While he thought the walking tours were great, local Pete Chandler saw an opportunity to get a lot more enjoyment out of the Waitomo caves, so he started experimenting with floating on inner tubes through the streams of the caves.
We began guiding adventurous people through Ruakuri Cave as New Zealand’s first Black Water Adventure tour operator for the bargain price of $10.
Local boy, Angus Stubbs, was the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company’s first professional guide at the tender age of 19. Little did he know he was starting a family legacy.
Pete Chandler went into partnership with John Ash to help boost the business. They love the place so much that John and Pete both still live in Waitomo.
While the 80s is renowned for its cheesy advertising, the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company did things the old-fashioned Kiwi way – they drove around in a ute convincing people to float through some caves with them.
The name Black Water Rafting was suggested as a joke by a mate of Pete’s at the local pub, but it was a whole lot better than “Float through the cave trips” that they were using at the time. The name stuck and went on to become legendary.
The limestone at Waitomo started forming about 30 million years ago, while the caves have only been forming for the past 1 million. They keep evolving as the water moves through them.
While most people probably think of bungy jumping as the birth of adventure tourism, we were helping tourists have fun in the dark for a whole year before people started paying to jump off a bridge.
Just as the caves are constantly changing, we’re constantly updating our tours to give you the best experience. Things that were thrown together in the 80s are now chosen (or custom made) for the best possible experience.
The cave that the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company tour through was named Ruakuri (den of dogs) by local MÄori over 300-400 years ago when they discovered wild dogs had made the entrance to the cave their home.
Ever been on an underground flying fox? Book a Black Abyss tour and you can tick that off your bucket list.
In 1989 Rachael Calder became the first female guide and took a shine to our man, Angus. She’s now Rachael Stubbs and their daughter, Pippin, started as a customer service rep in 2016 and Ruakuri guide in 2017.
Sir Peter Jackson went Black Water Rafting in 2012 – just before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. Sound effects were recorded in Ruakuri for the first Hobbit movie.
In the early days of Black Water Rafting, budgets were tight and our team would hang around nearby tyre shops to keep their supply of tubes afloat. As business picked up, we started buying them and have gone through thousands of tyre tubes over the years.
During filming of the Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis, who you might know as Gollum, spent time in the caves to get into character.
On one of our tours we’ll take you 80 metres below ground level. Take the Black Abyss tour and you can abseil down 35 of them.
As the first Black Water Rafting operator in the country, we take our responsibilities very seriously. Our team have worked closely with national organisations, other operators and accreditation bodies to create safety guidelines for the industry.
Despite the change of seasons, the temperature of the water in the caves stays between 11-15º all year long. So, any time is a good time to come, our wetsuits are designed to keep you toasty all year round.
We’re proud to say that almost anyone can come Black Water Rafting, all that’s needed is an appetite for fun. Deaf, blind, deaf & blind, tetraplegic, amputees and even an 88-year-old woman have all made the journey. What’s your excuse?
It’s important to keep your energy up underground, that’s why our guides keep chocolatey treats for everyone on the tour. And there’s always a warm cup of soup waiting for you when you get to the surface.
We make sure all our adventurers store their valuables safely before they head into the caves. Although a couple of glass eyes have popped out on the waterfall and one adventurer’s prosthetic leg filled with water and slipped out of the bottom of their wetsuit.
Katy Perry may be a pop star but she knows how to rock. She took part in the Black Abyss while on her California Dreams Tour abseiling the 35m down into the caves. In 2017, Katy's ex Diplo did the Black Labyrinth & Ruakuri on Katy's 2011 recommendation.
2016 - Shaun Jeffers won National Geographic Photographer of the Year with a photo he took of Ruakuri Cave.
We want these caves to be enjoyed by generations to come. That’s why there are sustainable initiatives in place to protect the waterways and the caves, including an environmental team who constantly monitor the temperature and humidity of the caves to determine how many people can go in at once.
There have been a few Kiwi heroes in our tubes over the years, see if you can spot your favourite All Black.
Wai means water and tomo means hole in the ground. So Waitomo translates directly from MÄori into the most fun you can have in the dark.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of bagels have warmed the bellies of visitors to the caves, plus enough soup to fill the cave twice over!
Glowworms light up to attract their prey. The brighter they are, the hungrier they are. Or sometimes they’re just fat and excited!
Since 1987 a total of 500 guides have been leading tours and creating an all-encompassing adventure for so many to remember.
In the past 30 years more than 100,000 people have travelled through the caves with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. Book your trip for September or October now for you and two mates and you could all win it back for FREE.