Kieran Mckay is dwarfed in a huge Stormy Pot-Nettlebed cave. Photo: Jonathon Ravens/NZ Herald
It's taken more than 50 years but the deepest cave system in
the Southern Hemisphere has been found - in New Zealand.
A group of Kiwi cavers, led by Kieran Mckay, worked their way
through the final few piles of rubble in Kahurangi National
Park on Wednesday to uncover the huge underground system
within Mt Arthur.
Once the rubble was gone, Mr Mckay's party was able to
connect the Nettlebed and Stormy Pot caves, turning the new
cave system into a 36km long, 1200m deep underground
"It's hard to describe," Mr Mckay said of how he felt when he
finally broke through to link up the Nettlebed and Stormy Pot
systems. "When you have wanted something for so long and you
get it, in some ways you are really elated.
"All that hard work by hundreds and hundreds of people -
because this exploration goes back to the 60s - all of whom
dreamed of finding a route from the top of the mountain to
the bottom, suddenly we've done it," he said.
"But it's like climbing a mountain peak for the first time.
You climb one mountain and go 'yes I'm at the top'. But then
you look around and go 'there are other mountains to climb'."
Nettlebed was discovered at the bottom of the mountain in the
late 1960s and explored to a height of 800m and a length of
In 2011, Mr Mckay's group was sheltering from a severe storm
when they discovered Stormy Pot, which was 15km long and 700m
When Mr Mckay returned from that expedition he plotted both
caves on a computer programme and realised he was looking at
the same cave.
"That was an incredible moment. We were on the verge of
getting a cave 1200m deep."
Finding a way to bridge the 150m gap between the caves
wouldn't be easy. It took four trips over three years before
fumes from a kerosene fire lit at Stormy Pot were smelled
near a rockfall in Nettlebed, indicating the best place to
attempt a link-up.
On a previous expedition, dye tipped into a creek in Stormy
Pot had flowed into a creek in Nettlebed, confirming that the
two caves were one.
The kerosene-fume expedition last year was funded by Red Bull
Media, which made a documentary about it.
When the cavers returned this week, it took two hours of
digging to complete the link and enter the cave into record
A lot of abseiling is required to pass through a system that
varies from "brutally small shafts through to chambers 50m
high and two football fields long", and a large river also
has to be negotiated.
The cavers spent between seven and 10 days underground on
If a new entrance can be found further up Mt Arthur, the cave
has the potential to extend to 1500m deep.
But it still won't rival the world's deepest cave - the 2197m
deep Krubera Cave in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia
in the Western Caucasus.
- NZ Herald