Waitomo is only a small village but is a huge tourist attraction due to the extensive caves which are also home to glowworms. As we had the time we decided to spend two nights here but we got the impression that most people only spend one night or come for a day trip.
On our first day we asked a couple of locals for walking recommendations and they all said to visit the Ruakuri reserve which was slightly outside of the village. From our hostel we had to walk into the village along the road, but the rest of the walk was by path through farmland or through bush so was quite pleasant. The actual Ruakuri reserve walk was only half an hour when we got there but I can see why it had been recommended. It was a great way to see parts of the caves at your own pace and unguided. There were some great formations and you could see how the water had made the rocks the way they were as it was flowing very fast through the gorge. There was a viewpoint just inside a cave chamber which was huge and made me very excited for our caving adventure the next day.
The following day we had opted to do a 5 hour caving adventure, the Black Abyss tour with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. It was the longest and most expensive option but in my opinion it was well worth it. Definitely one of my favourite things (if not the best thing) that we have done on the trip so far. We were in a group of six (the biggest group for this trip is eight) and had three instructors with us so we were in safe hands and had plenty of opportunity to try things and ask questions.
After being kitted out with our gear, and being given a quick lesson on how to use the ropes for abseiling we each had to abseil down 35 metres into the ground. It was pretty creepy lowering yourself down into the dark. You go through a narrow-ish funnel and assume you gave almost made it, and then realise how much further into the ground you have to go. However once you are at the bottom and have turned off your light you get your first glimpse of the glowworms which look like little stars above you.
After walking through the cave a little way the next challenge was the underground zipwire. I was really excited about this until I saw the first person go down as they were made to do it in complete darkness. Once you were clipped on and lowered slightly, everyone turned off their lights and you went zooming through the cave in the darkness which looked terrifying. However, once everyone’s lights are off you can see the glowworms so it’s a little like you are zooming through space (not that I really know what’s that is like…). We were then all rewarded with a hot drink and some flapjack ready to do our first wet activity.
We were each given an inflatable ring and had to jump into the water so that we landed sitting in the ring. I hadn’t expected to be completely submerged so that gave me a bit of a shock but it was fun to start rafting on the water. Luckily there was a rope that we could pull ourselves along by as otherwise we would have been there all day – my paddling was appalling (very slow and often in the wrong direction)! Again we were able to turn out our lights to admire the glowworms above us. We also stopped off at one point to climb up to a small opening which was filled with stalagmites and stalactites.
Once we’d finished with the inflatable rings we explored the cave by foot, walking and wading our way along. We went down a small slide headfirst, made our way through some small openings and also climbed up two waterfalls before we left the cave. We’d been given another hot drink and some chocolate on the way round so whilst it was cold, we weren’t completely frozen even though we’d been in there for five hours. We had some very welcome warm showers waiting for us and were given a cup of hot soup and a bagel once we arrived back at the base.
I had an incredible time doing the caving and thoroughly enjoyed it all. We got to see the famous glowworms, we had a decent amount of time exploring the cave and we got to try out a range of different activities whilst there. Parts of it were more challenging than others, but none of it felt impossible and I came out feeling really exhilarated.
The other great thing about Waitomo was the hostel that we were staying in (Juno Hall in case you are in the area). Stephanie, the staff member, was really friendly and helpful. The hostel had a very homely feel to it, a bit like a chalet lodge, and was very clean. It probably helped that it wasn’t fully booked but it felt like there was plenty of space for everyone. There was also an outdoor swimming pool (unheated so we didn’t use it but I imagine it’s fun in the summer months) and a selection of different animals which seem to have been rescued from various places. There was a delivery of two new goat kids whilst we were there and we got to bottle feed both the goats and the lambs – not something that any other hostel we’ve stayed at has offered!