New Zealand: Whatipu Caves

You’d think working an entry level job for City Council would ensure the standard 9-5, no over time, off on public holidays kinda life. Not this one!

We’ve been working 50-60 hour weeks in order to meet our project deadline on April 13th, and this Easter Weekend we have to choose 3 of the 4 days to work. It sounds pretty terrible, but honestly, the team is cool and as this is a short 6-week contract, I’m happy to be making an insane amount of overtime to sit here and staple, scan, and click stuff. Tax payer money well spent, if you ask me.

I decide on Sunday as my “holiday”, and am determined to make the most of it. A friend of mine and I decide to take a little day trip out of the city to the Whatipu Caves (pronounced fah-tee-poo) in the Waitakare Ranges (which is an hour away but still considered Auckland – the sprawl of what’s still considered the city is mind blowing), for some hiking, beaches, and cave exploring. I love a good road trip, and the best part of New Zealand is no doubt it’s nature, so I’m stoked!

Sunday is THE day to have chosen to be off work. The sun is shining, it’s 24 degrees, and for once it’s not super humid. Perfection. I’ve never made a better decision. The fresh air blowing in through our open windows is soothing as we drive further and further away from the city, down twisting roads towards green-covered mountains.

We have to spray our shoes with some kind of disinfectant at the head of the trail, in order to prevent Kauri dieback, which is a disease currently destroying New Zealand’s native kauri trees at alarming rates. Some people believe it’s too late to save them. A few popular trails have been closed because so many people have unknowingly tracked the disease into the bush on their hikes. Even after this, apparently, some dickheads believe their leisure activities are more important than the environment and keep using the trails anyway. I don’t want to be one of those people. I confirm with my hiking pal that this isn’t one of those trails because I don’t really want the extinction of a species on my conscience.

It’s not. It’s safe. We’re good. We may carry on. But we do have to spray our shoes anyway. I douse mine….just in case.

We reach the first cave and head inside, leaving our backpack with car keys, cellphones, water bottles and lunch behind. I feel sketchy about it but I’m reminded that I’m in New Zealand and it’ll be fine. True. I guess it’s good in case we get eaten by some freak cave monster, people will at least be able to figure out where we disappeared. Haha. Oh.

Note to self- don’t think about cave monsters while you’re already on your hands and knees in the dark inside a cave.

We squeeze our way in and find an open space where there’s just darkness, except for our two weak little flashlights. It’s cool, but doesn’t go very deep or anything so we move on to the next one. This one is flooded with water, which I am unfortunate enough to discover too late, once my foot is already submerged. We lose the shoes and go ahead barefoot. This is more kiwi anyway! I can’t believe I even brought shoes. How embarrassing. Such a tourist. Ps. In case you didn’t know, cave water is hella cold.

My sneakers aren’t even close to dry by the time we come back out so I carry them. My pink painted toes sink into the hot, soft, and sparkling onyx sand that leads us to the endmost cave.

This one is also a camp site (why it isn’t permanently booked, I’ll never understand), and apparently some dance parties are held here sometimes, too. I’ll be making note to return for one of of those. The main opening is gigantic enough for camping and raves, but we walk to the back and squeeze through the smaller cave openings for an adventure. This one seems to just keep going. We’ve come so far and become so crammed that I’m on my stomach, holding my flashlight with my teeth, inching forward and trying to see if there’s an end in sight, or at least somewhere for us to turn around. I’m definitely feeling a little claustrophobic, and can’t see much ahead of me but I’m pretty confident we won’t die. Not certain, but confident.

I’m terrible with measurements but I reckon we crawl like this for the length of 6 people. So what is that? like 10 meters maybe? before we reach an opening big enough for us to stand and breathe. It definitely doesn’t go any further back than this. We are IN the cave. If we screamed, no one would hear us. We turn the flashlights off and sit in total silence and overwhelming darkness for some time before our eyes start to adjust and we take notice of the faint blue lights sprinkled above us. Glow worms!

Caves are fucking sick. Nature is weird. This is the best.

After staring up long long enough, they start to look like night stars. In such total blackness there’s no depth perception, so the tiny blue worms just above my head may as well be giant balls of fire a million light years away. Same same.

We crawl our way back out to the light and lay in the grass, absorbing and appreciating the sun before turning back on the trail and heading to a nearby beach.

I can’t believe how few people are here today. It’s Easter Weekend! We only encounter a handful of other people the entire afternoon. I swear if this were in Canada there’d be heaps of people in the caves, especially on a day like today. Even at the beach, on a perfect beach day of a long weekend, almost no one. This. Is. The. Dream. We go for beach stroll to a giant rock topped with a lighthouse, then post up for some homemade sandwiches and a sun nap. I can’t tell if I’ve acquired a tan or am just layered with black cave sand…but I like to think it’s a bit of both.

We take our time heading back to the city, sharing good music and taking in the beautiful drive. It’s been a FULL day and I am exhausted, and completely unprepared to go back to work tomorrow. This is the life, though. The kiwis know what’s up. The Monday to Friday grind is 112% more manageable when you can go on mini or medium sized adventures every weekend!

I fully intend to do more of this.

Today’s Expenses:

$20 towards petrol

Free caves

Free glow worms

Free beach

Free packed lunch

On budget af.

6 thoughts on “New Zealand: Whatipu Caves

  1. hello Naomi
    Its nice to see such a beautiful blog. I would like to visit New Zealand. Its on my top of the list of future plan. thanks for the inspiring article about whatipu caves. Really amazing and beautiful destination.

    1. Oooooh girl if you ever get a chance to go find some glow worms, you must! Add it to the bucket list 🙂

  2. What a beautiful day trip and the perfect escape from the office! I must say the smaller caves sound a little scary (im not keen on small spaces) but breathing that fresh air and seeing glow worms and walking on that secluded beach must have been well worth it!

    1. Thanks! Yeah it was beautiful! New Zealand is full of cool stuff like this 🙂 there’s no shortage of day trips and adventures

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