Cathedral Cave

Date of Adventure: 11 April 2021

Cathedral Cave has eluded me for the better side of a decade. When my parents and I originally visited the Catlins in 2015, we had plans to stop in and check it out, since we were right there! Unfortunately, I had a date with the Milford Track, and my dad had to go back up to Auckland for work. We skipped it for the sake of time.

My brother and his wife visited the following year, and told of how cool it was! I so wanted to see it! In 2017, I returned to the country with my girlfriend with a shortlist of what we wanted to see in just two weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the list; we didn’t have enough time.

Finally, we returned four years later! Girlfriend turned to wife, two weeks turned to months of touring! We were in the Catlins for four days total! We knew that it was tide dependant, but we had 4 days to work with; we would definitely be able to work around it!

Unfortunately, the cave was entirely closed for three days straight. Guess what: we checked it’s availability at the end of day 1 of 4. Through a wonderful combination of tide schedules and shorter autumn days, the low tide was either before sunrise or after sunset for three straight days, and the organization that ‘owns’ the cave doesn’t let visitors down to see it if that’s the case.

Bummer! Thanks for reading, next post will be about…

Just kidding! We rearranged our schedule even more, so we could head down as soon as the sun rose on day 5 of our time in the area. With bleary eyes and cold feet, we donned our sandals and walked down to the beach!

Fairly nondescript from far away, you quickly realize how cavernous this cave really is as you approach! It rises a few stories high, and is about 20′ wide at the mouth.

I used my wide mouth to sing some songs in the most booming baritone I could muster, listening to the echoes bouncing around the straight-cut rocks.

Though we were there as early as possible, the tide had already reached it’s negative zenith and was slowly regaining the cave’s minimal floorspace. We had to be quick!

Wading through a couple pools, we put our headlamps on and ventured into the maw.

The passage narrows quickly, choking in on all sides until it is just taller than I am (6′). However, at that point it broadens into a large, circular cave full of ocean debris! Driftwood, smoothed rocks, seaweed, dead birds, all kinds of fun stuff in there!

And wait, look at that…

There’s another entrance! That’s right, two sea caves for the price of one! We ventured out onto the beach on the other side of the cavern just in time for the largest wave yet to soak the bottoms of our rolled up jeans.

Before too long, our feet were getting cold from the ocean water we were standing in. We headed back through the cave to start the walk back to the car.

We walked back in to tunnel #2, stopped to listen to our echoes in the big room, then turned out towards the light of tunnel #1. We saw a large wave rolling in towards us, so another group of tourists joined us in waiting for the swell to die down before we headed back out to the mouth. We were patiently waiting…

Sneak attack!!

The ocean had orchestrated the perfect assault! As we were distracted by the sights and sounds of the wave rolling in before us, it had secretly pushed itself through the other leg of the tunnel. We were surrounded!

The large rear wave soaked our legs thoroughly as we laughed in surprise. At that point we didn’t need to wait out any other waves, and we tromped through any more surf as it came.

It’s not a terribly long cave, so we were in and out in probably 20 minutes after 6 years of waiting (That’s 3,153,600 minutes). Worth every minute!

This is the end for real this time, hope you enjoyed! –

–Cameron

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