We were in the Black Water Rafting car park by 8:45am having had breakfast and was raring to go. Fortunately not too many people fancy this sort of activity this early so there was only one other couple booked in and of course they were English too! We met our guide, a lovely guy called Monkey (not sure that's his real name!) who kitted us in full body wet suits, thermals, jackets, boots and helmets and we were raring to go.
After a short drive to the cave entrance we collected a giant tractor inner tube and gathered round for a quick safety talk. That didn't last very long and Monkey gave us a rough itinerary of what we would do in the next three hours. We had to do a little test to make sure we could handle what was in store for us. This was the scariest part of the morning for me! Monkey wanted us to jump off a little jetty 10 feet into the river below ... backwards! This was because we would have to jump off a couple of little waterfalls in the caves. So we all placed the tube behind us so our bums were in the hole then had to fall backwards into the river and land inside the tube. We all did it but I wondered how I was going to manage in the dark! The water was freezing and we were told it was going to get colder in the caves. Lovely!
Off we went into the unknown. Monkey helped us through the entrance into a small cave where he took our photos with a waterproof camera. We sat for a little while and let our eyes adjust and ensured none of us were going to freak out and discover new phobias of darkness or claustrophobia. Thankfully we were all OK although there was a nano second where I didn't think I was going to be able to coping with seeing absolutely nothing but our torches were quite bright, my eyes readjusted and the sensation passed very quickly.
Our first task was to make our way through a passage where the water was very high, only giving us a few inches of space between the water and the ceiling. We had to lie flat on our tube, either forwards or backwards and use the walls to pull ourselves along. That was great fun and we loved that. We came to our first waterfall quite quickly and all four of us performed our little backward jumps without any problems. We had to jump backwards because if we didn't clear the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall we would bang our boots against them rather than our heads. The trick was remembering not to jump upwards as the caves were so low!
We spent a happy hour navigating fast and cold waters with a tube, sometimes walking or crawling along, other times floating. We had to be careful where we stepped as Monkey would warn us there were holes in the floor which were often six feet deep or deeper and filled with water, something none of us wanted to experience!
We stopped for a tea break and we were given steaming hot chocolate and chocolate marshmallow fish, which our lovely Guide had carried in an airtight container, very yummy. There's something quite strange about having a hot drink in the freezing cold and darkness! We were asked to turn off our headlights and Monkey explained how glow worms formed, which we could see on the walls around us, once our eyes adjusted, but there weren't very many to see.
Eventually we came to our second waterfall, the biggest one in the caves. Here the ceiling was really low and there were a few rocks at the bottom so Monkey had to help us by pushing us out in our tubes to ensure we cleared the bottom. We couldn't actually see what we were jumping into, which all added to the excitement (if you could call it that!) I did leave my stomach at the top of that jump but quickly found it again.
We all formed an eel by looping our feet through the person's arms in front of us (whilst floating on our tubes of course) and off we sailed down this giant cave in the dark (lights off again) with Monkey pulling us along. Before we knew it we could see thousands of glow worms hanging from the ceiling above, which could only have been a few metres above us. It was like looking at the night sky and seeing all the stars twinkling away, only brighter and better. They were absolutely beautiful and we were the only people in the cave so it was so quiet. It was like something you read about in books it was so amazing and they kept coming as we sailed along the water for a good few minutes.
Our adventure was almost over now and we paddled though the water on our tubes for another ten minutes. It started to get lighter and we could see another opening straight in front of us. This was quite an entrance and it stretched up high and was quite deep as well. At first the natural light was really bright and it hurt our eyes but they adjusted quite quickly. We begrudgingly got out and walked not happy our tour had come to an end so quickly but Monkey let us jump into the river again in front of a really big new group who all looked a little nervous after seeing us, and he performed a little acrobatics and did a roll in the air, landing in his tube. Show off!
We drove back to the base and pulled off our gear and ran into the showers. The water was cold, almost as bad as the cave water and we shouted for the temperature to be turned up. Unfortunately the boiler had broken at some point during the night and there was only what was left in the hot water tank. The water got warmer but not hot but we made the most of it, feeling smug at yet another reason why it was good to be on the first tour! There would be some unhappy cold campers later!
As part of the costs we were given free soup and bread to help us warm up. Delicious it was too. Monkey said goodbye and we chatted to our new English friends while we ate, swapping stories. We had all finished but were still slightly peckish so we all agreed that as there were only four of us and not ten we could have another mug of soup as they hadn't served ten portions. We are travellers after all and we make the most of free food!!
We waved goodbye and off we drove to Hobbiton, or Matamata as it is formerly known. We luckily arrived half an hour before the final tour of the day so we had a late lunch after buying our tickets and waited to board yet another tour bus.
I can't say very much about our little tour of this film set because they are busy preparing for another film (hmmmm, wonder what that could be?!) and we both had to sign contracts in which we promised not to share photographs on the Internet, hence the lack of photos. What I will say is once again we had a very funny guide (who looked like Brendan), whose name we have forgotten (as we kept calling him Brendan!) but he was hilarious and shared with us some very funny stories of what filming was like for the three previous LOTR's movies.
It was a very enjoyable couple of hours, and I once again was quite star struck at being in a place where filming for three blockbuster movies took place, despite not seeing any movie stars. The attention to details that was taking place in preparation for the next movie was incredible and makes my perfectionism laughable! We're talking about plants having to be moved millimetres and grass around stones having to be a certain length etc.
Time to drive again! We wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing with Stu and Tracy on Saturday but the weather forecast was predicting snow and strong winds so we decided we would do it on our own and meet the Archer's in Taupo instead. This meant tomorrow we would need to be in Tongariro National Park and rather than spend all day driving we really wanted to spend a bit more time in Rotarua so we drove another couple of hours back to the smelly town and arrived just before Sunset. We called in at Hell's Gate, which is another Geothermal village and a Spa, and we booked ourselves in for a mud bath in the morning.
We camped next to one of the small lakes away from the town and had an early night, both exhausted from the adventurous morning and the amount of mileage we had covered.