Best Practice and Tourist Cave Engineering — a Waitomo "add on"

Van Watson, Black Water Rafting, Waitomo Caves, NZ


At the opening of this conference, both the Keynote Address and the resulting discussion identified Adventure Cave Tourism as a significant user of the Waitomo Karstfield.
We Adventure Tour operators are not cavers doing a lot of caving trips.
We are an industry which uses and impacts the karstfield.
We do modify caves for "mass" visitation.
As managers know, lots of clients mean 'tracks and toilets'; but, by cleverly dressing clients in wetsuits Adventure Operators are then freed up to concentrate on just 'tracks'.
Above ground tracks can be ripped out and revegetated to near original landscape condition within a healing period of 20 years or so.
Caves are not that simple.

Cave Engineering and Legal Cave Protection:

In these enlightened and cost conscious times we often hear that self regulation and less government or local council regulation is the way to more responsible and flexible development. The examples of hydro dams in remote gorges, tunnels under the Alps and the New Zealand 36 stand rotary cowshed show that any engineering feat is possible.
A cave without legal protection relies on the conscience of the developer and the landowner.
At this time in New Zealand, when there is a property transaction on a 20 year old wooden house that needs to be structurally altered, the purchaser, the vendor, the banks, the builder and the adjoining landowners are all party to legal processes protecting individual and community 'rights'.
Conscience doesn't come into it.
All this time in New Zealand a million year old cave in a 25 million year old karstfield on freehold land relies on conscience for its 'rights'. Legal processes do not come into it

But. What about the Resource Management Act?

Frankly, from here on the ground, you hear rumours that it's too hard and expensive to risk asking whether you should get a clearance from the mythical thing or not. It's a bit like a sleeping crocodile, we know it's there but you would be crazy to wake it up if you were on your way for a swim. It doesn't sound user friendly.

An Opinion on Cave Engineering (not legally binding)

The challenge in cave engineering is not just to surmount and subdue natural obstacles. That's easy. The challenge for we adventure tour operators is to realise that we are a current social pressure on a resource that operates on a geological timescale beyond our day to day comprehension. This trendy adventure spending spree might fizzle out in either 8 or 167 years. Can we put in structures or tracks that can protect the cave from our 'mass' visitation. That's easy. Can we pull all our gear and junk out and leave the cave in good order and condition for the twelfth generation after the next one. That's a challenge.

List of Cave Engineering by Adventure Tour Operators.

1. DamsRuakuri Cave
Te Anaroa/Footwhistle Cave
2. Wooden StairsTe Anaroa/Footwhistle Cave
3. Galv Steel StairsRuakuri Cave
4. Galv Steel LaddersLost World
Ringlefall Cave
Kamutu Cave
5. Take-off platformsLost World
Ruakuri Cave
6. Galv Grating WalkwayRuakuri Cave
7. Steps cut in FlowstoneKamutu Cave
8. Steps in Sediment BankKamutu Cave
9. Concrete Plug (3.5m3)Ruakuri Cave
10. New Entrances dug into significant Cave Systems by mechanical diggers and fitted with concrete 'culvert' pipes.
 St Benedict's Caverns
Ruakuri Cave

All this, by 3 operators in a ten year period. Imagine what 12 operators over 50 years could do.

Where to from here?

Before the 1997 ACKMA Conference disappears for two years I suggest a working party be formed to confer with Cave Landowners, Adventure Cave Tour Operators, the District Council, the Regional Council and Department of Conservation. And from this:

Best Practice can no longer be left as a 'conscience' process.