From humble beginnings in 1949 (where the sole founding member, Mr Henry G. Lambert declared himself President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Editor of the NZSS Bulletin) the society now has over 300 members. The members belong to its 6 affiliated clubs, situated to enjoy the main caving areas in Waikato, North West Nelson and Westland. Caves are mostly formed in limestone and Marble but we have many lava caves under Auckland too.
Caving is often thought to be about squeezing through tight, muddy passages and crawling around in cold water, and whilst there is certainly an element of truth to that, a lot of the caves on Mt Owen and and the Arthur ranges are full of huge caverns that feel more like mountaineering than caving. Big ancient dry tunnels formed by large rivers millions of years ago offer great opportunities to wander along with your hands in your pockets!
There is a technical aspect to caving too, cavers often have to descend and ascend ropes to explore. Our deepest cave is the Stormy Pot/Nettlebed system in Mt Arthur which is 1174m deep and also an exciting through trip that takes most people three days to travel through!
Caves are home to some fascinating creatures, including glow worms, cave weta, eels, fresh water crayfish and some very rare spiders.
They are also home to preserved or fossilized remains of contemporary, recent and ancient creatures. Alongside the organic wonders, are incredibly slow forming and beautiful ‘Speleothems’. Understood as ‘stalactites and stalagmites’ to non-cavers, Speleothems come in a mind boggling assortment of shapes, colours and collections. The joy of discovering places like these keeps cavers coming back year after year.
These rare creatures, vulnerable artifacts and fragile ecosystems are all under threat from ignorant visitation, theft or development and NZSS has been a long standing voice for their conservation. The society also continues working to encourage safe and responsible caving practices, provide a Cave SAR capability, ongoing training and mentoring for its members, and maintenance and improvements to access to the caving areas. Now in all those realms, they can benefit from the resources, contacts and expertise that FMC has to offer.
FMC President Jan Finlayson is thrilled to have the NZSS on board.
Caves are some of our last unexplored and fragile wild spaces. Following FMC’s resistance to proposed inappropriate developments in the karst and cave environments at Oparara, we’re delighted that the New Zealand Speleological Society has affiliated with us, extending our representation below ground level. FMC warmly welcomes the caving community and looks forward to helping nurture caving as a recreational activity as well as advocating for conservation of the unique environments in which it takes place.
NZSS President Chris Whitehouse is also excited about strengthening the voice of Cavers:
With FMC having such a long history of successfully fighting for what their members believe in it was an easy decision for us to become affiliated with them. With tourism soaring, some of our most delicate and beautiful karst areas are being threatened and if we don’t have a say on these developments there will be irreparable damage done to these areas. Joining forces with FMC will help us make our voices heard and we can preserve our magical world for generations to explore with the awe that we have. Whether over, on or under, we all appreciate the access we have to our wilderness and want to keep it that way.
Long-time NZSS member and more recent FMC executive member Neil Silverwood sums it up well, with a clear perspective into both worlds;
I think it’s fantastic to have the NZSS on board. [the affiliation] will help strengthen both organisations and now the FMC has a proper mandate to advocate on behalf of caves and cavers. There are also a lot of current issues around caves and karst management, such as the over-zealous tourism development proposals at Oparara and Punakaiki, so its good timing.
All images are from Neil Silverwood and Marcus Thomas’ multiple award-winning book CAVES, which was supported by a grant from the FMC Mountain and Forest Trust. Visit the NZSS website to learn more about Caving and local clubs.