Monday, 24 March 2014

Into the Depths we go... (25.3.2014)

We dived into the Black Abyss... and lived to tell the tale... What sounds like a rather dramatic and dangerous adventure was actually the name of a tour that we undertook with "the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company".

We almost missed our allocated time, because our GPS sent us down the most stupid route ever imaginable. It is almost as if it has the setting "Avoid State Highways if possible". So we went down the backstreets of New Zealand (not for the first time, thanks GPS, you fool!) and luck was on our side. A Lorry toppled over and blocked the entire road, yet another detour. That detour was so full with winding roads, faster than 50 km/h was not possible, but I would have wished that we could at least drive that fast... since we were stuck behind a humungous lorry transport tree logs (about 30-35 km/h). Finally we got past it and we thought we were on the home stretch, the road became even narrower and more winding just to spit us out on the road we want... The given address was... a field of cows grazing... Damn! Well... we switched off the GPS and drove. With 2 minutes to go, we somehow found it ;)

The trip itself was yet another unforgettable experience. We went caving into one of the many cave complexes around Waitamo. Only wearing bathing gear, we donned our wet suits, shoes and helmet and got trained in how to abseil correctly and, of course, how to stay safe and not fall down from the ridges.

I have mentioned previously, that I am extremely fearful of heights of any kind or as Rincewind from Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novels puts it, "The Grounds" (because it is the grounds that kill not the height per se). So off we went and abseiled into a dark hole so deep, you couldn't see the bottom (37 meters), then attached to a rope that acts as a slide, we jumped into the dark, not know how deep we would fall. I don't know what made me do that... maybe because I am tight-fisted and know I paid for it ;) These two experiences alone were worth it, though. The slide was in the complete dark and you could see glowworms on the roof. It was a fantastic sight!

The strange and borderline stupid things did not stop there, however. We were then given an inflated ring and jumped (yes, even more jumping, just imagine my joy when I had to do them) about 2-3 meters holding the ring to our backside into the cold water in the caves (8 - 12 °C). If you were sleepy before, that was the point you really became awake trying to figure out how to breath :)

At this point, we were about 60 meters below the ground, led on by our two fantastic tour guides. In general, I have to say that the guides we had on our trips so far, were all professional, knowledgeable and while knowing it has to be fun, made sure at all times that we were safe. These two made sure, we would not get too cold with one or two breaks giving us a hot drink and some energy snack, while making the trip even more of an experience. It was fun to challenge yourself while at the same time we were always assured that if we do not dare to do something, there is always another way. Admittedly, the jump was the worst for me, afterwards it was easy cruising fear-wise, but I can imagine a person uncomfortable in tight locations may have issues.

Talking about strange feelings. There was one sensation that I found very odd, yet no one else seemed to care much about it. Occasionally, bubbles would form inside your wet suit as you are drenched from head to toe. These bubbles would travel up your leg and back. It was a bit like "reverse-farting", in a way. It sounds gross, but the feeling was a bit strange to be honest.

From then on we walked, floated on the inflated ring or swam (swimming in shoes is hard!) through the caves, while the guides pointed various parts of the caves out to us. One section referred to as the Zombie Walk followed by the nipple pool amused everyone. The ground was so uneven and underwater, it was impossible to walk straight while at the end almost without warning you dropped down into the water all the way to about your nipples at which point you are finally wet all over. As a side note the guides, like everyone in NZ, were very protective of the nature, environment and Maori culture. An aspect that I greatly respect. 

The biggest attraction, of course, were the glowworms, that clung to the ceiling giving it the feel of a starry night sky almost (I for some reason had to the think of Star Trek's Borg all the time. No clue why). The glow in the dark attracts mayflies and other insects that then stick to a little thread that hangs from the ceiling.

Next to the worms (which are actually a type of maggot) there were also some stalactite formations (one looking a bit like Gandalf actually) and a bone, that NASA apparently thought of as Alien and another scientist showed it to be of a whale. The bone was trapped in the limestone and got fossilised. The entire experience of being down there was indescribeable...

Once we came to the end of our tour, as a bit of a change, we did not go through wide caves, but had to squeeze through very tiny holes (the Birthing Canal) and the climbed "up" little waterfalls and streams. As it involved pulling my own weight up, I found that physically the hardest part, but it was like the entire experience wholly enjoyable :).

At the end of the climb, out of nowhere, we could see an opening in the rocks and suddenly looked into the sun. Another very special experience. Now I've also been to the Underdark. Seems like there is also a bit of Faerûn in New Zealand (For all you Dungeons & Dragons afficionados, out there) ;)

We then got back, cleaned ourselves up and went back home to relax and figure out whether we can take a bog standard stone from a beach back home to Europe. Something that is usually annoying to do, i.e. contacting official bodies and speaking to people who by default are not able to think outside their usual thought patterns. When you try to make them do it, you earn yourself a blank stare and an answer that does not fit the question. Not so in New Zealand (I love this country). We went to the DOC (Department of Conservation) here in Hamilton and despite the person not knowing, she contacted DOC Auckland straight away and gave us contact details for the two officers who will know. All this within 10 minutes, only because she couldn't reach anyone as we came shortly before closing time.

Now we're just letting the day slowly come to an end. I have come to enjoy that part of the day, too. Writing the blog entry of the day lets me reflect on what has happened over the day and appreciate it once more. It doesn't flash past me so quick as is often the case in holidays where a lot is happening. Then maybe reading a book or playing a PC game for an hour or so before hitting the sack and have another exciting day to look forward to. The exciting part tomorrow is to see the black sands of the Ruapuke beach near the Bridal Veil Falls on the West Coast...

It's a Promo Pic, but that is what we did... but in the dark

Again a Promo Pic. We did the same, but it was, again, darker. This was the hardest part for me. I am really scared of heights and I hate the feeling when your gut starts to march towards your head in freefall. I nearly peed my pants. I didn't, as a favour to the guides who have to clean the suits afterwards. Isi did it without blinking an eye.

The last Promo Pic. This is what we saw almost whenever we switched off our headlights.

Yup, there I am. The smile somehow chiselled to my face as the grimace of terror was not allowed. 37 meters down I went.

And here my sweetheart follows. Her smile is real. She loves this stuff.

Isi exiting from "the Birth Canal"

Really cool picture of the whole group (without guides) consisting of a Swedish, French, French, Isi, Israeli, myself, Israeli and Kiwi (from left to right)

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