Category: caving

Day 12: Waipū

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Caves and Beer

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Waipū Cave

The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)

Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!

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While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.

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glow worms

Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.

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glow worms
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We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.

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On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.

We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.

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Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.

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A Caving Trip!

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Plan B, Day 2 – a bit of an adventure up the Maitai Valley. Starting at the Maitai Dam, this trail took us for 3kms or so along a really runnable, undulating trail.

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Then we hit the river, which we had to cross! Knee deep and about 15ft wide with freezing water! The trail from here on in, as described in the guide was very gnarly, lots of tree roots, narrow, greasy and at some points the stream flowed along it. So we sloshed our way upwards as the path climbed through beautiful woodland.

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After a couple of kms (less than the signs indicated) we arrived at Maitai Cave.

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I ventured in to explore while Jo and Paula waited outside for me. I could hear the stream from above and it sounded like there was quite a lot of water. Difficult to see initially how far down the climb was to get to it and how much of the passage it filled. I clambered down greasy, muddy boulders making tentative use of the rope that was belayed around the rock that wedged across the entrance.

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Landing in the ankle-deep stream at the bottom I could see that it emerged from a small opening directly ahead of me. I looked to my right first to see what was there but after a few steps saw that there was no way on. I ducked down and could see that it was possible to get into where the stream was emerging. I crawled into a short passage that only went a few metres. the water seemed to be coming from under the rock wall.

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On coming back out, I followed the stream (all of 2 – 3 metres!) to where it disappeared underground – a couple of tree trunks were wedged in the stream.

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Turning around to my right, I looked up and saw that there were more boulders with a piece of tat hanging down. Above them was an aven. I climbed up, inspecting the rope carefully as I may well need it to get down again. The floor was strewn with large boulders, mostly covered in greasy mud and knowing that Jo and Paula were waiting outside I decided not to go any further. It didn’t look like there was a way on.

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Shining my light upwards I could see that the aven was about 30 ft high but difficult to see if there were any stals. Apparently Maitai Cave is the home to a very rare snail but I couldn’t see any pools that it could have been in – all water I saw in the cave was flowing quite fast!

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I was quite cold by the time I clambered out, very muddy and wet! We made our way back down through the forest. It really is a beautiful trail. The river flowed on our left and we soon came to a point where the path met the river and by then I was warm enough to give myself a bit of a wash and get rid of the bulk of the mud!

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It took us about 2 and a half hours in total to do the 11kms and 20 minutes or so of cave exploration. The sign at the start says it is 13km and will take 5 hours. However, we did run all the runnable parts (approx 6km).

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