View from our bach

Previously, I wrote about my search for Joe Wellington on the Interislander ferry on my way to the South Island (he wasn’t aboard). But maybe, just maybe, our paths would cross on a trek up to Rawhiti Cave? While I’m searching for my long-lost Kiwi friend (easy to forget this is a TRUE STORY), I’m discovering some wonderful places and the Rawhiti Cave is probably my favourite thus far.

If you don’t remember, my parents were visiting over the Christmas holiday. The five of us traveled to Golden Bay. Our bach had epic views of the Tasman Sea, only a few feet from our doorstep. We enjoyed daily and nightly walks over the rocks when tide was out with white/golden sand that stretched for miles. Seashells washed ashore kept us on our tip toes as we combed the beach for the perfect one.

Endless sea shells
Low tide treasures
Pretty close to perfect!

The sand flies were obnoxious and their bites were not only itchy but painful. So when we’d finally had enough of the lazy beach-bum life (ok, we never got tired of that), we figured we should do some exploring. We plopped the kid into the back pack carrier and headed toward Rawhiti Cave. Locals said it would be an “easy” trek that school children visit as a field trip. If school kids can do it then so can we, aye?

After driving a bit in circles to find the car park (a pasture), we were ready to set off. The bottom of the hike was fairly flat as we crossed the Dry River’s boulders and snapped photos of the Nikau trees that cue the “Golden Girl’s” TV show theme song in my head whenever I pass them.

A slight incline here and there, we managed to stick together quite well, with my husband and toddler leading the pack. We heard a lost sheep calling for its mates somewhere in the bush. I wanted to rescue it but decided to stick with my own herd. As the terrain began to get a bit more steep, a young couple was walking down. We stepped aside on the narrow path as best we could, and asked how high up it was to get to the cave.

“Aw, it’s not too bad,” the guy said. With no resemblance to Joe Wellington at all, I allowed him to pass. Encouraged by their not-so-sweaty state, we carried on.

The Dry River at beginning of trek

About a quarter of the way up, we navigated the trail that zigzagged as we climbed. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath- I don’t know how my husband did it with our boy on his back! We snapped a few more photos as best we could, albeit a bit light headed from the altitude change.

My parents decided to return down the trail after steep jackknifing made all our stomachs wobble. It had rained earlier in the week so part of the trail was slick with mud. Fulfilled enough by the mountaintop views, they agreed to meet us back at the pasture after we found the cave. I wasn’t happy to let them go alone down the muddy slide, but they insisted we finish out the hike.

The part of the trail where we parted ways with the ‘rents

My husband, son, and I pressed on, securing our footing with each steep bend. We stopped for a few hydrating breaks until all of a sudden, BAM. There appeared to be a dark hole in front of us, blocking the trail.

Jagged, rounded spikes greeted us at the opening of the massive cave. We stopped in our tracks, unsure of where we were to step next. There was only one option: enter the cave. The signs posted warned us not to linger at the opening of the cave for fear of falling rocks. My husband was desperate to get our 35 pound boy off his back, but this was no place for a toddler to toddle. Our son, still learning the difference between loud and soft, very loudly yelled, “Is that the cave?”. We laughed as his little voice echoed around us.

One at a time, my husband and I took turns walking the path toward a wooden platform that looked to be floating in mid air, surrounded by stalactite and the sound of dripping water. My legs wobbling as I held on to the edge of the deck, I stepped into the cold darkness and remembered to breathe.

Uh, guys? Where are you going?
Trying to fight the wobblies

Surely if Joe Wellington wouldn’t pop out of there, Gollum would?

I couldn’t stay on the platform for long, only long enough for a photo. Paralysed by the empty darkness surrounding me, I had to work hard to focus my thoughts and be really present in the moment. When would I ever be in the mouth of a cave again? Probably never. Especially never in one of the largest in New Zealand.

When I stepped away, stalactite longer than the size of me, hung above. Dizzy, I sat to catch my breath and take in one of nature’s finest creations. I am so small. You are so much greater than I. Your magnificence is now a part of my very tiny story and I am whole again. Thank you.

In Maori, the word Rawhiti means “sunrise”. This makes perfect sense. We knew the goal of the hike was to see the cave but we really had no idea where on the trail it would be, until right then- the massive opening showed itself like a “black hole sun” offering us the promise of a new day.

I exhaled into the darkness of the cave that has probably heard many a visitor’s breath. I sat at the edge of its expansive opening, ready for it to swallow my fears whole.

Unable to keep our boy strapped into his carrier for much more, we steadied ourselves and left. Heading down the mountain was almost more of a challenge with the slick mud hindering the steps of our fatigued legs. We were thrilled to find my parents at the car basking in the sun with their feet up, waiting for us to tell them about it.

Yet all I could think of to say was, “Aw, it’s not too bad.”

Truth is, it took more than my breath away.

“Thank you for being a friend…”

And so, I’m still searching for Joe Wellington.

To Be Continued…

p.s. For anyone who wants an even better visual of this magnificent cave, someone in the cyber-world actually took a video!

p.p.s. Thanks, Chris Cornell for the “black hole sun”  image/reference.

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