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Age has not diminished his enthusiasm or powers of endurance. In November 2012 he explored over one mile of new cave in South Island, New Zealand, and in 2013 and 2014 he made further solo discoveries of similar magnitudes in the same area. Original and exciting explorations are ongoing in Wales and Ireland. Martyn has worked as a cave diving instructor for many years and remains as passionate as ever. His photographic work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including The Sunday Times, The Guardian and Daily Mail, and he has written eight books on this esoteric subject. He has helped produce any number of films and programmes for television and radio and taken countless celebrities underground, including princes William and Harry. He lives in Crickhowell, South Wales.

Front cover: Divers use powerful strobe lighting to illuminate the immense flooded tunnel of Weebubbie Cave, beneath the arid Nullarbor Plain in Australia. Back cover: Flooded sites such as White Lady Cave in South Wales typify the murky and gloomy conditions experienced in areas like the British Isles. Photos: Martyn Farr. Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield. www.v-publishing.co.uk

781h The Darkness Beckons_OFC_PAPERBACK JB.indd 1


Martyn began cave diving in 1971 and by 1981 had established a world record for under-sea cave penetration in the Bahamas. In the UK he is known for his explorations in Wookey Hole, in 1977 and 1982, and the first subterranean traverse of Llangattock Mountain in Wales in 1986. He has made many expeditions worldwide, to Iran, Mexico, Borneo, China, Dominican Republic, Japan, France, Spain, the Canary Islands, the Balearics, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, Australia and, most recently, New Zealand.

ISBN 9 7 8 1 9 1 0 2 4 0 7 4 8

9 781910 240748 >

MARTYN FARR is an internationally renowned caver and cave diver and is responsible for the discovery of many miles of subterranean wilderness. He has been caving from the age of ten, discovering new caves from the age of sixteen, and his life has been dominated by elemental passion for exploration.

Martyn Farr Martyn Farr

Foreword by Bill Stone

‘The underground world presents the last arena for the true pioneering spirit.’ Martyn Farr’s The Darkness Beckons charts the history and development of cave diving, from early underwater expeditions in France in the late nineteenth century, through to cutting-edge dives across the globe, where iron-willed individuals are pushing the limits of equipment and techniques in the pursuit of exploration.

THE DARKNESS BECKONS The history and development of world cave diving

Cave diving is the natural evolution of caving, where cavers and openwater divers overcome the challenges of water-filled passages by using specialist breathing apparatus to explore further and deeper than ever before. The challenges are many – distance, depth, temperature, visibility, rockfall and simple restriction in passage size – together with the physical and mental demands placed on an individual in an environment where, despite meticulous preparation, equipment can malfunction and one cannot expect to be rescued if something goes wrong. Early cave dives were made using Standard Equipment diving suits, before ‘frogman’ equipment was adopted by British and Italian divers in the 1940s. Around the same time, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan designed the compressed-air aqualung, the first scuba equipment. The development of breathing apparatus has continued, alongside solutions to evermore challenging projects, especially those at extreme depth. British cave divers, including the author, have been at the forefront of many developments, such as the explorations at Wookey Hole in the Mendips, Keld Head in the Yorkshire Dales and Pozo Azul in Spain. Cave diving today is a truly international endeavour, and Farr gives detailed and engaging accounts of developments in Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, Southern Africa and more. Farr introduces cave diving’s pioneers and chronicles their achievements. Among a cast of many are the Britons Graham Balcombe and Mike Boon; the American Sheck Exley, who died while attempting to establish a new depth record in the Zacatón sinkhole in Mexico; and the outstanding German cave diver and equipment innovator Jochen Hasenmayer. The stories of their adventures are charged with courage, danger and excitement, and some have led to tragedy. First published in 1980, this 2017 edition of The Darkness Beckons has been fully revised and updated to reflect the latest developments. Featuring over 400 breathtaking photographs and illustrations, and with a foreword by renowned American cave diver and explorer Bill Stone, it is an inspirational read for anyone with an interest in exploration and adventure.


20/04/2017 16:11


Martyn Farr

Foreword by Bill Stone

THE DARKNESS BECKONS The history and development of world cave diving

Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield www.v-publishing.co.uk

THE DARKNESS BECKONS The history and development of world cave diving

First edition published in 1980 by Diadem Books, London. This revised and expanded edition first published in 2017 by Vertebrate Publishing. VERTEBRATE PUBLISHING Crescent House, 228 Psalter Lane, Sheffield S11 8UT, United Kingdom. www.v-publishing.co.uk Copyright © Martyn Farr 2017. Foreword copyright © Bill Stone 2017. Photography by Martyn Farr unless otherwise credited. Martyn Farr has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as author of this work. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978-1-910240-74-8 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyright herein may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanised, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the written permission of the publisher. Every effort has been made to obtain the necessary permissions with reference to copyright material, both illustrative and quoted. We apologise for any omissions in this respect and will be pleased to make the appropriate acknowledgements in any future edition.  esigned and produced in Adobe Garamond, ITC Avant Garde Gothic and D Bebas Neue by Nathan Ryder, Vertebrate Publishing. www.v-publishing.co.uk Vertebrate Publishing is committed to printing on paper from sustainable sources.

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Printed and bound in Slovenia by Latitude Press Ltd.

contents FOREWORD BY BILL STONE �������������������������������������������������� 7 PREFACE ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 11

PART 1: THE HISTORY OF CAVE DIVING 1 THE CHALLENGE OF CAVING �������������������������������� 17 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF CAVE DIVING �������������� 23 3 EARLY CAVE DIVING IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND ������������������������������������������������������������������������ 37 4 THE OXYGEN PHASE ������������������������������������������������������� 49 5 THE CAVE DIVING GROUP ��������������������������������������� 57 6 THE AQUALUNG OR MIXTURE SET �������������������� 65 7 THE TRANSITION TO AIR ����������������������������������������������� 75

10 CAVE DIVING IN THE AMERICAS �������������������� 259 THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ������������������������ 259 CANADA ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 288 THE CARIBBEAN ������������������������������������������������������������������� 290 MEXICO �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 299 SOUTH AMERICA ���������������������������������������������������������������� 328

11 CAVE DIVING IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA: CHINA ������������������������������������������������������������������������� 333 12 CAVE DIVING IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND ����������������������������������������������� 341 AUSTRALIA �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 341 NEW ZEALAND ��������������������������������������������������������������������� 362


13 CAVE DIVING IN SOUTHERN AFRICA �������� 371 14 THE FUTURE ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� 387

8 CAVE DIVING IN THE BRITISH ISLES ����������������� 91 SOUTHERN ENGLAND ������������������������������������������������������ 96 SOUTH WALES ������������������������������������������������������������������������ 112 THE YORKSHIRE DALES ���������������������������������������������������� 122 THE PEAK DISTRICT ������������������������������������������������������������� 142 IRELAND �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 149


9 CAVE DIVING IN EUROPE �������������������������������������� 171 FRANCE �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 171 SWITZERLAND ������������������������������������������������������������������������ 198 GERMANY �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 203 ITALY ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 211 CZECH REPUBLIC ���������������������������������������������������������������� 216 SPAIN: CANARY ISLANDS �������������������������������������������� 218 SPAIN: MAINLAND ������������������������������������������������������������� 220 NORWAY ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 236 RUSSIA, ABKHAZIA AND THE EX-USSR ��������������� 246

i GLOSSARY OF TERMS ������������������������������������������������� 400 ii A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF CAVEDIVING EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUES ��� 408 iii ACCIDENT ANALYSIS ��������������������������������������������������� 409 iv 2015 QUINTANA ROO SPELEOLOGICAL SURVEY ��������������������������������������� 412 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ������������������������������������������������������ 414 INDEX ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 416


The Darkness Beckons charts the evolution of one of the world’s most challenging sports: cave diving – the exploration of submerged cave passages. It is a book focused upon pioneering, not just in dark, cold, flooded tunnels, but also in the complex, dry cave systems that often lie beyond these barriers, accessible only to cave divers. In any conversation concerning exploration cave diving never fails to provoke a reaction. Some people are appalled by visions of a dark, claustrophobic world, while others are fascinated by the beauty and mystery to be found in these underground regions. But one reality has to be admitted by all: the haunts of cavers and cave divers represent the last uncharted realms to be found on earth. Few writers will be lucky enough to see their work move to a third edition and I consider myself highly fortunate and privileged in this respect. It is now thirtyseven years since the first publication of The Darkness Beckons in 1980, a period that has seen tremendous advance in the sport. The bold explorations of the world’s most challenging cave systems that have taken place during this time represent a major evolution, no less momentous in our sport than the first ascents of the world’s highest mountains in the 1950s and 1960s, or the expansion in ocean sailing that followed Chichester’s solo voyage round the world in 1967.


Brian Scofield floats high in the roof of Pozo Azul Sump 1.

The book was originally a portrayal of cave diving in the United Kingdom with a modest international chapter that served to illustrate the contrasts between regions. The second edition, published in 1991, was to be an update, but it soon became apparent that this would fail to do justice to the outstanding explorations that had taken place around the world in the 1980s. During this period cave diving had become an international sport. Not only were there incredible achievements to relate, but also the rapid exchange of information and techniques that meant the pace of exploration was rapidly accelerating worldwide. Cave divers everywhere were broadening their horizons. Thus The Darkness Beckons, though still written from a British perspective, has quietly and inexorably evolved into a global presentation. It is now truly international in dimension. The technological advances that have accompanied the quest to make longer and deeper dives are also covered: the tactics for moving significant quantities of equipment through caves and underwater passages; the complex chemistry of mixed gas and the equally complex decompression involved in its use; the development of habitats and, every bit as significant, a new generation of scooters and rebreathers.


In international terms, cave divers come either from the world of caving or from open-water diving and are influenced in their objectives, ideas and tactics by their parent sport. Thus, while the first edition was written primarily from a caver’s perspective, this new edition reflects, to a far greater degree, diving mores and attitudes. As a result of all these disparate elements, the book has developed in a haphazard manner. The British case study may seem disproportionately long to a reader on the other side of the world but it provides an exemplary profile of the caving roots of the sport typical of other inland areas where diving grew out of speleology. By contrast, much of the international section – which has a heavy emphasis on the clearwater systems of Florida, Mexico, Australia and France – typifies the approach that has evolved from open-water or diving origins.

Even with the book’s greater scope, activities in many nations where cave diving is undertaken have been omitted – they are simply too numerous to include in a single volume. Despite these omissions, this edition – in terms of text, photos and diagrams – is three times the size of the first publication. I hope that this will prompt all those who have the first two books to buy this volume and thereby support this ongoing chronicle of extreme endeavour. We are witnessing one of the great exploration sagas of our time, and I have no hesitation in commending this book to all adventure sportspeople. The events that have taken place in this incredible environment will surely strike a chord with anyone who seeks challenging recreation in the natural world. I am sure that readers will marvel at the astonishing feats taking place below ground.

Martyn Farr Crickhowell, South Wales, 2017



Nick Geh in the spectacularly decorated sump of Cova des Pas de Vallgornera, Mallorca.



Attempts to pass sumps extend well back to the early development of caving, with many going unrecorded and ending in failure. In 1777 William Bray wrote of an early attempt to pass the Buxton Water rising at Peak Cavern, in Derbyshire: At the distance of about 75 yards from the entrance the rock came down so close to the water that it precluded all farther passage; but, as there was reason to believe from the sound that there was a cavern beyond, about four years ago a gentleman determined to try if he could not dive under the rock and rise in the cavern beyond; he plunged in, but, as was expected, struck his head against the rock, fell motionless to the bottom and was dragged out with difficulty.

CASTERET’S MONTESPAN DIVES The first recorded success took place in 1922, when the twenty-five-year-old Frenchman Norbert Casteret made an incredibly bold freediving assault upon the Grotte de Montespan in the Pyrenees. On his first solo trip into the cave Casteret dared to tackle an icycold sump in complete darkness: Neck-deep in the water as I was, I nevertheless considered the rashness of persevering alone in so hazardous an undertaking. Several possibilities came to mind. After weighing these various chances in the awful silence and loneliness, I still decided if possible to force the barrier, impregnable though it seemed. OPPOSITE:

Norbert Casteret and Colette Richard, in 1974.

Putting my candle on a projection of the wall, I inhaled air for an immersion of two minutes (to me a familiar procedure). Then I plunged, one hand ahead, the other touching the ceiling. I felt the bumps and contours of the ceiling with infinite care; I was blind, with finger-tips for eyes. I had not only to go ahead, but to think about getting back. Suddenly, as I was going forward in this fashion, my head emerged; I could breathe. There was no telling where I was; the darkness was complete. Obviously I had forced a siphon, a tunnel with a submerged ceiling. I turned tail at once, and plunged in the opposite direction.

The Gouffre du Briant, France, a long cave discovered by cave divers in 1976 via the Gouffre du Blagour, near Brive-la-Gaillarde.




IRELAND Geologically, almost half of Ireland consists of limestone. There are a number of caving regions and many exciting diving projects have been undertaken. In the early days activities were largely restricted to Éire, away from the then-troublesome border with the north. However, despite tremendous potential for the cave diver, underwater explorations in the south were to prove extremely disappointing for many years. It was much later, in Northern Ireland, when the first major discoveries were made by divers. Until 1970 County Fermanagh was barely known as a caving region, because the social unrest prevalent throughout the province limited exploration and deterred the majority of cavers. It was the summer of 1971 when John Elliot and Roger Solari of the Cave Projects Group (CPG) started diving in sumps which had hitherto received scant attention. The effect was to condense exploration into a brief time span, shortcutting the usual pattern of cave exploration, which normally includes intensive searches for a sump bypass or digging activities. Minor extensions were made, but the following year was to witness a surge of activity. EXPLORATIONS IN PROD’S POT, 1972–1974 On my first visit to Ireland (Easter 1972) it was purely by chance that I was introduced to Tullyhona Cave. Almost unbelievably, an easy 9-metre-long sump was passed to discover over 1,219 metres of well-decorated passages. During that summer Solari and I joined forces. We passed three short, constricted sumps in the Cascade Passage of Prod’s Pot and explored an extension of 457 metres. Far more significant was the conquest of Arch Cave Sump, the upstream termination of a major resurgence system beneath Tullybrack (Reyfad) Mountain. An 80-metre dive, a long canal and a 6-metre dive gave access to a fabulous extension running back into the mountain for another 1.5 kilometres. This terminated at Sump 3. The following year we returned and, unassisted, struggled with our equipment over difficult terrain to the isolated terminal sump. This was passed and, to our amazement, we discovered we had connected Arch Cave to Noon’s Hole. Today this is the finest through-trip in Ireland, now made easier by the successful bypass achieved to the Noon’s Hole sump. (Diving remains essential to pass the sumps at the lower end of the system.) The main passage in the Hell Complex in the Green Holes of Doolin.






Wellington Mt. Owen Mt. Arthur

Nettlebed Cave Pearse River Resurgence

Greenlink Cave Riwaka Resurgence


NEW ZEALAND Cave diving in New Zealand has been carried out sporadically by small groups of enthusiasts rather than by any organisation, and this has led to little continuity of people or techniques. Despite this, the most fruitful area has been the northern end of South Island where, about 50 kilometres from Nelson, the water temperature is a cool 6° Celsius and the hard marble rock results in clear water. THE PEARSE RESURGENCE The most impressive and deepest site progressed to date has been the Pearse Resurgence, at the foot of Mount Arthur.5 It is a site that has long aroused interest. Keith Dekkers made the first recorded exploration of this site in 1975, reaching a 54-metre depth. Fellow New Zealander Kieran Mckay led an ill-fated 1995 expedition when a depth of over 80 metres was reached, but

The author and Kieran Mckay in New Zealand in 2015. Photo: Helen Farr.

his friend Dave Weaver died. Australian Dave Apperley developed a keen interest in 2000 and subsequently made a number of expeditions to the area. Slow but incremental advance has been the hallmark of the Pearse. By 2007 Apperley had extended the depth to 125 metres and invited Rick Stanton to help pursue the deeper leads. Meanwhile, Richard Harris and Craig Howell explored a side-lead known simply as the Big Room, discovering two separate passages extending out and downward from its far side. The deeper, larger one, now called the Brooklyn Exit, is dark and cavernous, and drops away at a steep angle before leveling off into the ‘M40’. It finally ends at nearly 160 metres depth with another abyssal shaft dropping down into the blackness. Stanton and Howell made alternate lead dives into the deeper section of the cave, leapfrogging to 157, 160 and then Stanton’s record-breaking 177 metres.

5 The Pearse is the resurgence for Nettlebed Cave, for many years presenting the deepest ‘dry’ caving through-trip in New Zealand. Blizzard Pot entrance, discovered in 1986, allows an 898-metre traverse to the original Nettlebed entrance at valley floor. A deeper traverse – 1,162 metres – is now possible from the Stormy Pot entrance, which was connected to the Nettlebed system in January 2014.



The Wet Mules team at the Pearse Resurgence in January 2016. L–R: David Hurst, Sandy Varin, Craig Challen, David Bardi, Andreas Klocker, John Dalla Zuanna, Luke Nelson, Craig Howell and Richard Harris.

Second Breakfast Pearse River Nightmare Crescent


Big Room

Needle Bender

M40 Brooklyn Exit


= Surveyed Pearse River

= Eyles Creek

(partially surveyed), leads up to Nettlebed Cave


iver B

Dry R





364 Nightmare Crescent

The Gargleblaster


The Shaft

Needle Bender Dave Apperley – 155m, 2007 Richard Harris and Dave Hurst – 170m, 2014 Big Room M40

Brooklyn Exit

Stanton’s Hole

Craig Challen – 194m, 2011 Richard Harris – 207m, 2012

Rick Stanton – 177m, 2007 Richard Harris – 182m, 2008

Second Breakfast Well of Our Souls

Wet Mule’s Way

Craig Challen – 221m, 2012

Richard Harris and Craig Challen – 217m, 2014

All expedition equipment is transported to the Pearse Resurgence by helicopter. Photo: Richard Harris.


Ken Smith helps Craig Challen in 2012. Photo: Richard Harris.


OPPOSITE BOTTOM: L–R: David Hurst, Craig Challen and Richard Harris in 2016. All divers wear dual rebreather systems for deep penetrations.

Harris and Craig Challen had reached 137 metres in 2007 and quietly set their sights deeper. The pair returned in 2011, flying in five tons of equipment by helicopter, including four habitats. On this three-week expedition the pair stopped at a 194-metre depth. The same band of friends who styled themselves the Wet Mules group, returned in 2012 and mounted a seventeen-day trip. The habitats were installed again, at 7, 16, 28 and 38 metres, and build-up dives commenced. A dye trace was undertaken between Nettlebed and the Pearse Resurgence, but the dye emerged from below a depth of 120 metres, so hope of a shallow connection was lost. Challen made a final push-dive on 15 January reaching a 221-metre depth on a dive lasting seventeen hours. In January 2014 the Wet Mules returned. The first exploratory dive to 170 metres by Harris and Dave Hurst revealed a new passage at the end of the M40, ending at another large and beckoning descent. Two days later, Challen and Harris set off as a buddy pair to see if the new hole would drop into the 221-metre-deep tunnel (Wet Mule’s Way) discovered in 2012. Armed with Harris’s new 13,000-lumen video lights and Ken Smith’s data logger; the pair made good time down to the new passage where a new line was deployed and the exploration began. The passage dropped swiftly to nearly 180 metres before levelling off slightly and then dropping into a large void. Challen tied off the empty 75-metre reel while Harris tried to glimpse the floor below. There was an impression of a tunnel heading across the bottom of the hole with the floor estimated at over 220 metres. Suddenly there was a very loud thud as an external buoyancy cylinder on Harris’s scooter dramatically imploded. This gave both divers such a fright that a speedy exit from the maximum depth of 217 metres was made.



Subsequent analysis of the logger data showed that the tunnel dropped below the Wet Mule’s Way and is quite separate, although it is likely to rejoin further into the cave. The new tunnel – named Second Breakfast (as favoured by hobbits) – is easier to move through than the previous route and could now be considered the main conduit. Harris sums up the current position: There is no doubt the Pearse is a foreboding cave. Dark walls, cold 6-degree water and great depth make it as much a mental challenge as a physical one. But a project like this comes only once in an explorer’s life so it is hard to walk away. Every year we improve our techniques, develop more skill and get more comfortable with the exploration dives required but there must be a limit. Dropping down a shot line to depths over 200 metres is challenging enough, but scootering along virgin passage and managing reels, lights and cameras at those depths requires a degree of confidence in one’s self, one’s buddy and one’s gear. But if we don’t see it with our own eyes, if we haven’t swum down the tunnel ourselves have we really explored the cave? We don’t feel ready to hand the project over to an ROV pilot quite yet. Who would have thought it was possible to do these dives just ten years ago? I am excited to think what divers will be doing in ten years from now. But I’ll be happy to read about it in the next edition of this book!

The exploration of the Pearse has been an outstanding example of dedication and efficiency. How far it is practical or safe to continue beyond the current limit is a matter for debate. TAKAKA HILL AND THE RIWAKA In a nearby area of South Island lies Takaka Hill. Explorations here have met with great success. The major dry-caving discovery was Greenlink Cave, which was explored downstream to a fine, clear-water sump at a depth of 287 metres. Keith Dekkers subsequently passed this via a 6-metre dive and another of similar length in January 1978. The cave continued beyond


The huge chamber beyond Sump 2 in Riwaka Resurgence. A dry entrance, Simply Sumpless, now provides dive-free access to this spectacular cave.

to a depth of 372 metres, at the time the deepest in the country. A dye trace from this cave (which also provided the cave’s name) proved a connection with the major Riwaka Resurgence several kilometres away. By the early 2000s cave exploration on the mountain was proceeding at a very impressive rate. Greenlink Cave was connected to the neighbouring system of Middle Earth and massive passages were discovered downstream that took the cave closer and closer to the Riwaka as Bruce Mutton, James Alker and Mike Brewer added kilometre after kilometre. It is impressive work, as much of the cave floods to the roof in places and is covered by liberal quantities of mud, with numerous difficult rockfalls to negotiate. The furthest point in Greenlink is now 1.5 kilometres from the end of the Riwaka, but unfortunately the way on is choked by a boulder blockage and the stream has sumped. The Takaka Hill system is now 33 kilometres long. Meanwhile, Riwaka Resurgence has been the focus of considerable interest from divers and has proved the

most successful in New Zealand in terms of discoveries beyond a sump. Divers regularly visit the flooded resurgence as the site provides easy access and the perfect introduction to cave-diving activities. Sump 1 (30 metres long) is large and clear and Sump 2 (50 metres) is also a good training site. The first recorded dive was in 1960, by Ross McDonald, Eric King and Peter Garland. Keith Dekkers explored beyond Sump 2 in the 1970s, and Sump 3, about 1.5 kilometres upstream of Sump 2, was eventually passed by Dave Weaver and Kieran Mckay. This was 180 metres long with a maximum depth of 25 metres and led to yet more large river passage. Several hundred metres of this led to a very exciting 50-metre climb beneath the lashing spray of the cascading stream. A bold operation overcame this obstacle but led to a further sump. A dry entrance, Simply Sumpless, was subsequently discovered by Mike Brewer, and nondivers can now access the impressive river passage between sumps 2 and 3.


SUMP 6 SUMPS 7 & 8 Old Cottage Cave

SUMP 1 Dive Base

SUMP 4 Llyn Glas Limit 2013


SUMP 9 Limit 2015


Delightful Cave

Discovered December 2014

SUMP 5 Llyn Fawr Limit 2013

Main river disappears

SUMP 2 Totara Cave


Totara Sump 1




Length: 7,564m. Depth: 102m

Te Waikoropupu¯ Springs.

In February 2003 British diver Martin Groves teamed up with Michael Alderton and resumed explorations. The waterfall had to be scaled afresh as the old rope had been washed away but, after days of set-up, an underground camp was established beyond Sump 3. On 28 February a major push was made to explore the sump above the 50-metre aven. Thirteen hours after entering the cave the pair dived together and made an outstanding advance into an area now named Realm of the Aqua Monkeys. After laying over 200 metres of line a series of short sumps was passed and the pair ended activities after passing Sump 9. It was seventeen hours before they crept into their sleeping bags. Groves teamed up with Joel Corrigan and local diver John Atkinson in February and March 2005 and found the terminal area far more complex than anyone had imagined. The way on was not located via Sump 10 but up another set of challenging free climbs after Sump 6. This allowed access to an old fossil route

through the mountain – Pensioners’ Paradise – and was followed for 1 kilometre to a tantalising shaft dropping down into an underlying streamway. As the expedition drew to a close the way on was left wide open. The separation between the sink (Greenlink Cave) and Riwaka is now thought to be about 1,114 metres horizontally and 75 metres vertically – a perfectly achievable goal in the next couple of years? SPITTAL SPRINGS In the neighbouring Takaka valley lies one of the largest springs in the world – Te Waikoropupu¯ Springs (Pupu Springs).6 To date all attempts at entry to the cave that assuredly exists behind the springs have proved futile. In 2012 a new site in the neighbouring Takaka valley came into focus. Lying on the other side of the mountain from the Riwaka Resurgence, the significance of a set of periodic outflows at the Spittal Springs homestead had been completely overlooked by previous cavers.

6 Pupu Springs is one of the largest springs in the world with an average discharge of 15 cubic metres a second. The catchment extends at least 16 to 18 kilometres up the Takaka valley.


Cavers Rob Davies and Michelle Allison stumbled upon the site by accident in 2010 and quickly realised that there were perhaps twelve intermittent springs within the grounds of the Spittal homestead. Being a karst expert, Davies quickly grasped the picture: there was a major system somewhere behind the intermittent outlets and possibly a direct connection with the postulated Pupu Springs network which must run beneath the directly adjacent Takaka valley. Together with Tony Salmon, Davies and Allison excavated and discovered several caves in the next couple of months. All ended in sumps and I was invited over to explore the underwater leads. A series of solo-dive explorations over the following years led to a ninth upstream sump some 4 kilometres from the entrance and a system today totalling over 7.5 kilometres in length. The most spectacular discovery in the Spittal complex was made in Totara Cave, in December 2013. Here a 105-metre-long downstream sump revealed not only a promising potential lead into the Pupu system but a fabulously decorated chamber, which was named Avalon. Given that Pupu Springs lies 12 kilometres distant the potential in the Takaka valley is quite incredible!

uuu As in all other caving areas, there are many challenging projects waiting to be undertaken in New Zealand. Diving at the bottom of the deep caves has barely begun. Bulmer Cavern on Mount Owen is the longest cave in the country at the present time with 72 kilometres of passage – and a series of sumps yet to be tackled. One of the streams eventually drains to Blue Creek Cave, 8 kilometres distant. From the lowest point in Bulmer Cavern there are still 400 metres of depth potential, giving an overall vertical range of 1,200 metres. The potential length of this system alone is perhaps 150 kilometres and it is quite likely to become the longest, and certainly one of the deepest, in Australasia. Despite the extreme isolation of the areas involved and the relative shortage of experienced activists, sites across the country will keep cavers and cave divers busy for many years to come. •


The author on a five-hour solo photographic project in Avalon. The discovery of such a spectacular cavern is not only awesome, it is also an immense privilege that lives with one for ever.


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The Darkness Beckons – Sample Pages  

Sample pages from our 2017 edition of Martyn Farr's book The Darkness Beckons which chronicles the history and development of world cave div...

The Darkness Beckons – Sample Pages  

Sample pages from our 2017 edition of Martyn Farr's book The Darkness Beckons which chronicles the history and development of world cave div...