afraid of darkness. But then I was like, “Well, I want to do something more than that. I drove three hours from Auckland to Waitomo after all”, that’s how I got myself in a climb or no-climb pickle.
Black Rafting tours
All Black Rafting tours take about 3-4 hours which include rock climbing and abseiling through the Ruakuri Cave. For Black Abyss and Black Labyrinth, participants would even get wet water tubing, leaping, and rafting through the underground streams in the cave before crawling out to the light. I was a bit nervous before I went underground but then I was carried away by the amazing glow worm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above.
Ruakuri Cave stays the same temperature all year round, and it is not the only cave in Waitomo. There are several caves in the area and each of them is owned by different tour operators. However, the nature of these tours is generally the same. We were in good hands by two Black Rafting guides and they gave us excellent commentaries throughout the cave. It was so fascinating and I wonder how the native could explore these challenging terrains in the past without the modern equipment and tools!
The tour provides an overall, helmet, and boots for the climb. The site also prepares a hot shower facility for participants after the climb. The Odyssey tour was the newest and it was a complete dry tour. The entire tour features flying fox (zip trekking), climbing, walking on heights, abseiling, and climbing in the caves underground, which require some sort of physical stamina and courage. Once we were in the caves we were expected to not only use our hands and feet, but all our body parts to make contact and support ourselves to climb and reach the high ground or crawl through narrow spaces of the caves. We were provided an overall, helmet, and boots for the climbing experience. We were also hooked by safety ropes which prevented us from free-falling if we… fell.
Glowworms, what are they?
Glowworms are little creatures that live uniquely in the Waitomo caves. Once we were in the dark, the clutter of worms releases magical blue lights that illuminate the darkness, as if the cave offers a sky canvas and the worms are the stars. Up close, these worms aren’t that attractive to look at though.
The guide told us there are still a lot of unknowns that they are. They are a unique species of insect larvae that glow through bioluminescence. While this fascinating creature is widely distributed across New Zealand, it is known that the Waitomo caves offer the best habitats for them to prosper. Until the scientists could figure out what’s going on with these worms, we would appreciate thousands of these worms radiate their unmistakable luminescent light as our expert guides gave us informative commentary about the cave’s historical and geological significance. Hopefully, their living environment would be well protected.
Well, I am not a geologist, so pardon me for never being able to distinguish these two words, nor pronouncing them right in one go! It took some time for me to really get to learn about these two often co-exist kinds of rocks – and therefore I would dedicate some time to explain the two a little bit.
Stalactites and Stalagmites!
Stalactites and Stalagmites are basically “the same thing” except they are pointing towards different directions; the easiest way (in my sense) to distinguish the two is stalagmites point upwards on the ground, and stalactites point downwards hanging down from the ceiling.
They are often found in limestone caves and they are the end result of minerals deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings. Therefore, both of them would only get bigger over thousands, or even millions of years until some of them might eventually connect to become a column. The longest stalactite in the world is located in Doolin Cave in Ireland, which is 8.2-meter long.
During our tours walking through the caves, the guides reminded us to be extremely careful and to make sure we didn’t destroy any of these rocks which take many years to form. I also appreciate their effort to protect the caves by controlling the number of visitors in order to create a sustainable environment for these caves.
The Black Odyssey
There were times that we had to climb through spaces or cracks in between the walkways. Thus, while the walking tours were comfortably enjoying their strolls in the caves, we were creeping behind the cracks and kept ourselves invisible in the dark. It was because we didn’t want to disturb their experience, it would be really scary for some of the “ordinary” visitors to hear noises coming out in the dark while they were walking in the dark. Besides, it was for safety reasons that we wouldn’t accidentally kick off rocks during our moves and hit them. It was kind of funny for me about the idea that the walking tour might think they were in the dark alone, while the whole time some Spiderman were moving around beside them in the caves.
The amazing part about the climb was that I could see some of the most unique, rarely-seen, exquisite yet fragile rock formations up close and personal. These rocks should be well protected and therefore a walking tour visitor might not see them had they not dived into the caves so deep. Those rocks were so fascinating as if they were carved and sculptured by the most skillful artist, if not, by the masterful hands of nature.
The exciting part about the climb was that I overcome my fear and conquer the heights and narrow spaces that I never thought I could. Those rocks were actually smooth and though far from extreme, that was not something I would usually do on an everyday basis.
After the tour, we had a hot shower and some soup before we drove out to the nearby Huhu Café for dinner while we sat on the deck to enjoy a glorious sunset – that feels quite an accomplishment.