Expedition write-up by Ian.
If light intensity fades, check for mud.
On this page: Equipment | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Links
Click on photos for larger versions (for most of them, anyway).
The question I (Ian) was asked in the middle of last December was "when r we (me and u) going camping 2gether next?" Persistence pays off – it took a while but we finally got things together and off we went, packing the car with all the gear we could think of.
Equipment making a reappearance from last time included:
New toys, I mean equipment (some bought to test on this trip) included:
All the new toys performed very well, with the picnic table particularly useful. It gave us somewhere to sit, somewhere to eat, somewhere to get food ready, somewhere to just put stuff, and gave our camp site a focal point. Fantastic. It's definitely going to be taken next time.
The rope didn't get used for cave exploration, but it was very handy for stringing up the solar shower, and both the rope and the shower duration were long enough to be quite usable.
The CFLs, which have been tested in other situations and found to work very well, were (as expected) very handy.
We didn't seem to have as many problems getting the tent pegs in this time, and we didn't miss the hammer I hadn't brought.
It's great when things work well, and this was a great trip in that respect. Everything worked very well, and was very useful.
We left Auckland in rush-hour traffic, and it was just crawling some of the time. Dinner, well after nightfall, was in Warkworth at our favourite K & J Takeaways.
The most noticeable differences in the camping site when we arrived were (A) the long grass, indicating no sheep have been there for a while – yay! – and (B) the absence of some of the large rocks from under the trees around where we had camped previously. We think they may have been taken by the people making a new subdivision a little along the road, but it probably does improve the site for camping. We got to bed around 10pm.
I spent Thursday morning putting one of the Cree LEDs on the front of my caving helmet to supplement the Luxeon K2 already there. It looked pretty bodged, but boy it was bright. Alexander meanwhile found what we think was exactly the same spot on the tree as last time to hang up our rubbish bag, and got the perfect mix of scroggin ready.
While we were getting ready to go caving on Thursday afternoon a couple of American tourists, Greg and Andy, turned up and asked if we knew anything about the caves. We certainly did, and we got to talking. Most tourists last less than five minutes in the cave – "I didn't know it would be so dark" or "We didn't think we'd need torches" – but these guys seemed different. After a bit of discussion it seemed like they were up for a bit of adventure so I invited them to join us. They had headlamps and I donated a cap for the cause to help protect Andy's head. (Maybe the taller Greg should have had it!) I don't remember either of them ever complaining about bumping their heads. Great guys, and not expecting much from the cave – I told them it's only a few hundred metres long – we headed on in. They were in for a pleasant surprise.
Andy, Greg and Alex, ready for the first cave, Thursday afternoon.
The Cree was certainly bright, and I had no trouble navigating by only its light. Unfortunately one of the wires came off during the first couple of hours in the cave. I ripped a piece of duct tape off another part of the helmet and stuck the wire back in place. It continued working fine. Jury-rigged lights are great.
The first surprise for the Americans was the largest stalagmite in New Zealand, just inside the entrance. Then we found a couple of people abseiling down from the ceiling, whom Alexander and I had met earlier in the day when they were getting ready. Shortly after, and very probably out of range of most sub-5 minute tourists, is the glow worm wall, which as usual was quite impressive, giving off enough light for us to be able to see each other after we had dark adjusted. We continued with a bit of climbing and exploration, wandering along a reasonably open passage, and squeezing along a very tight passage.
Alex, Greg and Andy after the first serious squeezing.
We took a break after a couple of hours, so I made some adjustments to my headlamp and we passed the scroggin around. Alexander lost a tooth while chewing some of his massive handful of confectionery, er, scroggin. The tooth was carefully placed in a battery box. It's the second he's lost while on a caving trip, and the third that's been lost on trips I've led in the last year.
We spent 5 hours 23 minutes in the cave, which was about 2 hours longer than I was planning on spending in there. The Americans were great company, and we went through many squeezes and tight passages, sometimes even lying in cold water to get along a narrow tunnel. And we went off the map –- not a bad accomplishment for a couple of tourists a long way from home who just happened to see the caves marked on a map so decided to drop in and take a look.
Five hours earlier that shirt (and face) had been spotless.
It was dark when we got out, and the CFLs made themselves very useful again for getting dinner ready. I used the extension lead and clipped one CFL to a tree branch near the rock where I had placed the gas cooker, while the other was above the table, clipped to the back door of the Forester again.
Strangely the Americans didn't have any sort of stove or gas cooker, and while traveling just had cold meals or used a camp fire. However, they did know how to get a fire together. Very quickly they had gathered wood and were trying to light it. Unfortunately the totara leaves they were trying to light went out too quickly to light anything larger. A few bursts from my two-day-old jet lighter (hmmm, toy or tool?) was easily able to get some larger twigs burning and the guys very quickly had a good fire going (they said New Zealanders use "go" and "going" for all sorts of things) which was used to heat bolognaise sauce while I cooked the spaghetti on our gas cooker.
Dinner was eaten at the folding picnic table, lit by CFLs. We don't exactly rough it. Spirulina and apple juice made a surprise appearance, and while I have to admit I prefer Sparkling Duet it wasn't too bad. They told us after hearing about how healthy spirulina is they went into a health food shop to buy some and the proprietor, a wild-looking man with a full beard, asked them "So how long have you been on the green?" They didn't quite know how to respond (green being a slang term for a certain illegal drug). After dinner Andy very graciously went to do the dishes, for which I was very grateful – I was too tired to even be bothered toasting marshmallows over the fire. Call me zonked.
Alexander contemplating the finer points of marshmallow toasting, Thursday evening.
Alexander's stamina and endurance never fails to amaze me. After almost five and a half hours in the cave he still had the energy to toast many marshmallows, and showed the Americans (over and over) how toasting marshmallows should be done in New Zealand, including the correct use of dark chocolate wheaten biscuits. It was almost midnight by the time Alexander and I eventually got to bed, and I think Greg and Andy were up even later.
The next day, Friday, we had a leisurely start, and the Americans headed off to the Coromandel, about a 5 hour drive away. We finally got around to hanging up our caving gear, stringing up a clothesline that we should have had ready before going into the cave the day before. We chose a different location to last time, and our clothesline rope was exactly the right length for the trees we chose, positioned and oriented to catch the afternoon sun. Perfect. I also filled our solar shower and lay it on a folded blanket in the sunshine to heat, and after a leisurely lunch (and a power nap for me) we used the new rope to try to figure out how we would hoist the shower up in a suitable spot to use later.
A bit before 2pm we headed off to another cave a little down the road. After the intense trip the day before we weren't too bothered about spending much time in that cave, so didn't really push ourselves.
Now, how to get out of this hole... Friday afternoon.
Bassett Rd, a three hour sideways walk, continues to elude us, although with the throw of my Luxeon K2 headlamp we were able to see what looks like the start of the passage. I took a photo but the distance meant the flash was nowhere near enough for a clean pic. The photo below shows a very large and steep mud bank, with a large rock outcrop on the right. The dark opening just right of centre at the top of the photo is what we think is the start of Bassett Rd. But for now, actually getting there is just too difficult, and the Mystery of Bassett Rd lives on.
The start of Bassett Rd?
We spent 2 hours 20 minutes walking and climbing through the cave. Last time we got out of this cave we were greeted by a morepork (a NZ nocturnal native bird) but this time we got out into sunshine, which was a pleasant change.
A couple of hours later, after showers and dinner, we were on the road, heading to Waipu to go to a concert by Steve Apirana and Derek Lind, New Zealand's two best-known Christian blues musicians. (I have a CD from each of them, the Derek Lind one even signed by him.) Derek Lind's guitar playing was just amazing, and Steve Apirana was his normal hilarious self. Unfortunately Alexander was so tired he fell asleep watching. He remembers roughly the first three songs.
We went straight back to our campsite afterward, declining an invitation from some friends (who had also turned up for the concert) to go for ice cream. I paused to fold up the table before entering the tent and Alexander was already asleep when I got in. Another 10pm night, which seems a tad too late considering how much we're doing during the day.
Our main activity for Saturday morning was watching the movie A Series of Unfortunate Events on DVD on my laptop plugged into the car sound system. We blacked out all the car windows with towels and groundsheets, which made for quite a good viewing experience. Alexander's specially prepared scroggin bowls were very nice, too.
After lunch (man, I was feeling tired) and before packing up I decided we should have a sleep, which we both really needed. Alexander slept for two hours!
On the road home, instead of dinner, this time we stopped in Warkworth for dessert. We had managed to go three nights without any, so the pineapple and chocolate mousse tasted extra good.
Getting home, I have to say I feel so de-stressed I'm already looking forward to the next trip. Praise God for great holidays.