Black Water Rafting: Take an Inflatable Ring for the Time of its Life

You thought Waitomo was a place to relax in boat and look at glowworms? You’re wrong! (Well, actually, you can do that, we’ll be doing that tomorrow). Today, we are willing to get the adrenaline pumping as we go black water rafting with the team from The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. We saw some of that amazing cave network that Waitomo is famous for yesterday when we explored Ruakuri Cave, but now we are heading into the watery depths of the cave for some tubing action.

But, like every day so far, our morning is the calm before the storm. Laura is working her ass off blogging, social media-ing, and photo processing… While Robin is doing some practice runs with the drone outside a cave entrance with Logan, a Black Water Rafting legend who is going to be our Black Labyrinth guide this afternoon.

Gearing up for black water rafting

Before delving into the caves for a late afternoon tour, we make sure we have a sturdy lunch from the Long Black Cafe so we have plenty of energy (some sort of vegetable and corned beef concoction). Then it’s down to the Black Water Rafting changing area so we can suit up!

Logan grabs us some super thick wetsuits, neoprene socks, short gumboots that tie up at the front, another wetsuit jacket, a thermal top, and finally a helmet. Already, Robin is complaining that he is too hot, but that can only be a good sign for keeping him comfortable in the cave! It’s also pretty amusing when we both realise that we have prematurely put our helmets on because we are getting in the Black Water Rafting van for a 3-minute drive down to the cave entrance. Oh, what the hell! We just keep the helmets on for the drive to reassure Logan that we think his driving is totally safe…

Tubing Training!

If you haven’t heard of tubing before, it’s an inflatable ring that you take on a little adventure in a cave. You put it though all sorts of grief, jumping with it off waterfalls, drifting down cavern streams, carrying it over rapids. The only rest it gets is under the soothing lights of the glowworms.

Our training requires making sure the hole in our tube fits out ass. (This was a little trouble for Laura, but we found one big enough in the end). The most effective way to do this was by sticking your ass through the holes of all the inflatable rubber rings until one felt snug. Then, just to make sure the inflatable was effective enough, we do a practice “waterfall jump” off the end of a jetty into the stream. Why not get totally drenched straight away, ay?

Now that we are experts at tubing, it’s time to enter the famous caves of Waitomo. The entrance is surrounded by beautiful forest. You can only imagine how amazing it must have been for the people who first discovered these caves in what would have been in the middle of the forest long ago!

Do our butts fit? Do our butts fit?
Robin looking all serious in his black water rafting mission Robin looking all serious in his black water rafting mission
Glowworms look like jewellery, don't you think? Glowworms look like jewellery, don't you think?

Meeting Cecil the eel

We follow the small stream from the forest into the cave where daylight is quickly swallowed up, but we have a helmet head torches for guidance. Stacks and stacks of limestone rock pile up around us! Not a single rock is smooth, making the walls easy to grab hold of as we navigate through, following Logan.

Feet in the water, tubes on our shoulders, in such an unusual but amazing environment, we are pretty stoked right now. It’s a scramble down small waterfalls, when one second the water is up to our waist, the next it is around our ankles. Logan takes us off to the side to meet Cecil. No, not his wife, but a resident eel. It floats plain as day in the middle of a still pool, even swimming up to our torch lights when we say hello. She seems pretty content, so we leave her to do our first waterfall jump.

We put the “fall” in waterfall

“Now, there’s a bit of a ledge, so make sure you jump out,” Logan says. It’s a bit worrying to start with, but with any of these adventure activities (and most other things in life) you just have to go for it! Tubes hugging our bums, we jump backwards and feel the shock as the tube splashes into the water for just a second before we come flying back on top of the surface with water dripping off our helmets. We catch our breath. That was AWESOME! We want to do it again!

Whoever said: “I want never gets,” because next we are jumping off a larger waterfall. Logan stays at the top of the waterfall to help give us a bit of guidance so we jump back far enough, (let’s be honest, by guidance we mean a bit of a push). The splash of all splashes echoes around the cave walls. We bet you could hear us all the way from the cave entrance!

Making our way through the Labyrinth (in 360 degrees!)

The river of glowworms

From here, we are in deeper water, so we drift downstream until Logan tells us to switch our head torches off. Oooo, aahhhhh, eeeee! Glowworms are shining just a couple of metres above us in their hundreds. That’s a pretty insane change of atmosphere from roaring waterfall to shiny and pretty glowworms.

We’re drifting along and notice that Logan has gone very quiet… and its pitch black… and is he even here anymore? Did we go down a wrong tunnel somewhere?

The soft light from the glowworms means we do see his shadow from a distance, as he comes towards our tubes and pulls us to a ledge at the edge of the stream.

Making our way to the dramatic exit

We drift further downstream with the blue light of the glowworms dimly lighting the path to our next scramble! We walk over some rapids to a huge tumo, which extends all the way from the top of the cave! This is the perfect example of how far deep underground we are, but our view is sort of obstructed by the water dripping in our eyes from somewhere high in the tumo.

The final mission is floating in a stream with a bit more current to the dramatic exit of the cave. Daylight (or what is left of it) shows a thick forest at the other end of a cave that gets larger and larger the closer we get to it. What a grand finale! We do a quick “we made it pose” for the camera Logan is carrying and walk back to where we started. It feels like we’ve travelled miles and miles underground, but above ground we are a quick walk away from where we started!

We are buzzing on the way back, if maybe a little cold, so once we get back to base, we have a quick hot shower. Then we are told there is some hot soup and bagels waiting for us with the entertainment of viewing the trip’s photos. Laura loves the tomato soup, while Robin, who bitches about all food because he is pretentiously French, wishes there was another flavour. You’ve just been on a Black water Rafting trip, fool! Eat your Goddamn soup!

Hostel card games

Finally, we drag ourselves away from the soup and bagels and decide to get back to Juno Hall hostel, which is the warmest hostel in the world in winter! (We don’t know if that is a fact but we’re going with it). They have such an effective fireplace, so we end the night playing cards with Hunter, from the US, who is a Black Water Rafting guide himself just staying in Juno Hostel until he finds some long-term accommodation. (Check out why that is totally the way to do it when on a working holiday at Find a Flat in New Zealand). Laura wins at “Shithead”, either because she is lucky or because she is a little shit head. She drops the cards in her win and badgers off to our Jucy Camper bed, leaving Robin and Hunter to battle into the night.

Tune in tomorrow, which we see the dry side of Waitomo’s largest glowworm cave. See you then!

Laura and Robin

Take a look around this epic Waitomo cave!
Take a look around this epic Waitomo cave! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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We got some insane photos of the caves, which we’ll put up on Instagram. Remember to share your photos with us with #BackpackerGuideNZ to be featured, and get yourself on HerePin to check out all those hidden gems we’ve found in Waitomo.

See you tomorrow, travel tramps!

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