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One of my favourite playgrounds is in a world that cannot be seen and most people don’t even know about. Little outcrops of limestone or marble along with streams and rivers emerging from hillsides can offer clues to the wonders that lie beneath your feet. Caving is often thought to be about thrutching around in tight muddy passages and although there is an element of this, the real attraction are the beautifully decorated passages with mind blowing speleothems. New Zealand has world class caves that offer one of the last environments for us to explore, providing any level of challenge, adventure and excitement that you require. Everything from easy to access road side caves that you can spend a few minutes in, to caves in remote mountain ranges that take days to traverse.

View of the entrance pit of Harwood Hole, New Zealand, taken from the bottom. It is 183 meters deep. – Photo By Dave BunnellCC BY-SA 3.0

Although most caves have been forming for millions of years, caving as a sport only really got going in the 1950s but technical equipment, clothing and of course lighting technology were the limiting factors. Being a caver back then required a serious sense of adventure, nerves of steel and a great sense of humour. For some cave exploration this is still true but there are many friendly easy caves to choose from, couple this with modern clothing and equipment and you can have a great day out.

Bulmer Cave entrance room and the first pit, New Zealand. A caver stands near the right edge of the photo. – Photo by Dave BunnellCC BY-SA 3.0

In recent years we have been pushing the boundaries of exploration as we follow in the footsteps of those adventurers before us. A couple of record setters are Stormy Pot in Mt Arthur, which is around 1200m deep and Bulmer Cavern in Mt Owen which is around 72Km long! Both of these caves are still very much open projects with the next big discovery just waiting to be found by the next enthusiastic person.

Cavers are such an eclectic bunch, there are scientists and thrill seekers and everyone in between but it’s the sense of community and doing something different that brings us all together.
Leave your pre conceptions behind and give caving a go, you might be pleasantly surprised!
The best way to get into caving is to join a club as they offer beginner trips and all the relevant training and most of the equipment that you need. There are six official caving clubs, Auckland Speleo Group, Hamilton Tomo Group, Manawatu Speleological Group, Wellington Caving Group, Nelson Speleological Group and the Canterbury Caving Group. The governing body for caving is the New Zealand Speleological Society who also offer training weekends. The links above will get you on the right track.

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