A hush of expectation lay upon the land. The black hole yawned at the travellers as they stood gazing at this outcrop with excitement and some trepidation. Seven people, two women and five men, were about to go caving. Forward they would go, into this black hole to attempt black water rafting.
In the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand there is a cave system with the deepest sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere, a freefall of 182 meters. An underground stream dances and tumbles over inky waterfalls. It feeds this dark abyss. Tales of deep glowworm grottoes that can only be reached by black water rafting conjure up a singular splendid vision, to be glimpsed by the few who dare to enter this lost world.
Taniwhas of Maori legends are the underground spirit dragons that dwell in gloomy places. They are protective spirits who help people cope with adversity. When entering a domain of a Taniwha, one offers a green twig and an incantation for safe passage. The group has ample offerings to make and their leader knows the incantation well. The power of positive thinking helps overcome the hidden fear that bubbles forth and embraces this intrepid group of people standing outside the black hole.
Wearing a rubber wetsuit, river shoes, helmet with a light attached and clutching an inner tube rubber tyre, Ginny stares at the offending hole and wonders, ‘what on earth am I doing here?’
Earlier she had met up with a traveler who had climbed Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay. This 72-year-old veteran and his wife were travelling around New Zealand in a campervan. Over a cup of sweet tea, he had told her of the delight of black water rafting and the sublime joy of floating down an underground river into a glowworm cave. His wife offered to mind Ginny’s backpack. Ginny thought that the delights of caving would be an exhilarating experience.
The group slowly crawls into the gaping black hole, single file. With the aid of their headlights, they manage to slip slide and squeeze through spaces that seemed to be carved out by a mighty Taniwha. After an eternity they come to a rushing, gushing waterfall. As they stand on the ledge and look over into the small pool five meters below, their leader shines his torch and picks out a spot in the middle of the pool. ‘Throw your tyre into the pool, then jump!’ he said.
When it is time for Ginny’s epic leap of faith she is instructed to stare at the spot of light and jump only to that point. The leader explains that jagged submerged rocks line this pool. The leader does not fancy trying to rescue someone from this underground playground. Ginny is terrified but she makes the jump. There is no way she is going to crawl back through the labyrinth by herself.
A huge wave of relief sears through her body. Locating her inner tube, she crawls into the tyre and switches off her headlight as per instruction. Darkness engulfs her as the underground river carries her away.
Now she floats into a space where time is suspended. All thought is banished. She enters blackness so total that the ‘self’ disappears. She is the river, the rock, the Earth. She surrenders to the ultimate good will of the universe. As the black water raft carries her through grottoes of glowworm palaces, immense wellbeing and gratitude flood her mind and body. A myriad of beacons on the walls bestow on her an unearthly light. This is an internal earthly galaxy. She floats clear out into daylight, to where the river greets the land.
The travellers lay on the banks of a crystal clear river, deeply thankful that all is well. They are exhausted. Slowly they make their way back to the jeep. The leader tells Ginny ‘If you are traveling up to the North Island, check out the Waitomo caves. The acoustics are so perfect; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa attracts audiences from around the world to hear her song. Excellent black water rafting there.’ Ginny smiles, and offers an incantation to the Taniwha, ‘this is sufficient excitement for one small person. I will not push the river.’