Nikau Cave

With a car on loan, the mission for Saturday was to go caving. And Nikau Cave is probably the best caving expedition possible within a day trip from Auckland.

One of several impressive limestone caverns in Nikau Cave. Photo courtesy of Nikau Cave and Cafe.

Situated near Limestone Downs, Port Waikato, Nikau Cave is an easy 90 minute drive from Auckland. The cave is approximately 1km in length, has a stream running through it, and winds its way into some magnificent cathedrals of intricate stalactite formations (older than Jesus and McCain combined) all illuminated by an army of glow-worms.

Unlike Waitomo Caves, which are impressive but over-run with visitors, Nikau Cave has not been commercialised. There are no queues, no stampede of tourists, no safety railing at every corner, no bright pink lit up cave walls and exorbitant prices to match. No, Nikau Cave is owned by a farming couple. They take visitors through on request, but shy away from tourist buses. The cave is slippery, muddy, and rough, with a hint of danger. I’m surprised the government has even permitted them to allow visitation.

However, it is also beautiful, and with a bit of common sense, suitable for all age groups.

It had just been raining when we arrived, but our guide and cave-owner was waiting prepared in shorts and Tevas to take us through. As we arrive at the mouth, he briefly disappears for an investigation, but then ventures out again.

“Hm”, he says. “The water level’s a bit marginal, it would be up to your neck and there could be some more flash floods. Let’s go through the stream inlet entrance and then double back”.

So we wonder for a kilometer through sheep farmland, and then retreat into a nikau forest to the cave entrance. It’s muddy and cold, but we don’t even notice as we’re overwhelmed by the size of the caverns and the extraordinary stalactite formations.

There are a few tight spots, but for the most part it’s an easy walk.

As we exit the cave, spending most of an hour underground, we encounter an icy blast and hail storm. It’s a 10 minute walk through open farmland back to the car park and recently built cafe, and my legs are stinging from the wet wintery bite.

As we arrive back, we are enticed into the cafe with the promise of a toasty warm log fire, hot chocolate and lunch.

The cafe is a log construction, with a wood fire, and gorgeous views of the limestone countryside.

As we are seated at macrocarpa slab coffee tables, we are soon introduced to the Walking Menu.

The Walking Menu seems to be the cave co-owner. She sits down and asks us what we feel like. She’s keen to offer us an egg dish, as they have an excessive supply from their free range hens. We explain we’re vegetarian, and she tempts us with a pumpkin/kumara frittata for me, and eggs Benedict with mushroom for B. It’s lovely.

The cave tour was $30 per adult, and as far as caving in NZ goes excellent value for money. Lunch was $29 for a personalised cooked lunch and two hot chocolates.

Nikau Cave is an awesome way to spend a Saturday (rain or shine, summer or winter). And maybe in summer when the water level is less formidable we’ll organise another expedition, and actually take some photos.

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