It ruined my vacation. I had planned 18 days of hiking, at least. I had an aggressive schedule, an ambitious plan to breathe in, soak in as much of the clean fresh air New Zealand offers in their massive amounts of national park land. And I ended it all before I started, with a huge tumble and a splash that sprained my ankle. Wordy, was it a bad sprain. I have a history of frequent ankle sprains, almost yearly; this is one of the worse ones and I almost went into a clinic for it.
For what it’s worth, it was a cool ice breaker. “I almost broke my ankle when climbing up a waterfall to get out of a cave.” Truth.
But it’s about perception. I suspect a lot of people imagine vertical drop of a rock wall with huge Niagara-like foaming water gushing in. So I’ll come clean. We were already inside the cave, so imagine a small rocky cave interior, shaped like a vertical tunnel, where instead of a ceiling the tunnel narrows into an upside-down funnel and that penning curves a little to the side. Water was coming from that opening. The ground was really a shallow pool of flowing water about waist deep. The amount of water pouring in is probably equal to five to ten shower nozzles at full blast, the variation of the strength and volume of water coming and going. I was climbing up the part where the walls start to close in, about 15 feet above the water, so my fall was straight down with the water, no rolling and tumblings down the entire length of rock walls on the way down. I was so close to clearing the wall. Technically a waterfall, yes. Technically rock climbing, yes. Technically a fall, yes. As dramatic as the unembellished statement sounds, probably not.
It was an ugly enough landing, though, for my ankle to take the brunt of the fall. Fortunately, it was at the very tail end of the whole caving expedition, so I had enough in me to get back, shower and drive back to the B&B before I really felt the pain of the ankle.
What an ignominious end to an exciting day. The adventure, though it did take the advertised five hours, the action really lasted about three. It took us about 75 minutes just to get started, getting suited up, getting shuttled over to the cave, lectured on safety, and being given a tutorial and practice time on rappelling. All the exciting parts were smartly packed into a condensed version, also utilizing smart wordsmithing in their brochures to make it feel like long winding non-stop heart-beating activity cascading one after another.
The glowworms, the biggest attraction in the caves, are not worms. To quote our guide, we have all spent big money to see “cannibalistic larvae shit.” The condensed summary is a lot closer to truth than the name itself. I’ll leave it for you to look it up yourself.