PUKETITI STATION, NZ – 4 – 10 November 2018
So many people had raved about the caving in New Zealand, so when David S decided to put a trip on, limited to eight cavers, I was quick to put my name down. Planning for the trip started 12 months ago, but was complicated by the location of the caves that we wanted to explore … permits to obtain, avoiding the lambing season and booking the shearers’ quarters. But in the end it all came together thanks to David’s organisational skills.David, JV, Jox and I were already in Auckland and drove to the airport on Saturday afternoon to pick up Josette and Ed S, Rob C and Heather R, organise another hire car and then head down south, picking up groceries & wine along the way as, for the next week, we would be an hour away from shops. There was so much luggage, alcohol and food squished into the two cars that you had to be careful when you opened the boot!
Puketiti Station is a large sheep and cattle station near the town of Pio Pio. It has many caves on the property, all within relatively easy access of the serpentine service roads.
The Shearers Quarters (or Single Men’s Quarters), five bedrooms, two bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen, and sitting room (with a wood burning stove). Very cosy. (Photo: JV)
Looking across the sheep paddocks, one of the many service roads on the property and the manager’s residence in the distance. Green hills as far as the eye can see.
Pompeii Cave – (Sunday 4 November) Our first cave of the week would be a relatively short one (2 hours underground), David scheduled Pompeii first because he said if we did it after any of the others (which are much better) we would have turned our noses up at it. And he was right, as it was the first cave, we all thought it was great. Sadly, I didn’t recharge my camera battery (or take the spare battery along), so I only took a few photos!
Group photo where we parked the cars – (l-r) Ed, Jox, David, Heather, JV and Rob.
There was a bit of a walk to get to the cave through the sheep paddocks.
Karst rock outcrops in the vicinity of the cave, there’s limestone everywhere!
“Suiting-up”. The entry is in the middle of the pic, almost down the bottom, at the end of the small creek, behind a rift of blackberry!
Heather in the cave which is a streamway passage there was the occasional spot where you had to crawl through. We were walking in the creek most of the time.
Me, walking along the streamway passage, from time to time you could bridge the two walls to keep out of the deep water. (Photo: Heather)
One of the large chambers. This was a “walk through” cave so we came out in a field and had a much longer walk back to the vehicles. (Photo: Heather)
Kuratahi Cave – (Monday 5 November) underground 3hr 40min – This cave is known for its gypsum formations. It is a turn-around trip, so you walk all the way to the end, then retrace your steps.
Another walk in through sheep paddocks, it blows the mind to imagine how much virgin forest was cleared on these sheep stations, and how much fencing there is (must cost a fortune to maintain it).
The first entry, through some old streamway, then another entry down a rock-pile.
The first section of cave, is just straight walking through the streamway, not many squeezes, passed this nice wall of gypsum formation, but nothing compared to what was to come.
This gives you an idea of the streamway, and imagine how long it took to wear this passage through the cave.
We came to a nice section with a straw covered ceiling, there was a marked route so you would avoid breaking any of the straws with your helmet. We walked through one at a time, and David kept an eye out with the tall people to make sure they bent down at the appropriate places.
There were a few climbs, and some spots where you had to crawl, we were all pretty muddy by this time.
Some sections had glow-worms, here you can see the filaments which are used to catch food for the glow-worms, without the light shining on them, you wouldn’t know they were there.
JV on a climb-down, I went down backwards with the aim of landing one foot on the little stal on the floor, wasn’t easy and then I stressed for the rest of the trip “how would I be able to climb up”, turned out to be easier going up than down, although there was a pool of water at the top that I managed to soak up with my overalls (as I was slithering over the lip of the climb), the others then had a dry run!
To get to the area where the gypsum formations are (called Anthrodites), you have to crawl up a very muddy bank, in actual fact there were a few banks and we explored along some passageways before we found the right one, then you are in a passageway covered with gypsum. These formations grow when water with a specific chemical content evaporates, leaving behind the crystals. They are very fragile and this cave has the biggest display of Anthrodites in the area.
The gypsum formations, or Anthrodites
There are also sections of the wall that have gypsum deposits that look like snow, it’s not very thick, and in some places, gets so heavy that it just falls away from the passage walls.
Jox setting up his camera to take some SLR photos.
We exited the cave and had a late lunch, we were all very muddy but Rob get’s the prize for having the most mud in his boot. Luckily we had brought clean clothes and shoes with us for the ride home!
Grand Canyon Cave – (Tuesday 6 November) underground 3hrs – This was a cave where technically you didn’t even need overalls, you could walk through it in your bushwalking gear! It is a restricted cave, you need a permit from DOC which David had organised. The immensity of the passageway is awesome.
You can see the entrance to the cave from the road, the landowners apparently have given the land surrounding the cave to DOCs as they didn’t want to manage the people who would go through it. As it’s so close to the road, I wouldn’t be surprised if people just rocked up and walked through it. (Photo: David S)
Me walking in, still in the daylight section (photo David S).
In the dark section, this part of the cave is only a few hundred metres long. (Photo David S).
More in the dark section, gives you an idea of the huge streamway passage that it is (Photo: David S)
Towards the end of this section of the cave, there’s a huge muddy part, boot-sucking mud, there was no way to avoid it, and even stepping in someone else’s footprint didn’t save you from sinking to mid-calf.
The muddy section finally ends with a climb up to daylight (me in the photo). (Photo David S).
JV on the climb out up to daylight.
David S, Jox, JV & Rob stayed at the end of the first section, but with a report of 1.5k of additional canyon/cave, Ed, Jo, Heather and I sett off (through trip-you-up scrub) to see some more.
Canyon section, easy to walk through.
Before long we were at another cave.
A bit of a walk down a rock pile and then more chamber, not as good as the Grand Canyon section, but well worth the visit.
A bit of a walk through water only up to your knees, but it was great to see part of the cave system that was totally different to the first large walk-through streamway.
We’d given ourselves 30minutes before we had to turn-around and retrace our steps, we could have gone on for much longer (some of us wanted to do the whole 1.5k!), but the others were waiting for us back at the first cave, and they were keen to finish up for the day. Definitely a cave worth going back to – and do the full length next time, although would be a big day.
Boomerang, Dollar & Briars Caves – (Wednesday 7 November) underground 4hrs 30min. This can be done as either a turn-around trip or a through trip, but if it’s a through trip, it’s a long walk back to the cars, over someone else’s property, so we did the turn-around trip. You actually walk through three small streamways, each with their own name.
The inevitable walk through another sheep paddock.
To access the first cave, Boomerang, you have to drop down into the small creek.
It’s then an easy walk through the passage.
It’s a very small section, possibly only 100m, and you exit up a bank, and cross over to the creek (to avoid some creek walking), dropping down another bank and into another streamway, Dollar Cave.
Dollar cave was really nice, easy walking, no crawling and lovely streamway.
Streamway, with some flow-stone on the side.
More passage-way, as you can see there’s no mud, just nice clean rock to walk on with water only up to your ankles (if that).
Half-way along there’s a daylight hole (you can see the ferns growing from the sunlight that occasionally gets into the cave).
More nice streamway.
We climbed up here out of the cave and dropped over the other side of a rock pile, down into another cave, Briar’s.
Jox descending into the next cave Briars.
Heather entering the cave
Again it was a nice streamway, with rock on the floor.
Some formations as we go through.
A few climbs
A stand-up squeeze
And thigh-deep water in spots (JV on the right emptying out his gum boot)
The way forward became more difficult if you wanted to stay out of the water with much stepping/bridging between rocks.
A bit of white flow-stone
And then a cavern with lots of formation.
Water coming in from another stream. We retraced our steps back out and back to the Single Men’s Quarters for happy hour!
Battley’s Cave – (Thursday 8 November) underground 3hrs. One of David’s favourite caves, the nature of it changes half way through it.
Yet another field of brilliant green grass, this time with lots of limestone outcrops. The entry to the cave was a mere 100m from the cars!
Jo at the entry after a small squeeze that we had to go down.
JV, the tunnel section here was harder for tall people.
More tunnel section in the streamway.
We came to a section that had a really flat ceiling, a slab of rock had just fallen down, there was graffiti all over the ceiling, looked like it had been written with carbide ash.
Lots of water in the tunnel sections.
It almost looks like a machine has gone through and made the tunnel here.
There were a few scramble sections, but not many.
David in the Tunnel, bridging a narrow section.
This was a section where you had to hold onto the wall and reach around to a hand hold to make it across without falling in … I think I fell in and had to swim out.
Nice arty shot of Jo.
JV exiting at the end of the cave, we then turned around and went through it again (if we’d come out here there would have been a very long walk back to the cars.
Ed exiting the cave.
Thunderer Cave – (Friday 9 November) underground 5 hrs – I think this might have been my favourite cave, although it was challenging. This was to be a turn-around trip, we would walk all the way to a waterfall, down-climb the waterfall if we wanted and then come back the same way. I’d been assured by Jox that the waterfall was 2m at the most.
By this time it’s just the A Team (l-r) Rob, Heather, Ed, Jox and of course the photographer, me, JV, David and Jo had decided to have a rest day and wash their stuff ready to come back to Oz Quarantine are apparently very fussy about muddy stuff from NZ. They also did a run into Pio Pio to pick up more wine!
Jox was our “leader” for the day as he had been through the cave numerous times before, Heather is taking a look at the way in (not shoving him in with her foot!)
The cave starts with a rock jumble that you have to climb down.
Part of the climb down.
And then there is a narrow gulch and you walk across on a ledge for quite a way, making sure not to slip into the gulch. This part seemed (when I was going in) to go on for ever, but coming out didn’t seem so long.
Not much decoration but this nice section of straws.
Jox helping us with a bit of a climb-down after we’d visited the straw cavern.
Now we’re down in the actual streamway. All the walls, rocks were covered with a layer of mud and then a layer of black stuff over the top of it. You didn’t dare hold onto any of it, it would just come away in your hands. Jox said the black is some chemical composition, but Heather is sure it’s sheep poo that’s been in the water over the years and has just built up. I have to admit the sheep poo I did see in the fields was very black (along with the cow droppings).
There were very muddy sections and some squeezes.
A few sections where it was easy walking, and then you’d come to quick-sand, or a pool to wade through like this one.
Heather going up a big mud pile, you didn’t want to be the last to go up as everyone’s wet shoes boots made the mud slippery.
And, of course some crawling. By this time I’m beginning to wonder if we’d ever get to the waterfall, it just seemed to go on, and on, and on and a lot of the time I was walking by myself as we’d spread out a little. I kept hearing running water and would get to where the sound was coming from and all it was, was a small cascade! Ed said he was wondering where the waterfall was too.
Eventually we arrived and Jox set up a handline to make it easier to go down and get up. I went down first but couldn’t see where to put my foot after a couple of steps and fell in, Jox said I went fully under water cause he could see my headtorch under water (it would seem to be waterproof, I didn’t know that!)
Rob coming down the waterfall, a lot more skilfully than me!
I swam downstream a little way and got this nice pic of Heather going back up the waterfall.
Once we all were back up the top, we headed back the way we came, it sure was a lot quicker going back!
And, that was the end of our week’s caving … things I learned about caving in NZ …
- My photographs are crap! Must be me, Heather took good photos, and of course the photographers took amazing photos!
- In NZ it’s not necessary to wash your overalls every day (between caves), but take an old pair, that way you can just throw them out at the end of the week.
- My Bestard shoes (bastard shoes), are amazing, the surfaces that I was walking over were incredibly sharp and the soles are unscathed, as are the uppers! Way to go Bestards!
- Even though a lot of the caves are easy to walk through, you still get a fair share of crawling, climbing and mud.
Clean overalls hanging on the line after a week’s caving, ready for Oz Quarantine. My overalls (cotton ones not cordura) were trashed after the week, I threw them out, saved having to wash them.