The Lost World

And now back to our previously scheduled posting……

Imagine yourself dangling 100 meters in the air then trekking through a dark, underground river system, scrabbling, jumping, hanging, climbing, wading and sometimes full-on swimming for seven hours until you reach the light at the cave entrance several miles away.  That is what Francesca and I did with Waitomo Adventures on their “Lost World 7 Hour Epic Adventure”.  It was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

Fran and I all geared up with wet suit, helmet, headlamp and gumboots. Not sure why they gave me the wet suit with the hot pink lettering….

After a short van ride and an even shorter walk Francesca and I (and four other clients) found ourselves staring into the abyss of an enormous cavern which is one of the few entry points to “The Lost World”.  I am not generally afraid of heights, but standing on the platform and looking down was more than slightly unnerving (despite being clipped into our harnesses).

Getting ready to descend the 110 meters (350 feet).  This was the scariest part of the abseil as we could not yet feel the safe pull of our harnesses and we had to fall back onto this metal bar and sit there while our guides Ryan and Tony checked all our gear.

Incidentally, while the name “The Lost World” sounds like it was the marketing brainchild of the Waitomo Adventure Company, it is actually a name bestowed upon this underground river (one of the many cave systems in the Waitomo area) by early explorers of the cave.  They thought it looked like some prehistoric landscape and thus named it “The Lost World”.  It’s very aptly named as you’ll see.

Another note of interest, no matter who discovers these caves (and they are still discovering new ones in Waitomo all the time) they belong to the owners of the land who are typically old New Zealand farmers.  They don’t have any interest in setting up a tourist business so they lease the land to one of the gazillion tour companies that offer cave exploring and also get a cut of the profits.  A pretty nice deal for doing absolutely nothing.

The Lost World

Fran and I preparing for our descent.

At 110 meters (350 feet) The Lost World abseil (essentially the same thing as repelling) is apparently the farthest abseil into an underground cave system in the world.  So that’s saying something.

From L to R:  David and Charlie (yes, that’s a girl) from the UK, Tony, one of our guides (a wise cracking maverick with a penchant for making fun of Americans), Fran and me.

After the initial fear subsides the trip down (which took about 30 minutes) was quite enjoyable.   We asked Tony a whole host of questions while we took in the amazing view below us.

Fortunately our other guide Ryan was first to the bottom with his group of two German clients, Chris and Christian so he was able to snap photos of us as we descended.

Once at the bottom we had lunch which consisted of sandwiches and various sugary cookies and cakes.  We would be expending a lot of energy in the next seven hours and so we needed to fuel up.

Lunch in The Lost World.

After chow we made our way up through the undergrowth (at some points clipped into support cables because of the steepness) to the start of the river.

Actually, it was the end of the river, but the start of our journey – we would be traveling upstream!

Me trying to climb up the waterfall….not a lot of mobility in a wet suit I found.

We climbed up a waterfall and then took some fun photos with the light from the abseil section as the background.

Here I am with Franny doing my stalwart explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton pose.

Then we were off and for the next six hours or so we swam through eel infested black waters (no joke!), jumped from subterranean waterfalls and cliffs…..

…..climbed ladders…..

….saw interesting cave formations….

…..jumped through holes into the water below….

After we had hauled ourselves hand over hand up a steep rock face Ryan & Tony made us shut off all of our headlamps so it was absolutely pitch dark (you could literally not see your hand in front of your face) and had us jump through the hole in the photo above about ten feet to the river below.   The hole was narrow so you had to be sure to keep your elbows in tight once you started to drop.  They also warned us that the water was not very deep at the moment so we should pull up our knees when we jumped and land in a cannon ball fashion so as not to hit the bottom.  It was probably one of the most terrifying things I have done – to jump into the unknown and not be able to see what’s below or how far it is.  You definitely feel alive at that moment.

There were sections that were so narrow and the force of the water so strong that we had to use the Tony’s thigh and a rope to get passed it.

One section was blocked by a huge boulder and the only way to continue was to go under it.  I am not generally claustrophobic, but this was a VERY tight squeeze as you can see from the shot above of Francesca’s head coming through.  I only wish Tony had taken photo of the entire boulder so you could see what a massive thing was sitting on top of us.

At one point, apparently just for shits and giggles, Ryan and Tony made us turn off our headlamps and navigate our way through waist high water in the pitch dark just by following the right cave wall with our hands.  They told us that the first one to give up and turn on their headlamp had to buy a round of drinks at the bar afterwards.  You heard a lot of helmets banging on rock accompanied by a lot of cursing, but we made it through to the next section which was one of the most amazing natural spectacles I have ever seen……the glow worm cave.

There are a gazillion tour operators in the Waitomo area specializing in glow worms and all the ads depict these cartoon worms with faces and glasses gesturing to come on and see them.  So I expected it to be pretty lame, but they are absolutely magnificent.  We all lay back on a rock ledge with our helmet lights off and stared up at the roof of the cave and ooohed and ahhhed like druggies on acid over the bioluminescence lighting up the cave.

We weren’t actually in boat.  This is a photo from another glow worm cave in Waitomo.  Ryan & Tony didn’t take any photos of our glow worms so I had to insert another to give you an idea of how amazing they look. Although this picture doesn’t really do it proper justice.

The story of the glow worm is actually quite interesting.  First of all they are not worms at all, but rather insect larvae.  Didn’t know that, did ya?  Neither did we until Tony told us their story as we lay on our backs watching them glow.  They glow to attract flies (yes, there are apparently flies in the caves) which, as we all know, are attracted to light.  Actually, I thought that was moths, but okay, I’ll go with it.

These glow worms (which are only found in New Zealand and Australia) have long stringy tentacles hanging down from their long, slender bodies which ensnare the flies when they approach the light.  Then they wrap ‘em up like a spring roll and devour them.  Now get this, the way that they produce the glow is a chemical reaction to their waste production.   That’s right, it’s their poo that glows!  They don’t have an….a-hem….anus to excrete their waste product so they burn it off via this chemical reaction that then produces the glow, which then attracts the flies which then provide nourishment and ultimately turns into poo which starts the whole cycle over again.  See, I told you it was a fascinating story.

This is not actually a photo of our group, but it gives you a good idea of what these little critters look like up close with their long tentacles hanging down to ensnare their prey.

Oh, and one more thing.  There is a cruel and ironic end to their story.  When the larvae mature they turn into flying insects that look like huge mosquitoes.  The males immediately seek a female, impregnates her and then promptly dies.  The females fly around long enough to give birth and then they too die.  But wait, that’s not the cruel and ironic part.   Sometimes as the males are trying to attract a mate to impregnate they get sidetracked by a glowing light in their cave and head towards it…..only to be gobbled up by….you guessed it….other glow worms!  These sons a bitches are cannibals!   Okay, now back to the caves.

After about five and a half hours underground we finally made it to the opening of the cave where it enters from the outside world.

Team photo: Back Row L-R: Chris, Tony, David; Front Row L-R: Christian, Franny, Me, Charlie

Then we had a long walk back to the Lost World hut which was particularly brutal with the hot sun beating down on us and our waterlogged boots and wetsuits.  But they had a hearty meal waiting for us when we arrived which made things all better.

It had apparently been raining while we were in the cave, but a bright sun shone as we emerged from darkness.  On our way back to our lodgings we snapped a pic of a brilliant rainbow with the Waitomo Adventures building underneath.

Later we met our new friends Charlie and David for a few drinks at the local watering hole.  We invited Chris and Christian as well, but they were heading up north right after the caves.  We ran into our guides Ryan and Tony at the bar and bought them a round of drinks for getting us through safely.  They really did a great job.

Then, exhausted, we headed home to sleep as we had an early rise the next morning for our drive back to Auckland and our flight to Sydney.

While I think these photos are excellent there were a lot of sections that Ryan and Tony did not capture with their cameras and a photo can only show you so much anyway.  So I have embedded the Waitomo Adventures promo video for the “Lost World 7 Hour Epic Adventure” (the one we did) so you can really get a feel for what it was like.

This trip was truly a long time coming.  I had read about this exact trip in a magazine called “Action Asia” over fifteen years ago as  a young lad living in Hong Kong and vowed to do it one day.  Consider it fulfilled.

Country Stats:

Official Name: New Zealand

Official Language: English, Maori, NZ Sign Language

Population: 4,351,000 (not including sheep)

Capital City: Wellington

Government: Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy

Current Leader(s): John Key (Prime Minister)

For more information about New Zealand click here.


5 Responses to “The Lost World”

  1. Feeling a little closed in just looking at the pic of Fran coming through that opening. Not sure I could do this.

    • aroljahns Says:

      Yeah, it was pretty scary. i might have balked too if i didn’t want to seem like a puss in front of my wife. 🙂

  2. Francesca Says:

    Was awesome, except for the umpa lumpa outfits.

  3. looks absolutely awesome would love to do this – why is fran smiling and beaming throughout while your face is going through every emotion from a to z ? 😉

    • aroljahns Says:

      haha! Good observation Jules. I believe that is my acting skills at work. I rarely take a straight smiling shot….i usually feel compelled to throw in a quirky face of somekind.

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