Being tied to ropes, and dragged through dark, enclosed spaces by two (albeit rather good looking) guides was never going to be everyone's cup of tea, and when I reluctantly agreed to embark on The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.’s newest cave tour ‘The Black Odyssey’ (launching December 1st 2012), I was 100% sure it was not going to be for me either. Luckily, I couldn't have been more wrong!
Caving has never been on my bucket list, and it's certainly not something I’d ever dreamt of doing. It's not something I thought I could do. As somebody who has claustrophobia, a fear of heights, a fear of falling, and a fear of all things creepy crawly (including cave wetas) I was pretty surprised at myself when I agreed to go on The Black Odyssey, the latest extreme adventure in caving.
I was informed that I would be edging over crossings high above roaring streams and experience mind-blowing heights with high rope work and the use of flying foxes... all underground. Despite my instant terror at the idea, I found myself saying yes, but it did cause me a couple of stressful weeks as I contemplated what I was getting myself into. On the drive down to Waitomo from Auckland I even wrote out a quick will on my iphone in case I didn't make it out from the depths alive. Clearly, since you are reading this, my hastely typed in will was unnecessary.
The people at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. made me feel extremely at ease, and I felt safe well before I went anywhere near a cave. The guides certainly made the trip a breeze. They were highly prefessional, extremely skilled, and there was no way I was going to blubber in front of anyone that good looking, so my fears quickly subsided.
We were all made to do a “Fit test” before descending. At first when I heard this I had horrible flashbacks to being that chubby kid in school being made to do the beep test. I do a lot of exercise now but I’m forever haunted by that horrible beep. To me the thought of having to do that was scarier than the caves! However we soon found out that it was more like a ‘Fit box’, as in, ‘If you can fit through this box, you can fit through the tight spaces in the cave’. So down on my hands and knees I got and started crawling. Piece of cake! I emerged with a smile on my face, before realizing that was a box, not a cave, and I was still above ground. Cue the tightness in the chest and the shaking of the hands...
We got geared up in our red overalls, and gumboots (looking good was not part of the caving experience) and made our way down to the cave entrance. The first 15 minutes consisted of making our way into the cave with very non-scary, easy paced walking, spiralling down and walking along a suspended bridge to get to where the real fun begins.
Before we embark on the adventure, we were taught how to use all the equipment, including how to clip ourselves on and off the ropes. Every person had thre clips each for extra safety, and we all got to test out clipping on and leaning back into the ropes off the walls to get comfortable with the fact that our weight would hold (there is no reason to worry that you won’t because the bolts are basically indestructible).
Into the cave we went, starting out with 20 minutes of climbing through tight spaces, and being impressed that my body could fit through such an insanely small gap. The sense of adventure was really starting to build towards the end of this first part, and I instantly found myself wanting more. I think I can safely say that my claustrophobia disappeared and it didn’t take long before I realized the appeal of caving and why people do this for fun.
The rest of the tour consisted of flying foxes (which were so much fun, and even got a ‘woohoo’ out of me), ladder bridges (which weren’t as fun, got no ‘woohoo’ but I did it with a smile on my face) and my favourite part, abseiling down a rift. There was lots of climbing up the walls of the cave, with each step getting higher and higher. The thrill was amazing, not once did I think of how high up we were (about 20-30metres) Instead my thoughts focused on the fact that I was loving the caving experience and I never wanted it to end. The tour as a whole takes about 4 hours, which includes the getting ready part and 2 food breaks, but it doesn’t feel like that long once you’re in there.
Never had I ever considered going caving, and now all I can think about is when I’m next going to make the trip to Waitomo to do it again. It is challenging and exhausting but it is also one of the most rewarding things I have done. I came out feeling like I can, and will do anything, and The Black Odyssey was worth every moment I spent in Ruakuri cave.
Challenge yourself on this extreme dry caving adventure with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. who have over 25 years of caving expertise. Experience a range of different caving techniques to complete this journey that will seriously stretch your limits.
Test yourself with extreme traversing and mind-blowing heights. Edge over crossings high above roaring streamways. You’ll also spider-walk through ancient rift passages and experience the challenges of technical high rope work and flying foxes.
At every stage you're accompanied and supported by experienced caving guides from The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. who know and love this totally unique and mind-blowing environment.
Interview: Peter Alexander
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