There’s no doubt that the top attraction in Waitomo, New Zealand is the famous Glowworm Caves. Now, there are lots of ways you can see these fascinating glowworms and the blueish glow they emit. First, you can take a boat tour into the caves. Or, you can grab a flashlight and try to find them on your own. But perhaps the best, most unique way to see the glowworms is through an exciting little adventure called black water rafting.
So just what is black water rafting? Well, it’s you, in a thick wetsuit, floating along a river inside a dark cave, jumping off some waterfalls backwards…oh yeah, and the glowworms.
Intrigued? You should be.
While I was researching things to do during my time in New Zealand, this black water rafting thing kept popping up. It sounded crazy fun, but also mostly terrifying. I kept going back and forth, and finally bit the bullet and booked the tour once we got to the Waitomo area.
Our Black Labyrinth tour with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company was one of the coolest, most adventurous thing we did in New Zealand. If you’re looking for something unique to the area that will get your heart a-pumpin’ definitely get yourself signed up for black water rafting.
Here’s what you can expect:
Booking Your Adventure
You will want to book your black water rafting adventure in advance. During busier seasons, it’s probably best to book a week or more in advance. In early October, we were able to book two days in advance with no problems. Booking your trip is insanely easy. You can either book online, via telephone, or email directly with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. You can also book a tour by stopping in at their location in Waitomo, or at the Waitomo Caves Discovery Center.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. is located right off the main road that leads into Waitomo. It’s hard to miss. Once you arrive, head inside to the desk and check in for your tour. You will need to fill out additional information and sign a waiver. Make sure to be honest about any medical issues you may have.
Once everyone from your tour group has arrived, it’s time to suit up for your adventure. Today’s fashions include a stylin’ neoprene wetsuit and jacket combo, paired with damp socks and rubber boots. Top it off with a flashlight-topped safety helmet, and you are ready to go!
Next, you’ll be driven to the cave site, where it is almost time to start your adventure. But, you can’t float through a cave without a good floating apparatus! Here, you will pick out your life-vessel that will keep you afloat while in the cave. The trick is to find the right size- not too small and definitely not too big. How can you tell what size is right for you? Well…there’s only one good way to know…
Before heading into the cave, you’re going to get a quick introduction to the brisk temperature of the water, and the process of waterfall jumping. You’ll be led to a dock that hovers around 6-7 feet above the surface of the river. You’ll be instructed to walk to the end of the dock, turn around, and hang your heels off the edge. Then, you’ll take your tube, place it around your butt, and jump off backwards. You’ll land in the cold, cold water, sufficiently soaked and ready to go.
Inside The Cave
Now it’s time to venture inside the cave. Each person will climb down into the mouth of the cave. From here, your guides will lead you along the current of the river, through the cave system. Your eyes will adjust to the dim lights that shine from your helmets, and you’ll get used to stepping cautiously as you can’t see exactly where you are placing your foot.
At some places within the cave, you’ll simply walk along the shallow portions of the river, with your tube around your shoulder. In other sections, the water will be deeper so you will float on your tube, along the current.
The Waterfall Jump
Remember that test-jump we talked about earlier? Now’s when you will replicate exactly what you did at the edge of the dock. You’ll walk to the very edge of the waterfall, place the tube on your butt, and jump off backwards, jumping out and away from the falls. The hardest part about the jump is fighting the current as you stand at the edge. Though it does help speed things up.
Ahh yes, the whole reason we’re here in the first place. You will have several opportunities to view the famous glowworms. Inside the cave, your group will huddle together as your guides tell you all about the glowworms and their bioluminescent dribbles. You’ll also get a chance to float through the caves in complete darkness, looking up at the glowworms. They’re surprisingly beautiful as they resemble stars in a dark night sky.
After about three hours of fun, you’ll find your way to the end of the cave system. The light from the sun will stream in, and you’ll realize just how cold you are as your stiff muscles make their way up and out of the cave. Back at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co, you’ll take your suit off and enjoy a hot shower to bring the feeling back into your toes. Afterwards, enjoy a mug of hot soup and a warm, freshly toasted bagel, while watching a slideshow of photos from your adventure.
Important things to know before your black water rafting adventure:
1.) There are a few different companies in Waitomo that offer black water rafting excursions. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. is the best. They are the first tour operator to offer black water rafting, and have perfected the adventure over the 30 years they’ve been in business. Their staff is awesome, and well trained to keep you excited and safe through the whole tour. Even TripAdvisor has recognized them with a Certificate of Excellence.
2.) Your guides are highly trained and do this trip multiples times a day. You are in good hands. There’s no need to worry. And if you end up with Rudy and Katrina as your guides…you’re going to have a good time.
3.) Make sure to pee before you suit up. Other people have to wear those wetsuits…
4.) The water inside the cave is really cold. If you get cold really easily (like me!) they provide thermal shirts you can wear under your wetsuit. The guides will also bring hot drinks if you get too cold inside the cave.
5.) Your leg muscles are going to hurt the next day between being all cramped up from the cold, and holding yourself against the river’s current. Just be ready.
6.) What to bring with you: a swimsuit, a towel, and a sense of adventure. Note: cameras are not allowed inside the cave.
7.) Don’t think, just do it. I overthought the black water rafting excursion, and almost ended up not doing it. I would have totally regretted missing out on this much fun.
*All images purchased through The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
Would you go black water rafting in Ruakuri Cave? Tell me in the comments below!