The brochure did not mention the eels.
I signed up for underground rivers, rappelling down a deep, dark, hourglass-shaped hole in the earth, green constellations of glowworms, squeezing under waterfalls along the cave wall, ziplining to rock ledges, the lingering spirits of Ruakiri and the ancient Maori chiefs, water up to my neck and the cave roof mere inches over my head, inching my way through holes with names like “Birth”, and climbing up waterfalls to find a way out- but eels? Eels? There are two things in the world I fear: the dentist, and eels. I had even avoided the proudly advertised “tame eels” in random restaurant/eel petting zoos around the country. Welcome to New Zealand.
But as I wade chest-deep through the flowing river two hundred feet below the surface at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the north island, I begin to doubt my decision to sign up for the most extreme Black Abyss Adventure with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Why couldn’t I have gone skydiving in Taupo, jet boating in Queenstown, or hang gliding in Christchurch? New Zealand is so full of adventure sports options, you must prioritize your adrenaline rushes and pick and choose how you will experience the Land of the Long White Cloud. Though I had selected black water rafting because it was an experience unique to New Zealand, I had also literally submerged myself in the only option that would truly make my heart squirm with fear.
I try to brush away the hideous thought of the cave eels (much as they were brushing along my thighs) and concentrated on my ‘cave snack’ of chocolate and steaming hot orange juice, which is surprisingly comforting when surrounded by the apple green glow worms- though cave insiders know what they are really admiring on the cavern’s ceiling is actually phosphorescent maggot feces. The term “glow worm” is just so much more romantic. The three hours spent underground in Ruakiri Cave are unlike any others in my life. This is no walk-through, look-at-the-stalactites caving experience. This is raw, cold, exhausting, and you might just look up that waterfall to the cave exit and doubt you can climb up through it. But you will, and you will emerge back out of the earth changed forever. Beware though: the brochure does not mention the eels.