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Most of Waitomo's subterranean adventure tours involve black-water rafting—that is, floating through the underground caverns on inflated inner tubes, dressed in wet suits and equipped with cavers' helmets. Be prepared for the pitch-black darkness and freezing cold water. Your reward is an exhilarating trip gliding through vast glowworm-lighted caverns, clambering across rocks, and jumping over waterfalls. There are also dry options. Some tours involve steep rappelling and tight underground squeezes. Each company runs several trips daily.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Most adventurous types can handle the basic, three-hour Black Labyrinth trip (NZ$125), which finishes with a welcome hot shower and mug of soup back at base. Then there's the more challenging Black Odyssey (NZ$175), with four hours of twisting and turning "dry caving," and the five-hour Black Abyss (NZ$225). Though the guides and the underground scenery are great (you'll learn caving techniques from experts), these are staunch physical and emotional challenges and can be scary. Departure times depend on demand. 585 Waitomo Caves Rd., Waitomo, 3977. 07/878–6219 or 0800/228–464. www.waitomo.com.
Kiwi Cave Rafting. Thrill-seekers can venture down below on a five-hour combo adventure that includes rappelling, black-water rafting, rock climbing, caving, and checking out the glowworms, pretty good value at NZ$225. Or you can keep dry on a three-hour tour (NZ$125) that still includes the thrilling rappel. 95 Waitomo Caves Rd., Waitomo, 3977. 07/873–9149. www.caveraft.com.
Waitomo Adventures. Five different trips with these caving enthusiasts release serious adrenaline. A challenging 100-meter (328-foot) rappel into the famous Lost World cave system is spectacular—not just for a thumping heart, but also for the underground landscape, illuminated by daylight sneaking in a couple of surface openings. Other tours include TumuTumu Toobing (climbing, swimming, tubing, and rafting), Haggas Honking Holes (rapelling, rock climbing, and crawling), and the seven-hour Lost World Epic (rapelling, wading, swimming, and climbing). These caves are a little way out of the main Waitomo tourist center, beneath picturesque farmland. Book ahead for discounted prices. Waitomo Adventure Centre, Waitomo Caves Rd., Waitomo, 3977. 0800/924–866. www.waitomo.co.nz.
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