Exploring Onepoto Caves in Te Urewera

The Te Urewera Rainforest: it holds heaps of hidden gems, such as countless waterfalls and stunning tracts of native forest. In the middle lies the humongous and insanely clear Lake Waikaremoana, which we were lucky enough to explore by boat yesterday. Today, we are sticking to dry land by seeking out, what we would consider, one of the “most fun” hidden gems in Te Urewera, the Onepoto Caves.

Making our gravelly way to the Onepoto Caves

From the Waikaremoana Holiday Park, we drive up the gravel road, (something you just have to get used to in Te Urewera), looking out for the Onepoto Caves sign. From the the roadside there are about three other walks you can do, mostly to take you to various lookouts over the lake, but we are keeping our eyes peeled for a more “underground” experience. There are two entrances to the Onepoto Cave Loop Track, but thanks to our host, David’s, advice yesterday, we opt for the lower entrance. He suggested that although it is a loop track, we should just return the same way or else we would have to walk back to our car via the road.

Delving into the darkness of the rainforest

We park up with a bit of a view of the lake, then delve into the entrance of the Onepoto Caves track. The bush is so thick, sheltering us from the sunlight, that it feels like we could be in a cave already. After all the rain we’ve had recently, the forest is all the more vibrant with greenery. Moss grows of ferns which grow on tree trunks. Whatever surface there is, it’s green.

First encounter with an Onepoto Cave! First encounter with an Onepoto Cave!
Meeting the locals Meeting the locals
The roots are fighting their way into the cave The roots are fighting their way into the cave
Feeling so small! Feeling so small!

Bluffs, wetas and jigsaw caves

It’s not long into the walk at all until we start to see some crazy rock formation. We walk alongside small bluffs to begin with that just randomly appear between the trees. Then we notice that some of these bluffs are on a bit of a lean. The leaning gets more and more exaggerated, until we find a huge slab of rock leaning over so much than, indeed, it looks like a cave: it’s rocky, it’s dark, it’s a cave, right? You can even crawl in further for a closer inspection into the cave.

Unlike “proper caves”, the Onepoto Caves have been formed by a huge landslide that occurred due to an earthquake some 2,200 years ago – the same landslide that formed Lake Waikaremoana. These huge blocks of sandstone rock broke into jigsaw-like pieces, some stacking on top of each other to form these cave-like features. As we explore the caves, there will be sudden drops where there are gaps in the blocks of rock, so we gingerly walk inside. We shine our light to the ceiling hoping to see some cave weta, like what we had seen during a recent white water rafting trip. Sure enough, we see the little critters crawling about on the ceiling, their dark shells making them easy to see against the white rock.

We spend quite a lot of time in the first cave-like structure, not realising that the caves are only going to get better and more adventurous…

Gollum has just emerged from his cave

Side tracks and splitting up

Continuing on the track, there are a few side tracks that peak our interest. One of which leads to a little grotto with a huge layered bluff on one side and a small cave on the other. Sometimes, we don’t even need to take the same route to continue on the track, as Laura heads overground and Robin takes a tunnel underneath. (See we don’t spend TOO much time together on this trip).

During this time when we are split up, all we can hear from each other is: “Cool!”, “Oh Wow”, “Come and look at this!”, “I can’t we’re not in the same area, you idiot,” etc. There is literally something interesting to see around every corner on the Onepoto Caves track, and trust us, there are a lot of corners.

An epic viewpoint

After clambering through perhaps five or six different sections of caves, we arrive at a cliff side overlooking a huge intact bluff with very distinct layers of rock. The forest canopy is now below us. With the piece of rock sticking over the edge, Laura wants Robin to hold here like The Lion King. When he refuses, she just settles with a sitting down pose on the rock – boring.

The track gets very narrow The track gets very narrow
Lots of pretty little plants to be found in the rainforest Lots of pretty little plants to be found in the rainforest
Another perspective of the bluffs Another perspective of the bluffs

Never-ending adventure

Orange markers have been guiding our way for some time now, keeping us on track in the caves. Then we come to a bypass, leading us up this majestic narrow gorge with more gnarly drops on the side of the track. Gulp! With just way too much interesting things like this to discover, it’s hard to know when we should start heading back, like David had suggested. We just keep going on and on, following the orange markers to the next set of caves. God, knows how many kilometres we’ve covered. We’ve been walking for about two hours now! (Although that was mostly clambering around in caves).

Back on the road

The orange markers lead us to a long ladder which brings us onto the roadside! Holy shit, you would never know is place was here if you were driving along – the ladder and the caves are so engulfed in forest. From there, we decide to reject David’s advice (sorry David) and walk back on the road, figuring it would take us a while to get back.

The fantails in the trees literally squeak at us with laughter as we are only on the road for about three minutes until we are back at the car. Are you kidding us?! We felt like we walked for ages! But, like we said, there were a lot of corners… This kind of reminds us of another free caving adventure we had in Southland

Back to lakeside civilisation

Nevertheless, it’s not about the kilometres you have covered, it’s about taking in an awesome environment, which we definitely think we’ve done in the Onepoto Caves. From there, it’s back to the Waikaremoana Holiday Park for one last night by the lake before tomorrow, heading off to Morere. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Emerging into daylight again!
Emerging into daylight again! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday post’s when we saw waterfalls, petrified forest and more on Lake Waikaremoana?! You might also want to take a look at these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, be sure to holla on HerePin, give us a like on Facebook and, while you are at it, join the Facebook group to meet other travellers and buy/sell. We also like to post pretty pictures on Instagram.

See you tomorrow!

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