This is a dive I’ve looked at for years and it wasn’t until we had Eric Simmons up from Nelson for a talk at our club, that I had looked at doing it again. The hard part was convincing Nikki that it was a good idea, especially driving all the way down from Tauranga. However after promises of stalactites, clear water and wineries – she agreed!
Parking up early morning, I assembled all the gear that we had brought, not having dived it before I erred on the side of caution bringing sling tanks, guide reels, strobes, spare lights, tripods, which when I found out the hike up to the entrance I had second thoughts about taking. However from the very beginning I made one fatal error! Eric’s words will always stay with me, ‘Do it in a wetsuit, you’ll get too hot in the cave…!’ Dipping a toe into the
entrance pool revealed that my drysuit sitting at home would have been a far better idea than any of the other gear and how he convinced me to do it in a wetsuit is anyone’s guess. As you can imagine it was bloody freezing… I put a brave face on it for Nikki and even carried a sidemount flask of tea to persuade her that it wouldn’t be that bad!
Once submerged, the ice cream headache started but I ignored it and tied on my guide reel. Looking up from about eight metres I could clearly see the crowd and trees on the surface and looking into the darkness I could see as far as my torch penetrated- gin clear! Through the first sump, we didn’t get much more than 10m depth, with plenty of room above and bare rocks it was an easy swim. Tying off my line at the dogleg, I turned round and could clearly see the boulders in the entrance pool, likely to be about 40-50m away! Surfacing here revealed a long chamber that dripped with stalactites that would put Waitomo to shame. With very little rainfall recently, the water level was low; there was a significant dry area that we clambered onto. It seemed like we were miles from anywhere; there was zero ambient light and I had to use my torch light to navigate the rocks and get the gear together. Feeling like a bit of an explorer I remembered the flask of tea and I poured a cup for Nikki. Not impressed she spat it out! Apparently it tasted of tomato soup from its last outing! Not one to waste an opportunity, I poured it down the back of her wetsuit to warm her up!
Into the next sump at the end of the chamber, the cave here shelved down at 45 degrees and had a definite ceiling for a while; however there was always three or four metres of vertical space making it an easy dive. Being a bit longer it was around a five minute swim and dropping to about 10m the dive was 50-80m from he
ads down to heads up. We certainly weren’t hanging around in the water either given the temperature! As we surfaced in the second chamber, it was definately a wow moment. The chamber is huuuge, with a large flowstone cascading down the wall on the left and a boulder slope working its way up the cave. I quickly dekitted and scampered about getting my tripod and camera out its housing, cursing at the moisture from my breath steaming up the lens. Aware of the time, I got a few shots off then we headed up the big boulder slope to explore the top of the chamber. Here another tunnel headed off into the distance, which has been well explored but one for another day! With time creeping up on us we had to make our way back out. Getting back into the icy water wasn’t overly pleasant and we finned our way back through in half the time recovering all the gear and lines as we went. Turning the corner at the dogleg – the light flowing in from the entrance was an awesome an
d welcome site. Surfacing, the daylight hurt our eyes and we welcomed the afternoon sun to warm us up. With no time to spare, Nikki dekitted and rushed down to the car to drive down the valley road so we were able to get phone reception. It had been a good six hours since we left and it was getting close to our ‘start getting worried’ time!
Despite the cold and hassle, I looooved this dive, something very different to the norm and one that is accessible to those suitably trained and prepared. On reflection, this would be much better the second time round, being much more relaxed about the layout and returning with drysuits. I’m already planning the next mission!