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February 7, 2008
From journal North Country, New Zealand
March 23, 2003
"Where?" I asked incredulously, peering into vast black nothingness, straining to see water below. "No way," my inner voice shrieked.
With trepidation I watched David jump, following the light of his headlamp as he plunged into the belly of the cave, eventually splashing into the river below. He surfaced laughing, exhilarated, whooping with delight. "Come on, it's great!"
I glanced at my white gum boots perched on the edge of slippery limestone willing them to move.
"Just jump straight down," the guide said. I closed my eyes, plugged my nose, and jumped. The air was deathly quiet as I fell down, down, down, down. The point of impact came as a surprise, as did the icy cold water seeping under my wetsuit.
"Whoo-hoo! What a RUSH!" I shouted, my words echoing up to the other six people in our group. Their faint headlamps illuminated the distance I had just jumped. Zounds . . .
That was just one of many thrills and chills of our all-day "Lost World Epic" caving experience. Throughout the five hours underground, we climbed through cathedral-sized vaults over steep, jagged limestone, scrambled behind waterfalls, squeezed through tunnels, wriggled under boulders on our bellies, jumped off cliffs, straddled rocks over agitated caldrons, swam feet first under rock sumps, and laid under a twinkling starry cave-sky produced by a zillion bluegreen glowworms. About 80% of the time we were in water.
During one 15-minute section, our guides turned off our headlamps and instructed us to find our own way down the river, using the jagged limestone ledge to our right as a guide. It was pitch black. And sometimes impossible to get a handhold on the rocks. Twice the river swept me away.
The water was over my head and full of eels, but the isolating darkness was the freakiest. I knew David was ahead of me, but couldn't see or hear him--or anyone--over the sound of rushing waterfalls. Eerie. Yet wildly fun and adventurous. Of course the guides played that up, and scared us to death when they suddenly sprang out of the water yelling, splashing, and blinding us.
Another time we attempted to climb limestone rocks bordering a wicked 15-foot waterfall. David made it, but my legs simply couldn't straddle the space between the rocks as I ascended, and I fell. Nothing bruised, just my ego. Time for the alternate route–clipping onto the safety rope and climbing a metal ladder.
The last challenge was another blind swim toward the opening where we saw sunlight streaming through a mist, lighting up mosses and ferns along the river. We emerged into daylight blinking, already regretting it was over. The entire day had been a blast. And certainly the most adventurous tour any of us had ever taken.
From journal A Caving We Will Go...in Wild Waitomo