Thursday, February 26, 2009

Travelog Redux - backpacking New Zealand


Thought I'd post an entry from the Travelog I kept in 2003 while backpacking New Zealand. I booked my flight into Aukland, and nothing else, deciding to figure everything out once I got there..."spontaneous travel", I called it. One of the best trips I have ever done [so far] in my life! No pics, only some images from my sketchbook at the time....enjoy:

9pm, Janus Hall Backpacker's Lodge, Wet All Day

....Waitomo Caves Gloworm Adventure Tour was well worth it, what an adventure!!

30-meter abseil into a hole in the ground starts things off...the hole looks like, well, a hole about 1/2 meter wide an 2 meters down, then you squeeze into the opening and find yourself hanging in a limestone chimney 30m off the cave floor....

...then down a narrow path to a short flying fox run (in the dark), quick break for tea & a biscuit a.k.a. cave cookie a.k.a. NZ Granola Bar...we dangle our feet over the edge of a 10-foot drop and peer into the still, pitch-black water below...can't tell how dep it is (or isn't)....we jump off the cliff into the freezng water below and paddle our way upstream where our guide shows us a chamber full of gloworms & tells us of their lifecycles:

"They are acually maggots of a certain kind of fly, the only maggots known to catch their food by using a light on their arse...only maggots known to trap their food with snot-like fishing lines they dangle to entangle their prey...after living as larvae for many weeks, they pupate into flies which live for three days & shag until they die of exhaustion....they have very short life cycles, but very large penises...what a trade-off, aye?? "

Then, after paddling uptream for about half an hour, we sit on our inner tubes and form a human chain, shut the lights off on our helmets...and float down the stream in the darkness, with only the pale glow of the maggots to light our way.

It is a surreal feeling, drifting downstream in an underground river in total darkness, with 7 other people crazy enough to want to do it with you, and your lose all sense of space & it feels like you are drifting in the cold vacuum of space; the glow worms look like the stars of distant galaxies....then *SPLASH* our other guide scares the s*%t out of us by making a god-awful noise which breaks the spell and heralds our arrival back to our entry point, where we came in on the flying fox & jumped into the water.

We ditch the inner tubes, turn our lights back on, and follow our guide downstream into the icy black water towards the roar of what sounds like a huge waterfall...we twist & urn & stumble thru a series of rapids, not knowing what lies beneath or where your foot is stepping, just trusting to your numb feet that tey will find the way.

"Watch out for the big eels" they say, and we cannot tell if they are joking or not...although I wonder when they tell us to keep our fingers out of the water lest they be mistaken for earthworms or grubs. Down a slide, we turn a corner & continue downstream, sometimes ankle-deep in water, sometimes chest-deep, sometimes paddling to keep your head afloat as the river bed drops away beneath you.

We pause and our guide points out a few stallegmite formatioins that remind them of different things: T-Rex claw over here, fairy castle over there...then the crown jewell, a formation that looks like a sheep farmer having a little too much fun with his sheep, doggy-style if ya know what I mean...

We press on despite the fact that I can no longer feel my toes, and the cave gets smaller and smaller, pressing in around us. We are crawling our way thru some spaces now, our guides have given us directions and we are now leading the way, the blind leading the blind...

We duck under another low ceiling into another cold pool, and Ritchie, our Maori guide, runs forrward to a nook in the wall and exclaims, "Check this out, it's Cecil!!" "Cecil" turns out to be a 1.5 foot-long eel who resembles a catfish with no eyes, and who is, apparently, asleep.

I am immediately reminded of the "shrieking eels" in [the movie] "The Princess Bride", an also reminded of the earlier warning at our entry point into the caves...yech...10 feet long, they said, 6 inchess in skin crawls at the thought of such a creature wrapping itself around my leg, and with a shudder, we move on. Bloody uncanny those creatures, seems like they could live anywhere....their grey skin is unnatural, reminding me of Gollum.

We turn another corner and are given a choice....the easy way out, or do we want our money's worth...nobody objects, so we take the right fork and crawl under a tiny gap in the emerge under a 10M waterfall. We climb up one at a time, and squeeze through a narrow passageway to come to another waterfall, and...daylight.

It is with mixed feelings that we greet the daylight; sad that our adventure is coming to an end, glad that we are out of the cold...and on our way to hot showers & soup & bagels...what an amazing experience!

Two hours underground with complete strangers, and we emerge with the strange bond a shared experience creates. We know each other pretty well now: there are the 3 Italian guys who don't speak much English but laugh at everything you say...the Smiling Swiss, Felix, who beamed at you every time you looked his way...the Aussie couple, Danielle and her hubbie The Plumber, true-blue Aussies with that "no worries" attitude that meant they were up for anything thrown their way...Sharon, the British girl who teaches English in japan and was petrified the whole way, but who made it thru, foggy glasses and all...and, of course, Bigi [my Austrian travelling companion at the time], who is just...well, Bigi, making friends with everybody, and loving every minute of it.

What a great day!


No comments:

Post a Comment