Today we visited Waitomo Cave for the god-knows-how-many-th times. This place is around 2 hour drive from Auckland. Every time we have families or friends visiting from overseas, we will take them here. The cave is famous for the limestone composition and beautiful glow worms. The usual tour we do with grandparents and adults is the 45 minutes boat tour through 250m of stunning underground Cathedral cave, which costs around $48 per person. This time I’m visiting the place with people my age, so we can do more adrenaline pumping activities. There are many options you can choose, including Black Water Rafting which is quite unique to this area. Black water rafting is completely different to white water rafting. You sit on a big rubber tire and float through underwater caves with glow worms directly above you.
The activity we choose is called “Tumu Tumu Toobing” which requires a bit of swimming. The other activity that I was interested in was “Haggas Honking Holes” , which included a series of abseils through waterfalls, rock climbing, spider walking and ladders while exploring the beautiful caves. Some of my friends were scared of heights, so we had to go with the first option. We booked the activities through a website call “Book Me” . It is a group deal site where if you buy some activities 7 days in advance and at a certain time, it will be dramatically cheaper than the official website. Our activity was only NZD$96 when it was NZD$165 on the official website. Activities in New Zealand can be quite expensive, these activities do add up quite quickly in cost.
After checking in, the company van drove us to a near-by farm. Many of the farms here contain underground caves which the adventure companies will rent out the cave for commercial purposes. The farmers are happy since the caves are useless for them. The rest of the caves that are not used by adventure companies are fenced off to prevent sheep from falling down. Happy farmers, happy sheep.
There were roughly 16 people in our group, including people from Spain and Germany. We were the only Kiwis. We got changed inside the farm barn into something more suitable for underground. Our guides Jason and Mark determined our wetsuit sizes and handed them to us. Other gears included helmet and gum boots. Jason probably thought I will freeze to death, so he even gave me an extra cloth to wrap around my stomach to keep me warm. The helmet made my fringe look ridiculous, should’ve clipped my hair up beforehand! From this point onwards, we can no longer use our own camera.
The entrance into the cave was very small. All they did was placed a ladder into the hole. Jason reassured us that even the fattest person can fit into the entrance hole. He said it is easier to squeeze fat people into the hole because they are softer. However muscular rugby players will have more problems. We had to go in 1 by 1. When we descended into the hole, it was pitched black, so we had to turn on the torch to see where we were going. After a short walk we arrived at the gathering point. Inside the cave was all stalactite, which is very different to the stalactite caves you experience in China. The Chinese ones have many colorful artificial lightings in pink, violet or blue, turning the cave into a total light show. I prefer the natural color ones in New Zealand.
Soon all of us made it to the underground. Surprisingly it wasn’t as claustrophobic as I thought. The cave itself was quite spacious after climbing down the small entrance. Jason said we have to now all play Rambo. This involves putting mud on our face and tuck our head underwater which when we reach a pool. To initiate everyone going into the cold chilly water, Mark decided to push the Spanish girls into the water first.
Some parts of the cave were filled with water and they were quite deep for my height (158cm). As soon as the gum boots were filled with water they became extremely heavy. With every few steps I had to tip the water out so I could actually move. Jason said I shouldn’t pour out the water constantly since my body temperature will warm up the water and act as an insulators. However it was way too heavy for my untrained legs. Midway through the trip, there was this super deep pool where I couldn’t step on solid ground. I had to finally swim with my awkward swimming skills.
Mark said we had to swim without kicking our feet or else you risk losing your gum boots. However I did lose my boot not too long after! As I mentioned before, I suck at swimming and unable keep myself afloat using only my arms. I accidentally kicked my feet to try to stay afloat and I lost my boot in split second! Mark dived in to the water to try find my boot but none of them were the right size or their company’s. They were obviously left by the previous tourists.
I ended up having to finish the entire trip with only one gum boot. The other leg was kept warm by a thick sock only. Although I must admit without the gum boot and the water weight, it was a lot easier to walk. The only downside was that I had to limp the remainder of the trip due to imbalance.
After an hour of walking, we finally doing the black water rafting, or “toobing”. We had to climb up a stone wall which was 2 meters high and jump down with our back facing the water into the black rubber tube. I was so terrified since I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. However with a bit of encouragement, I still jumped backwards. I couldn’t get very far and almost missed the tube completely. Jason had to pushed the tube closer to me. The way we place ourselves inside the tube was placing our bum through the hole touching the water, the legs and head rested on the either end of the tube. If you have trouble understanding my descriptions please refer to my photo below.
After everyone got inside their tubes, we placed our legs on the shoulders of the person in front and made a human train. Jason told us to turn off the headlight on our helmets and just follow the flow of the stream inside the cave. It was a strange feeling sitting there in silence.
A few seconds later, my eyes started to adjust into darkness. Slowly I could see the galaxy of tiny living lights twinkling above me. It was so beautiful that it took my breath away. I have always been fond of the night skies, now I am even more in love with these tiny creatures a few inches above me. The glowworms produce light to attract preys and traps them using sticky secretions.
During the trip, Mark and Jason gave each of us a cup of hot chocolate and biscuits. The hot water used to make the hot chocolates water carried in their backpacks. It was very delicious especially after trapped in freezing underground for 2 hours. When we were closer to the end, the stones became really sharp and therefore difficult to walk without gumboots. This was a little inconvenient for me. I had to hop and tip toe all the way to prevent cutting myself on the piercing edges. My friends had to look out for me in case I fall.
The exit of this cave was in close proximity to the barn we started. It was delightful to see the sun again. The wet suits were so tightly bound to our bodies we struggle to get out of them and required assistance by each othe
We ended our trip by going back to the information center where the photos for the entire trip can be purchased . It containes all the photos they took from the trip, so no need to buy it individually if you go in a group. Even though there’s only 2 photo of me , I still think it is worth it.
Overall Tumu Tumu Toobing was a fantastic experience and I will highly recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand if they have the time and energy. I hope to do the “Lost World” which contains 100m abseiling down the cave with no swimming involve next time I come to the area.