Feel the fear… and do it anyway

Black Water Rafting in glowworm caves

New Zealand is home to many adrenalin-fuelled activities, so I couldn’t very well leave without doing something. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not the sporty type, something usually goes wrong and I end up hurting or embarrassing myself in some way, shape or form – I have scars to prove it!

Anyway, we were planning on visiting the glowworm caves in Waitomo (seeing glowworms – basically anything to do with animals and nature is much more my thing than extreme sports). You can take a leisurely boat ride through the caves and marvel at the glowworms shining above you, like stars in the night sky. Beautiful.

My husband, however, much more of a daredevil than me, decides he would rather do Black Water Rafting instead – basically sitting in a wet suit on a rubber ring and then climbing through the caves and jumping off waterfalls. Fun, right? I guess we could have gone our separate ways here, no one pressured me into saying yes, but either way I felt like I would be missing out on something so I just did it.

We were booked in for the 8.15am tour – on a non-work day I’m not even dressed at 8.15am let alone pulling myself into a cold and wet wetsuit at that time of the morning! Anyway, we had to fill out some liability forms. I was alright on the physical health side but when asked – do you have any difficulties swimming? I had to tick yes. I am a weak swimmer. I blame my school. And do you have any phobias? Actually I’m a bit claustrophobic to be honest with you, I like to know where my nearest exits are and I’m pretty sure I would never go pot holing (crawling through a cave where you can’t stand or turn around). When the guide read through my form she must have wondered what the hell I was doing there, but in my defence, if they didn’t want phobic people on the tours, they should say from the off.

They packed us up in a little bus and took us to a creek to do a practice jump for jumping off of the waterfalls. We met our second guide who explained we needed to jump backwards with the tube held at our backsides to ensure a correct landing. That jump was at least 2-3 metres high! I didn’t think I was scared of heights but maybe I am? Just as I was ready to wimp out completely, the guide moved to the next much lower platform, he was only joking about that tall one!

Ha. Ha. Hilarious.

So I did the jump. I didn’t die. However, when disembarking my tube I lost grip and it went floating down the creek.

Injuries = none
Embarrassments = one

Luckily, my hero hubby jumped in and got my tube for me to save further embarrassment.

Black water rafting cave entrance
Cave entrance

Then it was cave time, climbing and floating, at the deepest point we were 65 metres underground. There were 2 waterfall jumps – not as scary as I had anticipated. And we saw glowworms! The best part was when we were in a chain (what the guides refer to as the ‘eel’) each person holding on to the person behind’s feet as they rested either side of your tube. We then floated along in the darkness gazing up at the glowworms above.


Soon our cave adventure was drawing to an end and I was feeling quite proud that I hadn’t fallen off my tube, slipped over on a rock or got myself wedged in a stalactite or anything. Our last part of the cave tour was to turn off the torches on our helmets and then find our way out in the dark. Fortunately, even though our head torches were off, there were little red lights at the back of each helmet so I could follow the red lights of the rest of the group to find my way out. Of course the glowworms are meant to guide the way but I was too busy trying to keep up with the group to remember to look at the glowworms.

I started somewhere in the middle of the pack yet I somehow ended up at the back and when I lost all those red lights, panic set in. I was in pitch black, in a cave, floating in water, no idea of my surrounding or how much further the exit was. I almost had a full-on panic attack.

Cave eel
I’m glad I didn’t know about this before going in there!!!


I then saw the light at the end of the tunnel, quite literally. I slowly made my way out of the cave to the light of day. I made it! And I didn’t knock myself out on the massive stalactite hanging down as low as my head right before the exit of the cave – who put that there?!

Waitomo caves - black water rafting
The light at the end of the tunnel

I then realised that my knuckle was bleeding but for me, that’s pretty good going.

Injuries = one (minor)
Embarrassments = one (pre-cave)

Afterwards my husband said that Black Water Rafting was alot more challenging than he had expected, whereas I had found the opposite to be true, I feared the worst and surprised myself.

And believe it or not, that wasn’t our only cold, wet, glowworm cave adventure. When we arrived in Franz Josef, the manager at the hostel we were staying at told us about a few different walks we could take, one being the Tatare Tunnels Walk – a 40 minute walk to a narrow cave where you walk ankle deep through freezing cold water to see the glowworms inside.

Tatare Tunnels Walk, Franz Josef New Zealand
The hike to the cave

So after a mostly uphill hike, we arrived at the cave entrance, removed our socks and trainers, and donned the only waterproof footwear we had – flipflops (or thongs/jandals if you’re Aussie/Kiwi). The cave was fairly narrow but tall enough to walk through. I’m not sure how far we walked but after seeing only 5 glowworms and only 3 other people in the cave, we decided it was mad going caving in flipflops with tiny torches that looked like they came out of a Christmas cracker! So we exited as fast as our frozen feet would take us.

Tatare Tunnels cave entrance in Franz Josef, NZ
Tatare Tunnels cave entrance

Clearly we have both seen one too many scary movies, as we admitted to each other on the walk back (another 40 minutes in the rain!) that we had overactive imaginations about what might be lurking in that cave (besides glowworms) and what if we got trapped. That’s the creative mind for ya!

AAAND I think that’s enough cave-related activities for one trip!

Tatare Tunnels Cave, New Zealand
Exit silhouette

I’m glad I did it but never again. How about you? What crazy things have you done that you would never repeat?

Black water rafting photos: Our guides at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
Tatare Tunnels photos: my own

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  1. I for one think you’re amazing. Crazy, but amazing!

  2. quirkylittleplanet

    Aww thanks! Coming from a Kiwi that means alot 🙂

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