Friday, August 1, 2014


Some of the many things we explored in New Zealand were caves.  The island has quite a bit of limestone, and thus many interesting caverns.  There are a few well-known big ones that you can only go in as part of a guided tour, but we were generally in happy-go-lucky, exploring-on-our-own mode, and sought out more obscure places that we could poke around without being part of a group.

First up was Waipu Cave.  This is an undeveloped cave up in the northern part of the island near Whangarei.  We drove over hill and dale on a twisty-turny dirt road, parked behind a gate on some farmer's field, and walked across the field to this sign.

After 25 meters on a muddy slippery trail, we found the opening

and went in.

We each had a headlamp, and Chad and I both had pretty powerful flashlights too, so we could see well enough to clamber down the entrance, across the stream, and into the pitch black part of the cave our of sight of the entrance.  However, photography with the adventure camera and no tripod was challenging.  I messed around with camera settings, and we strategically aimed flashlights to do our best to give you an idea of what it was like.

After working our way into the third big chamber, we turned off all the lights.  Spooky dark!
The really cool thing about this part was that the top of the cave was covered with glowworms, and as our eyes adjusted we could make out an amazing display of the luminescent larvae above us.  It looked like a densely star-filled night sky, right there in the cave.  My camera was not up to the task, but Google "glow worm cave" to see what these things actually look like.  Apparently the glow worms are brighter when they are hungry.  These ones seemed hungry.  It was really quite an unusual sight.

It was raining, leading to some uncertainty about rising water levels, and we still had a long drive planned for the rest of the day, so we opted not to push through and explore further, though our book indicated that there was 150 meters more muddy fun to be had further in the interior maze.

Later in the trip, when we found ourselves in the area near the more famous Waitomo Caves, we took a hike in a neat little preserve to see the Ruakuri Tunnels.  This is also a limestone region, with both entrances to some bigger caves (which you can explore in guided groups) and a delightful maze of a trail that wound its way along the creek and through a couple of small cave tunnels.  Having already seen some pretty spectacular glowworms for free up north, we opted for the do-it-yourself free hike.

The trail wound along the creek, involving several bridges across the creek

and pathways tacked along the edge of the creek

past cave entrances full of rushing water
and interesting tunnels

Nimue found lots of drips.
I kept finding intriguing little side entrances to the cave system.  This one I deemed too slippery to take the small one up into.

but we thought this one looked plausible.

Indeed.  I climbed up to check it out, and then back down to spot Nimue and Chad while they clambered up, and then back up myself.

Ooooh, more passageways, well above the stream level.  How fun.

Also photographically challenging, given my little camera
We played with different camera and light settings; the two below are of exactly the same location.  The lower picture is a better depiction of what it felt like.

At one point, I shone the light upward and saw a bunch of giant bugs on the cave ceiling above us:
Cave weta.  These guys are several inches across.
Undeterred, we did some more exploring

At another point, I climbed up into an adjoining passage above where we were.  An actual rock climbing move was needed for that one, so it was fun!  By this point, I could balance myself on the wet limestone, aim the flashlight, and operate the camera all at once.
Happy peoples.  We conveniently did caves on both of the days it really rained a lot.
After escaping this cave system and exploring further down the road to find a waterfall, we headed back towards Otorohanga and ate at a restaurant called "The Thirsty Weta", which seemed appropriate.

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