Depth through thought
OUCC News 11th March 1998
Volume 8, Number 8
|DTT Volume 8 index
Just walking down to our camp site by the sea we passed lovely fluted rocks and small stream sinks, and if I wasn't mistaken at least 3 entrances to caves! After tea, and after dark, we set out to explore these camp site holes. First up a lovely fossil stream passage, that snaked its way into the hillside for just 30m ending in a chamber full of wettas and spiders and a choke. Next an active stream passage choked with branches just a little way in. Two other caves led to pitches, but nobody could be asked to fetch the rope from the car so we settled for a dip in the sea to wash off the spiders webs. I noticed a lovely fluted canyon winding its way inland from the beach and decided that it had formerly been a proper cave and convinced everyone that it was worth a look. Sure enough we soon reached a roofed section, which in turn led to more canyon open to the stars and then another roof and so on for about 100m where it turned into a proper cave passage about 10m high by 1m wide- and marvellously water-worn. We followed! Junctions were passed but a draught showed us the way on. About 100m later after a large inlet passage it abruptly lost height and width, becoming a tight sand-floored rift. I pushed this for about another 50m to a point where it turned 90 degrees at an impassable corner. It was late so rather than dig our way round we retreated, exploring the main side-passage on the way out which led to a superb area of deep gours and an inevitable stal choke. Still, having explored about 200m of proper cave we slept easily.
Next day we told the farmer. He was quite shocked that there were still several hundred square inches of his land that he hadn't known about and admitted that perhaps there could be other caves he had missed! We all agreed and headed off to find them. First we went to the one cave that he had admitted to seeing. This turned out to be a 20m square entrance high in a bluff. Although shortish (about 500m) it was really spectacular with two 20m high columns and a bewildering array of big stals and helictites. Unfortunately it ended in a huge collapse and a 50m scramble up to daylight. Clearly this area had some potential. I reasoned that because of the steepness of the slope most of the bluff wasn't actually visible from the track below so we traversed along it. A biggish spring emerged from a pile of boulders at one point and so I scrambled up above to look for an associated cave. Pretty soon I found a 10m high and wide passage with a bank of stones that sloped down to the stream. I rigged up a handline for the others and soon we were exploring the new cave. Much more complicated than the known cave along the bluff we climbed into a spectacular upper series with some big decorated chambers. Down at the stream a series of high rifts passed some great banks of helictites and led to a deep pool and an a stal blockage that emitted a good draught from a slot which is almost certainly the way on. Another 200m cave and it was still only 11am!
A good stretch on the beach was followed by Al's bright idea to take the "more direct" inland route back to the farm. This turned out to be extremely indirect as we had to negotiate supplejack vines, the local and very unpleasant nettle which makes the British version seem about as threatening as lettuce in comparison and electric fences that seemed to shock anyone who got within 6' of them (the farmer, we later found out, was very proud of his transformer, which enabled him to reach sufficient voltages to power the 100km so of electric fence on his land from a single mains-source in his cowshed!). Anyhow, at one point we came across the valley behind the "known-cave". There were so many obvious holes and Tomos that we didn't know where to start since our energy had been sapped by the hot and humid conditions. I climbed into a hole under a small bush. It went! A nice active stream passage led through a series of decorated chambers. Almost every surface was pure white and stal-covered. Al followed me. It was the kind of cave that would have scored at least 4 pages in Descent if it had been found in the UK, but we were quickly realising that out here it was routine, in fact I would like to name it "Bog-standard cave" Too much stal was this caves down fall though as we reached a point, perhaps only 150m in, where it blocked the way on completely. Totally cooked by the sun we walked the 5kms back to the farm without even bothering to look into any of the hundreds of deep shafts that lined our route.
We met the farmer and told him what we had found. He had news for us too. He and his wife had explored the cave on the beach..."First we waded across the deep pool"...."Whoa! What deep pool?". Although we never found out where they had actually been caving it turned out that it was a different cave altogether to the one we had found the night before, again about 200m+ long. and no more than 50m along the coast.
Next few days were spent looking at some of the known caves of the area...Baby Grand, Creightons Water Supply and the utterly mind-blowing Echo Valley Palace which must be NZs answer to the Cigalère. At Wet Neck, we visited Reunion Hall...an absolute monster of a passage 30-70m high and wide with the usual display of mega-mites and way out of the ordinary pancake formations. We could have happily stayed in Paterau for at least another month, but it is only a tiny corner of NZ and so we headed South to better known Paparoa where we explored more caves and walked/swam some of the great gorges. After a long search we found the entrance to Babylon Cave, a cave we were determined to do if only because in it the Ziggerat is even bigger than Reunion Hall. Problem was that although we could see the entrance from across the valley we never found a path to it. All around there were innumerable entrances, huge sinks and springs and vast tracts of impenetrable forest.
At Karamea we decided to do Hollow Hill, a cave famous for having over 80 entrances and being 30km long. Being NZ's most scientifically important cave (full of skeletons of extinct birds). As with other areas on the W. Coast, the potential is clearly barely touched. A local bush-man told us about how he had seen 30m wide entrances from his helicopter, but had never been able to reach them on foot.
At Takaka Hill, nr Mt Arthur, we found an alpine type cave and followed
it as far as a 50m+ shaft which we had to abandon due to the shortness
of our rope! Profanity Cave, nr Murchison was probably a foolish one to
attempt wearing just shorts and a Tee Shirt as it required some very long
swims in some very cold water as well as a long tight and wet entrance
series. In what turned out to be an exhausting 8hr trip we failed to get
more than half way to our objective at Crystal Palace. Still, full credit
to Karen in particular as she is over 7 months pregnant! I understand that
the next addition to the Gower Caving Group will be a small pushes specialist