Waipu Caves have been on my list for a while. I’ve driven past the sign a few times now but they’ve never seemed particularly keen. So this time it was just me and James and despite being still ever so slightly hungover from the engagement party in Kerikeri the night before, completely unprepared for caving and wearing a dress we decided to go exploring. Clearly I am not the poster child for cave safety and I do recommend that you read the doc site with all the correct safety stuff that you probably should know.
I had done a bit of looking on the doc website before we went (ignoring a few bits of advice) and had seen that there were toilets at Waipu Caves too. I hadn’t read the bit that said it’s a good 10km+ from the main road or that the last 5km are gravel. Good things to know if you’re just a little bit busting and decide to wait until you get there. Upon arriving it turns out that the toilets were in fact not open. Which also would have been good to know.
Anyway, hid around the back of a tree, tied my dress up in a knot and threw on my trusty Allbirds (they’re great because they are wool so perfect in the water and you can just chuck them in the wash if they get dirty) and I was ready to go exploring in a cave.
The thing I didn’t know about Waipu Caves before today is that they have these amazing pre-historic looking rocks everywhere. They are huge and they have moss growing over them and are in the most amazing formations. It’s really quite other worldly and is worth taking the time out to explore these rocks around Waipu Caves.
The entrance to Waipu Caves is a very short distance from the carpark and despite it being a Sunday in school holidays it was relatively empty. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it’s awesome to be in there by yourself. Bad because it’s good to have some one to ask what to do!
Now here’s a good time to point out that entry to the caves is free. It’s also a good time to jump up on my soap box for one moment and point out that we want to keep it free so make sure that you be a tidy Kiwi and take your rubbish away with you and respect this amazing natural resource. Happily that seemed to be exactly what was happening.
Now because it’s free there’s not a lot of signage (in fact pretty much none) so you’re a little bit on your own in figuring out what to do in the cave.
James doesn’t like small spaces so he opted for staying up on dry land by the mouth of the cave (and if that’s all you feel brave enough to do it’s still a pretty cool experience).
I decided I wanted to brave it on my own. Happily there were some people coming out as we were going in and they told me where to cross (down the foot holes in the rock and cross by the branches if that is helpful at all to anyone reading this).
Because I’m on my own, inexperienced, badly dressed and only have my cell phone torch I only explore the first cave but there are in fact three caves that you can explore but even the gap from cave one to two looked way too scary for me to do alone.
My heart was racing as I set off by myself and I first stepped into the water wondering briefly what lives in caves. A search that I’m glad that I did after going in tells me that bones of bats, birds, amphibians, and reptiles are commonly found in caves – just as long as they’re not the live ones!
I went right to the end of the first cave and it was pretty magical. It’s definitely a place you want to take the time to sit and just be in the moment, especially if you are lucky enough to be the only person in there. I caught a few glow worms on the roof of the cave but it was the stillness, standing knee deep in water taking photos of the stalactites and stalagmites (not sure what those are but apparently they’re in there) and feeling like the only person in the world.
I found that walking in the water made it much less slippery and I ended up doing this most of the time. In time I hear the voices of others and see the tiny figures reflected in the water over the other side of the cave and James yelling out to check if I’m okay and I snap out of my little cocoon in the dark quiet and head back out.
I’m absolutely covered in mud and soaked but it was awesome!
So here’s our 9 tips to get the most out of exploring the Waipu Caves…
- Take a proper torch – preferably one on your head
- Wear shoes with good grip that you don’t mind getting wet (I’m not sure about gumboots as the water is quite deep in parts)
- Dresses are not ideal but will do in a pinch
- Expect to get dirty and wet
- Don’t go in the rain (for obvious reasons)
- Don’t try and take a fancy camera in (it’s dark and slippery)
- If you can take a small tripod for your phone to keep it steady on a long exposure (my photos inside the cave are all taken on my iphone 11 with a little fold up tripod)
- Go with someone experienced if you want to adventure further
- Take a moment and breathe and really take it all in