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New Zealand Geographic and Heritage Expeditions invite readers to experience some of New Zealand’s most remote southern shores on our next special voyage. Departing on March 1 2024, the eight-day itinerary combines three amazing destinations - Stewart Island, Fiordland and The Snares - into one journey, with ex-director general of DoC and renowned conservationist Lou Sanson joining as our onboard expert.
Gather your wits, caver, and brace yourself for a squeeze. No other moment epitomises the caving experience than writhing headlong through a space too small for your body—this one just 35cm at its widest. In the uncompromising embrace of limestone, the caver must control their mind as much as their body, and push through.
The landscape underground rivals that above in every way. At Twin Waterfalls, two cascades tumble through a cavern and then join the main flow of the river. The water is clear, but the limestone opalescent under lights.
Harwood's Hole connects to Starlight Cave after a series of tortuous squeezes and rocky descents. Suddenly the caver is surrounded by stars—a galaxy of tiny flecks of glass-like mica embedded in the rock that reflect the torchlight. The last stretch is a scramble around the river, a long wade out to the mouth of the cave, and the relief of warm air and daylight.
Shorty's Terror is enough to frighten the hardiest soul. The massive cave narrows to a tube and the cave floor descend into unfathomably deep water, leaving the caver no option but to cling to the roof, walk on the walls, brace above the thrashing river. Meanwhile the pressure difference from one side of the mountain to the other creates a gale-force wind the howls through the passage, which then narrows to a 'squeeze'. It's sensory overload, and not in a good way.
After climbing out of the Starlight Cave, there are two options for cavers—huck your gear up the rockfall and walk for kilometres, or take a tin pigeon. We opt for the second option, which requires the pilot to expertly balance the machine with one skid on a rock while gear and cavers are loaded... keeping a weather eye out for tumbling boulders coming down the rock fall.
Cavers light up the interior of a massive chamber, some 60 metres across and just as high. The ground is covered in boulders the size of small cars, all of which have tumbled down the slope or fallen from the roof of the cave above, vaulted like a gothic cathedral.
Some 260 metres below the surface, cavers make camp in a dry crook of the cave system known as The Boudoir. In one corner is a memorial cairn to Peter Lambert, who lost his life exploring the cave. His helmet is still there, punched through by the rock that tragically killed him—a sobering reminder of the hazards for anyone who ventures here.
Caver use a rigging technique called a Tyrolean traverse to swing gear—or themselves—between two fixed points across a river or ravine. This can be improvised to sling gear between two people over water in a cave, but it takes some teamwork.
A through-caver takes what they need for one, hard day of caving, passing though the system without stopping. But to overnight, and film along the way, the team needs camera equipment, lighting gear, tents, provisions and cooking equipment—some 25 kilos of gear for each caver to hitch to themselves for the descent.
As the caver gets close to the bottom of the 176-metre abseil, the relative weight of the remaining rope gets lighter and lighter. To avoid speeding up and plunging to the cave floor, the abseiler must compensate by wrapping their leg around the rope to create more friction, or rely on a partner beneath them to apply tension to the rope and belay them down.
Named for the original landowner, Harwood's is a 176-metre-deep chasm, that falls like a well into the marble heart of Takaka. The caver must ease themselves into the steep entrance, then transfer from one rope to another—while suspended over the hole—before beginning the long, slow descent.
Local Tim O'Donnell turns the power of the infamous Westport Bar in his favour on a foiling surfboard. Born at Lake Rotoiti at the top of the Southern Alps, the Buller River runs west to the coast, spilling into the Tasman at Westport (originally called Buller). Māori lived here in the 14th century, trading pounamu, with sealers, gold miners then coal miners arriving from the 17th century—the river and port serving them all.
Kayakers take on the rapids on the Hokitika River, expertly guiding their inflatable pack-rafts downstream between the rocks. The art to prepare yourself before the rapid, the paddle hard at the ‘V’ formation of water which signifies the main channel, and the best chance you have of a smooth run through.
The Hokitika Gorge is one of the highlights of any visit to The Coast. Glacier ‘flour’—the fine powder that is the result of ice grinding rocks to a pulp—suspended in the water paints it a luminous turquoise. The river is also favourite run pack-rafters, a fast-growing sport of enthusiasts who walk in to remote rivers, inflate their craft and paddle out.
The narrow channel that separates D’Urville Island from the South Island mainland has the fastest tidal current in the country, reaching eight knots (15 km/h, or 4 m/s). It can be treacherous for vessels, which can only navigate the pass at slack water.
The western coast of Enderby Island cops the full fury of the Southern Ocean—swells that circle Antarctica more or less unimpeded until they reach this shore. In front of you are megaherbs—massive, lush vegetation that bursts into flower every summer, which are actually members of the carrot family. Above you, albatross ride the updraft off the cliffs, slingshotting around the weather side of the island.
Heritage Expeditions organised New Zealand's first commercial expedition to the Subantarctic Islands in 1989. Over 100 expeditions later, 'Galapagos of the Southern Ocean' has become one of its signature voyages and now New Zealand Geographic and Heritage Expeditions are inviting readers to join a special voyage from 30th December 2023 - 10th January 2024 with zoologist, conservation biologist and wildlife photographer Prof. Murray Potter as the onboard expert.
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