Waitomo is home to one of the most incredibly magical natural wonders – the Glowworm caves.
Coming here, there are many ways to see the glowworms. Most people do a standard tour in a boat. I was put off doing it this way because I knew it would be full of tourists and loud children and would potentially ruin the experience.
The other option was the Black Water Rafting tour.
Before we booked the tour, I was nervous. This would involve tubing underground in the dark, in freezing water, walking through slippery, damp caves, and most terrifyingly, jumping off of underground waterfalls – backward.
When I learnt that the waterfalls were not very high, I decided to stop worrying and just book it. Yet for some reason, the night before, I was terrified and barely slept. I kept giving my ego a beating – I liked to think I was adventurous, but experience taught me that jumping off waterfalls into freezing water isn’t always enjoyable. Would this experience really be for me? What if I jumped in a funny way and hurt my legs? Or my head? Plus I had discovered there was more to Waitomo than the caves, like the gorgeous countryside so reminiscent of The Shire.
Despite these fears, the next morning, we woke up bright and early for our 8.30am tour. We went with a company called The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. The company has three tour options. We went with their original tour – which is also the most popular, the cheapest, and the least challenging option – The Black Labyrinth.
First off, we were all kitted out in our gear, which was time consuming in itself. As the water would be so cold, we had to wear thick wetsuits, wetsuit jackets, wetsuit socks, and booties. All of this stuff was still wet and was horrible to put on our skin. Then we got our helmets complete with flashlights attached.
We got the bus down to the entrance of the cave. First of all, however, was a stop off at a stream with a jumping off platform for a practice jump for when we got in the cave. My nerves started going. Why did we need a practice jump? Plus the platform looked so high and the water so shallow. One of our guides explained that we needed to back up to the water, holding our tube so we were ready to sit in it as we fell to the water. Rather than jumping, we more needed to propel ourselves backwards to avoid the low ceilings that would be in the cave.
Now it was our turn. Thats when our guide told us we would be jumping from the lower platform, and we wouldn’t have so far to fall after all. Phew.
As I walked up, I was so nervous, but I knew I would look ridiculous if I backed out. So I backed myself up to the water with my tube, and as the guide counted to three, I sprung my legs back and allowed gravity to take me.
I fell in the water. It all went up my nose and in my eyes. But I did it. It wasn’t so scary after all. Now I just needed to accomplish that two more times – underground.
We got to the cave entrance, which seemed tiny. We clambered down and through the small hole. It was dank, dark, and cold.
Our guides explained to us a bit about the history of the cave, then we continued on.
The tour involved some walking through narrower, shallow parts of the cave, and some tubing, where the water was deep and flowed gently. And of course, there were the two waterfalls. Once I had jumped the first one, I felt really content and happy, and was even excited to jump in the next one. I couldn’t believe I had lost sleep the night before over something so small, and so fun.
Whilst the tubing was fun, the highlight, and the reason why everyone comes to this region, was of course the glowworms. I knew the glowworms would be beautiful, but nothing prepared me for the reality of it.
Sadly we weren’t allowed to take cameras – these photos are via Leonie at Lo on the Go – you can get an idea for the scope, but no photo really can really capture the reality of the glow worm caves.
At a few intervals – either whilst tubing, or sat in a small narrow part of the cave to stop for a chocolate break – we turned off our head torches so that we could truly appreciate the beauty of the glowworms. And it was out of this world.
All around us, it was like thousands of stars glittered. It was like we were in space. A dark abyss filled with stars.
My favourite part of the tour was toward the end, where we turned off our lights, relaxed in our tubes, and allowed the gentle current to carry us towards the end of the cave. All around the glowworms sparkled. It felt like magic. It felt like an experience that I may have read about or seen in a fantasy film or novel, an experience that couldn’t possibly exist in our real world. And yet it did.
This experience was absolutely my favourite part of travelling New Zealand. Not only was it magical and beautiful, but it allowed me to conquer my fears, no matter how silly and small they were. It allowed me to explore my more adventurous side. It allowed me to relax and surrender to the moment. It reminded me that there is so much more, so much that is bigger than us. Like many of my experiences with nature in New Zealand, I felt humbled.
If anyone is in the North Island of New Zealand, I urge you to not miss out the Waitomo caves. If you feel tubing isn’t your thing, you can see the glowworms in a boat, however the generic tours are supposedly very touristy. However companies like Spellbound do smaller tours, or you could go earlier or later in the day to avoid peak tourist times. However if you are feeling like a bit of an adventure, then the Black Labyrinth tour is a must. All the tour groups are quite small as well so you won’t feel overwhelmed. You can also do a climbing and abseiling tour, or a tour with a mixture of abseiling, climbing, and tubing, if you are feeling more adventurous.