A guest post by Amy Heritage – Thanks Amy!
The next time a guide book mentions a ‘one hour walk’ for people with a ‘moderate level of fitness’ I’m going to regard it with caution. This is how the trek to Rawhiti Cave is described to tourists by the New Zealand Tourist Board. Truthfully, it is a short walk to reach New Zealand’s largest cave opening, but short walks can be deceptive – especially when you’re fighting against gravity. The fourth time I stopped to catch my breath, halfway up the mountain – chest heaving, head pounding, and sweat gushing down my back – I thought, ‘Will I even make it back down?’ Considering all of the hiking, kayaking and farming I had been doing previously – I really hadn’t expected this little stroll to take so much out of me.
I should have been alerted to the fact that this was ‘no ordinary walk’ at the very beginning when, after driving aimlessly in circles in a vain attempt to find the starting point, we finally spotted a tiny, white handwritten sign tied to a post. Were these the official directions? They looked like they had been drawn by a child in art class (albeit a child with very neat handwriting).
After the dubious sign came an even more dubious cross-country journey. We traveled through private farmland, past grazing cattle, and through various gates we had to open and close ourselves, to make it to the ‘car park’ which was simply a field with a sign in it. For the first time I was happy we had bought an ancient second hand car rather than renting a lovely new shiny one.
The walk began in a dried out stream, and it was loads of fun to climb the giant boulders and pretend to be a character from Lord of the Rings. I’m not surprised that this country was the location for the films – all of New Zealand’s landscape has an ‘other world’ feel to it, as though it’s been untouched for centuries, and you’re the first one to discover it. Perhaps this is because it’s one of the ‘youngest countries in the world’ (it was the last habitable mass on earth to be settled on by mankind).
After the stream things remained pleasant – a stroll along a well-formed dirt path took us through beautiful native forest. At one point a little bird hoped onto the path – totally relaxed and seemingly unafraid of us. But after this, probably about 30 minutes into the whole thing, was when it started to get difficult.
The incline is dramatically steep as you zig-zag up the side of the mountain. At one point, the path disappeared, and I was forced to grab hold of a tree root to pull myself up. My calves were burning, and I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. It didn’t help my self-esteem that an elderly couple then strolled down past us, happy as Larry – although they did re-assure us that ‘it’s worth it at the top’.
They were, of course, completely right. The cave is phenomenal – intimidating and beautiful all at the same time. In typical New Zealand fashion, there were no officials around to protect it – just a thin white string marking the path inside. If you’re careful, you can go very deep inside of it – so deep that you wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. But even just standing outside the huge mouth, admiring the millions of stalactites and mites – it was an astounding site. Well worth the trip.
This guest post was written by Amy Heritage. Amy writes about activity filled travels across Europe, Australia, America and China for activityaway.co.uk.