I consider myself a well-heeled adventure traveller. I’ve bungeed, skydived, dived the blue hole in Belize, bombed from almighty waterfalls, swung, hung, twirled and zip-lined. But when Stray suggested I try Tumu Tumu Toobing, a black water rafting adventure in Waitomo, New Zealand…well I had no fricking’ idea what I was getting myself into.
What I did know about Waitomo, with its burgeoning population of 50 permanent residents, is it’s home to a vast limestone cave network that sprawls for hundreds of kilometres underground. While the population above the ground is small, these caves are home to millions of sparkling glow worms, which attract thousands of people from all over the world to come view this natural phenomenon.
So here I find myself in the trusty hands of Waitomo Adventures, getting geared up in a spongy thick wetsuit, hard helmet and rock climbing gumboots. As the first official operator to start running adventure caving tours nearly 29 years ago, I immediately felt at ease in the hands of their super friendly, upbeat guides Nate and Shawn.
Twelve of us suited up, completed our safety briefing and marched with anticipation across Lord of the Rings-type farmland to a nondescript hole that plunged deep into the cave network. The walk alone seemed to impress our largely international group who were ‘oohing and aahing’ before we’d even got to the cave mouth.
One by one we descended down the hole into another world. Jagged stalactites and stalagmites lined the tunnel before us like the mouth of a bare toothed tiger. As I watched a steady stream of fresh cold water flowing through the cave I remembered a handy tip from Nate: “If in doubt, follow the water out”. Mental check.
From here we spent the next 2 hours wading, climbing, crawling, swimming and tubing through caves of all shapes and sizes. In certain sections we stopped, switched off our lamps and stood in silence to admire the cave roof twinkling with thousands of happy glow worms. It could be likened to staring up at the galaxy on a clear night where the stars above are only a metre or two above your head. Pure magic!
In the tubing section, after some adrenaline fuelled leaps into the water from a precarious ledge, we linked up in a human chain and floated in the silent current starring up into the glow worm lined ceiling. It was almost a spiritual moment when Jack, one of the people in our group, broke the silence with a melodic Chinese folk song that gave me goosebumps as the lyrics echoed around the cave walls. Experiences like this are what travel is all about!
This tour is not for the faint hearted. It’s psychically and mentally challenging moving through an alien-like environment that is so foreign, yet so incredibly beautiful. While it’s very achievable for the average able-bodied person, you will be challenged and you will leave with a true sense of accomplishment.
With all my worldly adventures under my belt, I give Waitomo Adventures Tumu Tumu Toobing an undeniable 10/10. If you happen to be travelling in New Zealand and you class yourself as an adventure enthusiast, then this is an absolute must do!