I actually did wake up for New Year's. A bunch of people decided to count down the last ten seconds. I took a picture at midnight just for posterity, but, as it just involved me looking sleepy in the tent and also managed to extend as far as my underwear, I do not feel it needs public attention.
Needless to say, I celebrated by going directly back to sleep.
The rain persisted until early morning, but by the time I stepped out of the tent, the sky was almost cloudless.
I might have picked a better day to spend five hours underground, but I guess you just roll with it. It was quite nice, regardless. My usual muesli and milk, a bit of washing up, and off I went. The Blackwater Rafting place has its own cafe, which just happened to have coffee.
This is spectacular coffee, not necessarily due to its quality, but due to it being served in a full-size bowl. Well done.
At 11:00AM, my small group was called down to change into an outfit the likes of which have not been seen since bad '60s Marvel Comics.
I immediately dubbed myself "Captain Medium". The white galoshes really set off the red helmet and purple short-shorts (can't really see them due to the blending in with the black of the wetsuit). My superpowers include "Always being handy with a light" and "having a habit of wearing extra-medium shirts". And getting on the short list for appearing on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. As the straight guy, for any of you excited about this potential comment set up.
Into the cave we go. Unfortunately, they did not allow my camera in, and I figure the flash would kind of give it away if I tried to bring it in. The reason behind this, according to the lady behind the counter who recited an obviously stock answer, was for "safety reasons". I realized at the end of the trip that the safety in question was the health of their picture CD business, as the guides brought a camera along for snapshots that were available afterwards for the low, low price of NZ$20. Gritting my teeth, I bought one to bring to all of you the drama and action that I experienced.
My group, hardened into a highly-trained force in a way that only 10 minutes of rappelling practice can.
It started with a bang, a 100-foot vertical rappel into the cave.
Captain Medium drops into the depths to save yet another hapless innocent!
The rappel was wild. It became very narrow about 20 feet down, almost touching chest and back. Then it suddenly opened into the roof of a massive cavern - part of it I could not even touch the wall with my feet. After that bit of adrenaline, I sat while the others came down one-by-one and watched the glowworms on the cave wall.
Glowworms, in the light, are ugly little wormy larvae that hang strings of mucus with a mild paralytic agent on them to catch insects. Gross. But in the dark, they cluster on walls and ceilings and have a tiny, greenish-blue pinpoint of light that looks like stars. Later on in the cave, one of the guides demonstrated that sound vibrations trigger them to brighten by slamming an innertube onto the water. Very cool.
Anyway, it was off down the tunnel to come to a sudden dropoff. There was a dual rope heading off into the lofty and open cavern. It became apparent that this was a zipline, and was done best in the complete dark.
Very exhilarating. It went for about 100 feet through pitch black. It seemed that I would slam into a rock wall at any moment. Actually, I did - my feet hit the limestone just before stopping. Just wasn't made for 6'6" guys. No harm done, though.
Waiting to hop into the frigid underground river. The guides were kind enough to serve hot tea and a quick snack to give us some shiverin' energy.
From that point, it was a 10-foot leap off into the underground river, and a tour of the large cavern by innertube. The glowworms really were out in force here, the roof of the cavern as we floated lazily down the river in the dark was reminiscent of looking down onto a city at night from 30,000 feet.
From there, we followed the river by hiking (too shallow for innertubes in most spots) and swam in a few areas.
Kicking back in the underground stream. Hot tang was served, which is a totally undervalued beverage in my mind. Tasty.
From here, we headed on a side passage toward the exit, but first had to do a bit of climbing up and over waterfalls, each of which was over 10 feet tall and flowing rapidly. Some snaking through small passageways and we were out.
First out. Sun was nice and warm after the chill of the stream.
Overall a really fun experience. Too bad they wouldn't let my camera fly, though. The canned pictures were kind of boring, unfortunately - no action shots of climbing a raging waterfall or battling the angry giant cave bear with only my headlamp and steely resolve (I mentioned that, right?)
Anyhoo, they had warm showers and warm soup/bagels afterward. And then it was off to Taupo.
The day had not changed during the five hours underground - still picture-perfect blue sky. Not so picture perfect that I took LOTS of pictures, but nice.
The general terrain, which is generally farmy on the way to Taupo. Almost no traffic.
Man, I wish I had saved my stock effluent rather than dumping it on that swimming beach.
Made it into Taupo fairly late, but they had one tent site left, and so here I am. Dinner was a carbon copy of last night's pasta and tomato sauce, and I did a bit of reading. Whee! Off to bed, trying to decide what nifty thing I am going to do for tomorrow in Taupo.