As an average Kiwi my prior knowledge of Waitomo Caves was a visit with Mum and Dad as a kid – vague memories of walking through a set of caves with stalactites and stalagmites, having a few glow worms pointed out to me, and then being back outside squinting in the bright sunlight – and that was it.
Going back to a place you remember from childhood seldom lives up to the memories, but revisiting Waitomo Caves surpassed anything I remembered. There were probably fewer options back then, and the facilities have been upgraded considerably, but with 350 mapped cave systems, and probably as many again that haven’t been mapped, the options are endless.
Because all the caves are on private property each company negotiates with the landowners for access (in many cases negotiating exclusive rights) – so when it comes to choosing your caving trip, take the time to read all the options that each company offers – there will be options for getting wet or staying dry, easy or physical, length of time, adventure rating, and specific attractions such as glow worms etc. As mentioned above different companies use different cave systems, so trying to pick ‘the best cave’ is pretty pointless – they all have to have something special about them before they are used for tours.
The 5 hours Black Abyss tour was the second of two tours I had booked while staying at Waitomo Caves. I completed the first tour the previous day (a 7 hour trip with another company) and honestly, comparisons are pointless – we went to different caves, did different things and I thoroughly enjoyed both tours. There isn’t a penultimate caving experience at Waitomo – you could do 10 different tours and they will all have something different about them. We met at the Legendary Black Water Rafting centre, which was very upmarket; nice café, nice gift shop and indoor/outdoor eating areas. The staff were friendly and organised – and I’m glad I prebooked, as both here and the other company I used I saw people trying to get walk in bookings with little success – the tours were full. So a word to the wise – prebook your tour.
Our Tour Leaders (Jed and Vee) introduced themselves, and we (a group of around 8-9) were kitted up and off in the van for the ride up to the site. Up in the hills of a private farm we got out and had a practice abseil and a thorough safety debrief (which was well done – not too preachy, but they made their point that safety was a priority) and then it was one at a time down the 35 meter hole which really was a black abyss.
I really don’t want to go into too much detail regarding the tour itself (what they describe for the tour really is accurate) but for me personally I really liked the variety involved – the flying fox, the tubing, etc – and the opportunity to see the glow worms was outstanding, I loved that. There were examples of fossils and the way the limestone has been worn through by the water – the textures and colours, that fascinated me.
Jed and Vee were great, they kept us topped up with food and hot drinks, and they knew how to work a crowd too – they were very friendly.
The tour ending was so freakishly good you’d think you’ve popped out in some Disney theme park (up through a natural tunnel, out through a hole surrounded by ferns into a perfectly formed pool made by a stream). Then it was back to base for a hot shower and complementary soup and bagels. Happy days. Everyone loved it, but I’m pretty sure I detected envy when the others found out I’d based myself at Waitomo so I could do more than just one tour (lots of people stop just for one tour while travelling through).
A few footnotes – safety procedures and training were extremely well observed by Vee and Jed, who checked and double checked our gear and there was never a time we were out of their sight. You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to do this tour, but if you aren’t confident in your physical ability I’d suggest doing one of the easier options before trying the Black Abyss. The photography was much better on this trip (and cheaper than the other) but one thing I have to take points off for was that the wetsuits and booties have probably seen better days – my wetsuit was stretched which allowed water in and I had to keep moving to keep myself warm. I’ll know for next time to make sure that my wetsuit is a snug fit (especially around the wrists).
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC