Light and dark, science of the underworld (Waitomo, NZ)

Waitomo (Maori: water hole) in the central North Island of New Zealand, is a karst landscape endowed with many, dark, captivating spaces where subterranean enthusiasts challenge and lose themselves for hours.

One such cave is Waipuna, located on the Waipuna scenic reserve, West of Te Kuiti; the cave has been the subject or sporadic research over the years- most famously for its contribution to the first ever cave paleoclimate publication (“Paleoclimatic data from speleothems”, Hendy & Wilson, Nature 1968).

It was a close call, but we received permission the day prior to heading to the cave to sample flowstones (carbonates deposited by flowing sheets of water). Together with John Hellstrom (U. Melbourne), Andrew Pearson and Dean Sandwell (U. Waikato), I headed to Waipuna over two days in late November 2015, to drill flowstone cores as part of my Marsden-funded research into the changing terrestrial carbon cycle.

This is my second time speleothem-sampling with JH and all went smoothly, thanks in large part to John’s experience and know-how. We obtained some really beautiful material indeed. Now the question remains, how old is it? How much time and what secrets are contained therein?

Flowstone sampling (Waipuna Cave, NZ). Left: John Hellstrom cores a cascading flowstone deposit. Right: Adam discusses the analysis of the samples with Pete Chandler.

It was really pleasing to have local cavers and partial owners of Waipuna, John Ash and Pete and Libby Chandler, along to see the sampling up close, and to see the care taken in causing the least possible disturbance to the cave system. As John says “we care about the caves, and it’s important that cavers know that we care about cave conservation and in doing things in the most sensitive and least-damaging way possible”.

The next step is to get some preliminary dates and John already has the first samples in line at Melbourne.

So it begins..

Adam, Cambridge NZ



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