Well, it rained all night and all morning. No worries though since we were spending the morning and early afternoon underground in the...BLACK ABYSS of the Ruakuri Cave!
We packed up all our wet stuff and left it secured at Juno Hall Backpackers. We walked over to the Black Water Rafting Co. office with just our swimsuits and towels at 8:45am for our 9:00 tour.
There were 8 of us on the tour--curiously, all from the States. Our guides were Anne and Ross. Anne is from Germany originally and Ross is a local guy from the Waitomo area.
We started by getting equipped and trained in getting on the gear (wetsuit, socks, boots, helmet and harness). We were duly warned to not pee in our wetsuits. We were to use the facilities before donning the wetsuit. If we had to go at some time during the 5 hour tour, there would be an opportunity for an "Adventure Pee" in the cave.
After getting all suited up, we hopped in the van for the short drive to the cave entrance. When we arrived, we were taught how to abseil and practiced on a hill outside the cave. Then it was time to drop into the cave. I went first. Ross hooked me up to the rope, then I stepped off the platform. Anne was on the other end of the rope. I slowly descended into the cave. It was about a 35 meter abseil. There was one spot where it was pretty tight, then it opened up. I walked my feet down the cave wall controlling my speed with my thumb on the 5 bar. When I wanted to stop, I just stuck the rope behind my back. I made it down to Anne. She helped me unclip from the rope. I stepped down a couple of steps to watch the next person come down. It was Pauliva (the most nervous of the group). After she came down, I walked down to the bottom of the stairs deeper into the cave. When I looked up, I could see some of the glow worms. They were little blue lights.
After everyone had abseiled down, we moved on to the next part. First we climbed down the rocks and saw up close some stalactites. Then, we were hooked up one by one and sent down the flying fox (zip line) in the dark to where Ross was waiting. Again, I went first. It was dark, then all of a sudden there was a light in my face. It was Ross and I was at the bottom. He got me off the line and instructed me to sit against the cave wall. Leandra came next. After everyone else made it down we all sat on the edge of the underground river and had a snack of hot chocolate and oatmeal bars.
Next up was the black water rafting. We each picked an inner tube, walked down to a platform that was about four feet above the water. One by one we jumped off the platform landing with our butts in the tubes. The water was chilly, but we had the wetsuits on. We gathered together then got out of the tubes (the water was about waist deep) and ran up the river for a short bit to warm up. Then we all sat up on the edge of the river and Anne told us about the Glow worms (really they are maggots and the glowing is their poo. It's used to attract their food. They create these snot strands that are sticky. The flies and other insects are attracted to the light and get tangled in the strands where they are paralyzed, drawn up the strand by the maggot, get their head bitten off and innards sucked out. YUM!). Anne made the worms glow more by slapping the inner tube on the water to create a booming sound. Since Anne said the light is their poo, I asked if she was scaring the shit out of them.
She took a couple of photos and we moved on. We got back in the tubes and had to swim our way up the river as fast as we could. Whew! That was tiring! I was panting like mad and due to the tightness of the wetsuit, felt like I couldn't catch my breath. Finally, I made it upstream to where we were to begin the float train. Anne hooked us all together feet to the persons armpits in front. Then Anne pulled us with our headlamps off down the river. There were tons of Glow worms on the ceiling of the cave. Anne started singing My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic). She had a beautiful voice. Then we all sang Amazing Grace. It was pretty cool to sing in the cave. We all sounded great. As we returned to where we had plopped into the water, we tossed our tubes up to Ross. Then we did a few dance moves to warm up.
We walked a short distance in the river to a slide where we went down head first in the water. At this point Anne asked if anyone needed an Adventure Pee. By this time I did. A couple of others did too. So, Ross took the guys and Anne took us girls. We unzipped the wetsuit jacket and pulled the pants down. Turned off the headlamp (the equivalent of closing the door), then it was just a pee in the river and pull everything back up.
We continued walking/swimming down the river. At one point the opening was quite small and we had to belly crawl through it. Then it was more walking in the river.
We stopped at another ledge for another snack. This time hot orange drink and chocolate bar. Ross took the leftover orange drink and added a little river water to it. Then he poured it into our boots to warm up our feet.
Next was the climb up the waterfalls. Step by step Ross told us where to put our hands and feet. All this time the water is cascading down. We climbed up another falls and then climbed up out of the cave into...SUNSHINE! We took another group shot, then hiked in our sloshy boots and wetsuits up the trail back to the van. I'd have to say we were all pretty exhausted but, it was a blast and totally worth the cost. Interestingly, we would never be able to do something like this in the States. The liability would be too high.
We returned to the office where we had bagels and tomato soup. Leandra and I each bought the CD of the photos. When I get home I'll try to figure out a way to post some.
Since Leandra and I still had some riding to do (the biking portion of our triathlon), we hustled back to the Backpackers and loaded up our stuff. We had taken showers after the tour. Since the sun was out, some of our stuff was even a little dry!
We had about 43 km to go to the town of Te Awamuta (Kihikihi has no camping). As we reached the turnoff to Waitomo (SH 3), there was a tragic accident of a campervan and big truck. Both looked to be pretty bad. The intersection was closed, but they let us go through a gravel road to a gate. The cars either had to go right or go back.
For us, the good thing was we had virtually no traffic the whole way back to Otorohanga.
We made it to Te Awamuta and found out where the camping ground was (a guy ran along to the road we needed to go on). Across the street was a Subway, so we stopped and ate some dinner! My first New Zealand Subway!
Tonight is our cheapest camping so far $14 each. Our tents are drying and currently we are at a McDonald's using the wifi.
Here's some photos from today. The one with Leandra's bike and Grumpy is funny because we pulled into this takeaway and she said she needed to eat something or she was going to start getting mad. Then I noticed Grumpy!