March 23, 2003
Waitomo Adventure Company is the company to go with! Guides are fantastic, and everything is included from gear (wetsuits, helmets, headlamps, gumboots) to food (lunch, tea, even a barbecue dinner after hot showers). And groups are small (max eight). "All you need is your swimsuit and ATTITUDE!" is their slogan, because it is not for the faint of heart.
We met our two guides and drove to a private farm where we changed into wetsuits and harnesses. Then practiced using carabineers – clipping on and off the ropes – in the woods before walking through pastures to reach the gigantic sinkhole.
Here we descended a ladder to reach a metal platform 100 meters above the cave floor. Beyond the platform, five heavy ropes dangled down into infinity. I couldn't see the bottom – we were unnervingly high. The coal miner in our group was starting to sweat. And it wasn't the heat.
Four of us went down at a time tied on to a guide. The scariest part was leaving the platform, sitting backwards on a metal bar that seemed to be suspended in air. I was worried that my butt wouldn't reach the bar. And I happened to be going first – would the others attached to me join my freefall? My arms flailed for just a nanosecond (without anything to hold onto) as I sank back into the air – 300 feet from the bottom mind you – to reach the bar, then grab the rope and hang there waiting for the others.
People on the cave floor looked like colored dots.
I had never rappeled, yet with the instruction and confidence instilled by the guides I wasn't afraid, despite dangling by a rope like a spider over a doorway.
The descent through fairyland took about 20 minutes. We pulled the rope near our thigh upward to descend, and wrapped our right leg around the rope when the tension in the rope loosened. David and I laughed most of the way down, trying our best to take pictures one-handed while spinning around.
Back on land, we ate sandwiches beside a gurgling river while the second group descended through the mist. Then we climbed over rocks toward the dark interior, reaching a large boulder termed "Jesus Rock," the postcard picture of the tour. It was a beautiful spot with the dramatic sun-lit misted cave entrance in the background, but I was out of film.
Time to chuck our cameras into dry bags - we were going caving! (See part two).
From journal A Caving We Will Go...in Wild Waitomo