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Navigating the underground Cave Stream

Cave Stream (also known as Broken River Cave) is a 594m long cave a few kilometres outside Castle Hill. Often missed along the beaten tourist path, this little gem is a unique SELF GUIDED upstream cave walk that can take 1-2hrs to complete!

Large entrance to Cave Stream

We found out about Cave Stream after we missed it on our last visit to Castle Hill, so when we were mapping out our South Island adventure with our friends Brent & Kristina, we made sure it made the list!

After reading the warnings on the DOC sign, we ensured we were well prepared, taking several headlamps and extra flash lights with us, bundled up in some warm clothes and accepted the fact that we were going to get WET! As we entered the large cave opening, we were all pretty excited to go on a caving adventure – however the first large pool we hit nearly had us turn around!

We started out climbing along the edge of the cave, but when the footing disappeared we were left with no option but to take to the water. A bit hesitant to get soaked in the first 2 minutes, the boys were kind enough to offer to piggy-back me and Kristina through the waist deep section of FREEZING cold water in an attempt to keep us (somewhat) dry.

Exploring the beautiful limestone carved cave

I can imagine that first section deters most people from venturing any further, but we were determined to keep going! Luckily Kristina and Brent are very similar to us and were totally up for the challenge. As we made our way up stream, the fast moving water pushed against our legs but we pressed on.

The initial section of the cave was quite wide with huge cathedral ceilings decorated by water droplets sparkling from the light of our headlamps. Kristina spotted a small hole near the ground and when we peaked through, it was a small cavity with plenty of room to stand with a peep hole back to the main section! Of course we decided to squeeze all three of us in (yes including Brent!) while Jordan took some video.

Kristina scaling the cave walls

As we continued up the cave, there were many more side caves to explore – we spent most of our time crawling out of the water and scrambling our way up the side to explore one after another. One section had a tunnel that went back probably 30ft, so Jordan took off and got as far as he could before it narrowed too far for him to pass.

This was quickly becoming one of the COOLEST things we’ve done in New Zealand. This was by far no easy walk. The frigged cold rushing water and careful foot placement in the complete darkness is not for the faint-hearted (or claustrophobic!) Although promoted to visitors, New Zealand has kept this unique natural wonder free to the public. It could easily have been turned into a tourist trap business, but they chose to leave this untouched – another reason why I LOVE New Zealand!

The twists and turns of the cave began to narrow causing the the current from the funnelling water to become much stronger against us. A few mini waterfalls provided quite the challenge as the guys carried us through the deep water, pushing us up and over the rushing water to safety.

One of the many narrow rushing water sections

At one point while we were up exploring another side cave Brent noticed a HUGE spider on the rock! It was the first living thing we had seen in the caves – no bats, no eels, nothing but the black abyss with the sound of the rushing water.

Taking a quick break we decided to turn off our headlamps so we could truly appreciate the complete darkness around us. BLACK – so black you could see nothing at all. It made us think how scary it would be if your headlamp batteries died and were left to venture in the darkness – ALWAYS bring a spare!

Kristina helping me up the rock walls

After nearly two hours we finally saw a speck of light and knew we were near the exit of the cave. It was comforting to see as we were starting to wonder how much further this would go on – yet didn’t want it to end at the same time. A final waist deep pool with a climb over a rushing waterfall was our last wet section of the day before climbing up the metal rungs secured into the cave wall up to the surface. With our hands tightly clenching the chain along the wall, we shuffled across the ledge before making a final crawl under an overhang to the finish. A few cheers echoed in the cave as we high-fived each other for a pretty epic adventure we had just had!

The four cave adventures!

You can see our path in the diagram below (although it was much more twisty) and the 6 waterfalls we had to climb in addition to the large pool at the entrance.

Cave Stream Path Diagram (Source)

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