Caving enthusiasts and experts descended on Waitomo Caves in New Zealand’s North Island for The 20th Australasian Conference on Cave and Karst Management.

Not only was the conference a success for delegates and host body ACKMA, but it also highlighted Waitomo as the perfect tourist experience and highly organised meetings destination.

New Zealand is home to some of the most challenging and beautiful caving systems in the world. From the famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves to the 70km long Bulmer Cavern near Nelson, New Zealand’s caves are some of the deepest and most spectacular on the planet. Tourism at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, south of Otorohanga in the King Country, dates back to 1889 - two years after local Maori chief Tane Tinorau first discovered the system. In 1910 the Waitomo Caves Hotel was built to accommodate the many visitors. These days nine cave businesses operate at Waitomo offering a range of guided tours, from an easily accessible caving experience of limestone formations and glowworms to a network of difficult caves for more experienced and confident cavers. As a result of New Zealand’s caving systems the country has attracted and produced some of the world’s best cave mappers, managers and scientists.

Every 16 years Waitomo Village hosts the biennial conference for The Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association (ACKMA), where those responsible or interested in the planning and management of limestone landscapes meet. New Zealand hosts the conference every eight years, alternating between the North and South Islands, as part of a rotational roster of prominent Australasian cave and karst areas. In Waitomo, local members of the association organised the conference in May 2013, held at the original Waitomo Caves Hotel. Sixty-three of the 109 delegates came from overseas for the week-long conference which focused on the “Triple bottom line – People, Planet, Profit” as it applies to caves and karst management in the Waitomo region.

During the conference delegates could spend their afternoons visiting some of the region’s caves including the delicate Aranui cave, hidden until 1910 in the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, which houses a beautiful collection of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and decorative formations. Cave and karst site visits occurred every day while Department of Conservation scenic reserves and some private sites were also visited.  Other optional afternoon field trips involved a visit to the Discovery Centre to view archives, a Glowworm Cave technical climate monitoring tour, a Caveworld night tour, and a history of the Waitomo Caves Hotel. A Kiwi culture show was also on offer as well as the Otorohanga Kiwi House. Meals were held at the hotel and also spread around various venues in the village. Pre and post conference trips took in the Volcanic Plateau, North Waikato cave and karst area, Auckland lava caves, and wild caving in Waitomo.

Feedback from delegates was that the conference was the best yet. Ann Augusteyn of Capricorn Caves, in Queensland, Australia said the format of the conference was excellent from the overall programme of morning sessions to the afternoon site visits and valuable optional activities followed by delicious dinners. “Emotions ran high on many occasions but particularly the Mihi whakatau (formal welcome) and the Waitomo choir in the Glowworm Centre. What talent you have in your community together with a true spirit of friendship and genuine welcome.” Waitomo Caves cave environmental officer Travis Cross said not only was the conference a success for delegates and host body ACKMA, but it also highlighted Waitomo as the perfect tourist experience and highly organised meetings destination, Mr Cross said. “Showcasing what we do in New Zealand and sharing knowledge with cave managers and scientists from around Australasia and the world,” he said. Similar conferences had put other caving areas on the map in recent years including Buchan in Victoria, Tasmania, Margaret River in Western Australia and Westport in the South Island.