Waitomo and the glow worms – February 3

“So, was it type 1 or type 2 fun?” she asked me, as she unhooked me from the rope, with the help of the light from her headlamp.

“Huh?” I said.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, type 1 fun is fun in the moment.  Type 2 is fun, later, when you think back on it.  Or maybe it was a bit of both?” she asked, with a smile in her voice.

I couldn’t see her face. We were 35 meters underground, in a cave, and I’d just finished abseiling my way down.  We were standing on a small metal platform.  I considered her question.  On the way down, I’d struggled a bit with the rope, which was wet and much heavier than the practice one we’d used aboveground.  I’d never felt unsafe, just frustrated at my inability to make a smooth descent.  I’d kept stopping when I meant to just slow down, and had struggled to maneuver through a particularly narrow part. The guide and the two women who’d descended before me had turned off their lights while I made my way down, so I couldn’t tell how far I had to go, and the tour name, “Black Abyss,” made sense.

“A bit of both, I guess.”

The rest of the 5-hour tour was mostly type-2 fun for me, with a handful of type-1 moments.

After I was unhooked, I climbed down some stairs, and joined the others who were sitting on nearby rocks, and we all turned off our headlamps so the next person could descend into the darkness.  Sitting there in the dark, I was able to see the glowworms above, and with nothing but the sounds of running water coming from somewhere nearby, it was peaceful.

Once everyone made it down, our group of 6 (plus 2 guides) made our way through several more adventures.  We zip-lined in the dark, through a glowworm cave, and then laid down at the base area, so the next person wouldn’t kick us at the end of the line.  We sipped hot chocolate from colorful plastic cups while our feet hung over the edge of a cliff, with rushing water below and glowworms above.  We jumped (or, in my case, ever-so-gracefully climbed down a rope) into the water to float on inner tubes through the cave.  At one point, our guide had us link up into a chain (feet under armpits), we turned off our headlamps again, and she pulled all of us through the cave in the dark, so we could see the constellations of glowworms.  We tossed our tubes back up to the other guide, and then waded through the water with just our wetsuits.  I was freezing in spite of mine (a key reason it was Type 2 fun).  We slid face-first down a “natural man-made slide,” waded some more, and belly-crawled through a tiny “rebirth canal.”

We climbed up wet rocks and through more small caves and tunnels while avoiding falling into deep cracks and holes.  We took photos with a Gandalf-shaped stalagmite and then used the cocoa cups over our headlamps, underwater, along with long exposure camera tricks, to create some cool photo effects.  We visited with a resident eel who “bit someone last week.”  We reused the cups to drink hot tang and then took more long-exposure photos while we spelled things out as a group.

And then came the crazy part.

To get out, we climbed up 2 waterfalls.  And I don’t mean just water flowing over some rock-steps.  One of them was a near-vertical climb with a firehose of water coming down.  The guides were great, though, and showed us each exactly where to hold and step for what turned out to be a remarkably easy climb.  Still, when I got up and met the others who were sitting in the pool at the top, I said “I can’t believe I just did that!”

Note: photo above is not from our group’s photos, but is of the waterfall we climbed.

As I started to sit back and relax a bit, one of the others said “don’t get too close to the walls.  Spiders.”  Of course there are.

Just one more waterfall to climb (this one, easy) and we were finally back up above ground.

A short, sloshy, hike back to the van, ride back to the base, and I was finally warm.  Hot showers, tomato soup, and bagels didn’t hurt, either.

I spent my afternoon doing much less adventurous things – eating yummy mushrooms and bacon on toast, and visiting some local birds at the Kiwi House.

I caught the 3:30pm Kiwi feeding, and eventually my eyes adjusted to the darkness enough that I could actually see.  The woman who’d fed the Brown Kiwi came into the viewing area and talked to us for awhile, telling us all about the lives and times of kiwis.  She said that kiwis typically mate for life, but that due to the breeding programs they have going on, they sometimes get split up (to introduce more new bloodlines).  She said that after they lose a mate (in the wild or in captivity), they often “re-pair.”  I thought that was an interesting use of the word.

My last night in New Zealand, I spent taking a fun and twisty drive up to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge.

I walked back into town for another nice dinner at Stoked Eatery.  To mix things up, I opted to try the lamb “salad” (quotes mine).  Who needs greens? I’m on vacation!

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