Alternately titled: Glowworms!
That right there is my boy Matt observing glowworm mucus. Speaking of, I would travel all the way to another hemisphere just to meet another San Franciscan. Ironically enough, he was the only American I met on my travels (and a humble yet high-falutin’ anesthesiologist at that), and we’re practically neighbors. But all the better because I like making friends I can actually hang out with when I return home and relive our experiences. Especially when you meet people dressed like this:
Sexy, no? I mean, everyone looks fabulous in 5mm neoprene. But then, you really know who your true friends are if they’ll still talk to you looking like something that walked out of the movie Aeonflux, but not nearly as hot. We were going to be in some pretty cold caves in 50-degree water in the New Zealand for five hours straight—this from the girl who won’t even plunge into the chilly Pacific Ocean on the rare 95 degree San Francisco day—so it was vital that we all suit up (yeah, Barney Stinson, what up!) accordingly.
(I’m not too sure why I’m holding a dog here, but our fearless leaders Doug and Brydie felt the need to hand us props.) The other two were this lovely English couple who, well, weren’t exactly the toughest of cavers. But their accents made up for the whining, which tends to be the case with most Brits that I know. Before we dropped ourselves into the cave, we had to properly learn how to abseil down a grassy knoll first.
I would say it was harder than it looks, but that’d be a lie. Then, it was time to try the real thing.
I may try to act all hardcore and I really do feel it about 90 percent of the time, but I’d be lying out my ass if I said I wasn’t the slightest bit petrified when I peered below me and saw the fat-man’s-squeeze-type hole I would drop through as I descended dangling with just my own hands guiding me, 100 feet into a pitch-black cave.
That’s British Liz before she properly freaked out. I was the first to descend and once I realized I was actually going to fit through the small opening in the cave, my confidence built and I did a couple Bond-type jumps to the bottom. It was one of the more insane experiences of my life—the glowworms on the ceiling were the sole source of light. The boys, however, did not have it easy. Apparently, the harness squeezed on certain parts in the most painful of ways. Simon literally looked like he was going to burst into tears when he reached the bottom, and Matt drew up a business proposal to copyright crotchless wetsuits. I say it serves them right for not having to go through the pains of childbirth or forking over $65 a month for birth control. After we all made it down successfully, we did a little hiking to our next point of interest: the Flying Fox zipline. Which we also went down, in the dark.
(Liz again.) By that point, we were all properly frozen to the bone marrow, so Doug declared it snack time and popped out a big block of Cadbury chocolate (my favorite!) and some hot Tang, and it was the yummiest tasting Tang I’ve ever put in my mouth (come to think of it, it might have been the only Tang I ever put in my mouth, but details, people).
From there, we were each given an old black tire tube that we had to throw into the raging rapids (bit of an exaggeration—it was pretty mild) below and jump into simultaneously. We then “rafted” up and down the river with just the glowworms for light, and I kind of thought the whole touting it as “rafting” was hilarious, as we were made to wade, drag and kick our way through the cave. There was no current whatsoever, no actual rafting per se, just occasionally floating and kicking, and man, was it tiring. There were even a few freshwater eels that slithered by, and I couldn’t help but think of that scene in The Princess Bride. The shrieking eels! (Luckily, these eels, they were rather quiet.)
There was also whole lot of squeezing through tiny spaces. For somewhere in the neighborhood of three hours, we made our way in and out of caves and waterfalls. Our intrepid leader Doug had us turn off our headlamps at times. As my head grazed the ceiling, I knew why: The spaces were barely big enough for our bodies. Anyone with even a mild case of claustrophobia (read: THIS GIRL) would hyperventilate. I nearly did. Several times.
Finally, finally, after five hours of my feet feeling like they were going to fall off from hypothermia, we, quite literally, saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Hi, Mr. Sun!
(That, apparently, is my welcome-to-the-gun-show victorious pose.) All in all, despite my digits taking hours to regain feeling, would I do it again? IN A HEARTBEAT. In fact, when Scott and I finally make it to the South Island, I think we’re going to have to detour to Waitomo just for this very experience.
*Apparently, abseiling and rappelling are the same thing…who knew? It’s one of these pants vs. trouser type of Britishisms. I kept recapping my adventure as abseiling, and Scott had the audacity to call me pretentious when I just had it ingrained in me that I went ABSEILING and not RAPPELLING. It turns out I did both (I’m a multi-tasker like that). But now when you go to New Zealand, you won’t commit the same faux pas I did. You can thank me after your trip; I accept payment in the form of chocolate chip cookies.
**All pictures courtesy of the Black Water Rafting Co. Such lovely, lovely people! If you go, ask for Doug or Brydie—they rock in all the right ways!