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Home / Travel / Travel: Go blackwater rafting in a cave full of glow worms

Travel: Go blackwater rafting in a cave full of glow worms

This gentle adventure sport in New Zealand has you bobbing about in a tyre-like tube, looking up at a ‘sky’ full of blue lights.

travel Updated: Nov 26, 2019 14:41 IST
Karishma Kirpalani
Karishma Kirpalani
Hindustan Times
The organisers provide wetsuits, boots, safety harnesses and lots of encouragement; all participants need to bring is a swimsuit, towel and some courage.
The organisers provide wetsuits, boots, safety harnesses and lots of encouragement; all participants need to bring is a swimsuit, towel and some courage. (Karishma Kirpalani)

One of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand is viewing the glowworms in Waitomo, in the North Island. These caves have been around for over 30 million years, and were once beneath the ocean. Today, they are full of stalactites, stalagmites and millions of flickering teal blue glowworms, visited by people from around the world.

These glowworms are endemic to New Zealand, which means they aren’t found in the wild anywhere else in the world. While most people choose to take a small boat ride and then saunter down a beautiful spiral staircase to view the silently blinking bugs at leisure, a few adrenaline junkies always choose to watch these glowworms blink past as they go black water rafting in the Ruakuri cave.

Black water rafting essentially has you sitting in a tyre-like tube, bobbing through a few rapids, then flowing with the river into a dark cave. I did the basic level, which had me sitting in the tube, enjoying a few bumps, jumping from the tops of a couple of really small ‘waterfalls’, and then floating as I stared at a roof full of blinking bio-lights.

It’s a lot less adventurous than the Black Abyss tour, a four-and-a-half-hour adrenaline rush that sees participants abseiling into the dark caves, rappelling down rock, zip-lining through a gallery of flickering glowworms, jump from real, torrential waterfalls, and then sitting in a tube gazing at the beautiful blue lights. So pick the right one.

The tubing experience begins with you, clad in your wetsuit, jumping into the river.
The tubing experience begins with you, clad in your wetsuit, jumping into the river. ( Karishma Kirpalani )

Typically, each group has six to eight people, two instructors and two others to help. The company provides wet suits, boots, safety harnesses and a lot of encouragement, all participants need to bring is a swimsuit, towel and some courage. The tour begins with a drives to the entrance of the cave. This is very different from the wide spiral walkway of the walking tour. The mouth of the cave is quite narrow, so one needs to rappel down to get into the tiny entrance.

Once inside, as you swing in complete darkness, waiting for the others, you’re so close to the glowworms, you can reach out and touch them. It looks like a starry night, except all the stars are blue. It is truly magical. You are now halfway through the Black Abyss, so it’s time for some cookies and hot chocolate. And then it’s time to make your way back.

Whichever tour you opt for, the tubing experience begins with you—clad in your wetsuit—jumping into the river. You bob around for a bit, as everyone gets into the water and forms a tube train, holding on to the feet of the person behind them. You form a similar chain inside the cave, and then you can lean back and stare at the roof as it glitters. It’s a nostalgic kind of magic, like when you first went camping and realised just how big the world really was, and how much more there was beyond it.

There are a lot of adventure activities you can try in New Zealand — skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, but this one is unique to this country. And that makes it a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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