Black Water Rafting - Waitomo Caves

Before I reached New Zealand, I had never heard of anything like Black Water Rafting. Sure, I’d heard of the white water version so my instant thought was that it must be the same sort of thing? Completely WRONG! Black water rafting is essentially underground rafting and caving mixed into some crazy combo so not one for the faint hearted perhaps.

I tried it in the small town of Waitomo, preparing to delve into the deep with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Starting in 1987, these guys know their stuff so navigating these caves is second nature thank goodness! I’m not the first to admit I’m not great with tight spaces and darkness, it’s a common fear for all of us after watching all those horror movies that are somehow all based during the pitch black night. It did make me a little nervous also knowing that New Zealand is fairly well known for pretty big earthquakes - being trapped underground while it’s all shaking can’t be all that fun. However, not one to shy away from a challenge when other people are watching, I followed the group dressed in the most unflattering wetsuit imaginable and clambered into the awaiting van.

We were taken to a section of the river that leads into the caves and were required to prove we could jump backwards off a mini pier with a rubber ring attached to my butt (you’ll be pleased to hear I passed) and clambered down the rocky entrance to the ‘unknown’. It’s always the worst part when you start, once you’re in I guess you acclimatise and see that being stuck in a hole with rocks above your head isn’t all that bad. The guides also give you some time to get used to it before really getting underway with your little rubber ring and the underwater river.  

The best way to describe a lot of it is one big lazy river, with few faster sections and waterfall tumbles to make it interesting. With every jump and section of caves, you can’t help but enjoy yourself a little more. Being the clumsiest person on earth, I did manage to slip up a few times so if you’re anything like me be prepared to come out with one or two bruises. Also, don’t believe what they say about the cave eels - I didn’t see any if they do exist anyway!

Probably the highlight of trip was seeing the glowworms. After a few more tumbling falls, we approached a much calmer section of the underwater river. Forming a long line sitting in our trusty rings, we each grabbed onto the boots of the person behind us and one by one shut off our headlights. As it got darker, we all looked up in complete awe at the glowworms lighting up the ceiling of the cave. It sounds really cheesy so I’m sorry, but it does give you some perspective in life. If a tiny little worm can produce that much light in such a dark world, why can't we do the same (metaphorically of course, I’m not expecting each of you to start glowing radioactively).

After this more relaxing section, we carried on through the caves until reaching an opening back to sunlight swimming / climbing out into a wooded area. I can tell you, this was rather surreal after 3 hours circumnavigating those under ground river systems! 

For those with a larger budget, you can try the Abyss or Odyssey which are a little more extreme including abseiling through the caves and slightly more hardcore caving but still allows you to check out the glowworms. For the less insane, there's also a riverboat tour of the larger caves to see the sparkling glowworm lights too so there really is something for everyone. You'll want some warm clothes to change into once you're back though, I was fucking freezing as you can imagine after swimming through cave rivers! Make sure you hit up the Waitomo caves if you're out there as you won't regret it. 

All images supplied by The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. This is not a sponsored post however the images were requested from the team by myself as I haven't got any photographs of the experience since I don't have a cave-proof camera.