Cavers find massive new limestone cave

Cavers exploring rugged terrain in the Kahurangi National Park have discovered an extensive limestone cave with a huge entrance arch.

Led by Nelson caver John Patterson, the group of Nelson, Manawatu, Canterbury and two French cavers discovered the until now unknown cave, they have named Te Manui, below the bushline in steep rift-riven land which drains the Tablelands area.

Nelson's Rod Woodward, who found the cave along with Kevin Pascoe, of Canterbury, said the find "was an absolute buzz".

"I wanted to explore the drainage area of the Tablelands. The country is eroded into huge riffs, there are cliffs everywhere."

The find was significant in terms of limestone caves but could not be put into national context until it had been fully mapped, he said.

The trip was a return journey for Mr Woodward who had ventured into the area before searching for waterways feeding the Leslie River.

While most of the group covered the eastern side of the catchment Mr Woodward and Mr Pascoe headed to the opposite bank where Mr Woodward was certain he would find a major natural drain. They found the cave after two hours.

"We were sidling along the side of a cliff and got bluffed. I looked around the corner into this small valley and there was this massive cave entrance. There is a huge arch over the entrance which is about 30-metres wide and 15m high - it's the most impressive cave entrance in New Zealand."

Mr Woodward said the group mapped about the first 200m of the cave and found a "magnificent" chamber as they explored to about 800m.

There was a reasonable flow of water through the resurgence cave which was in the heart of "last frontier" country.

"This area is tiger country and pretty much unexplored because it is so rugged and hard to move in."

Members of the Nelson Caving Club would be "champing at the bit" to get into the cave, but he first wanted to go back and find an easier route to the entrance before mapping started in earnest. "It's a hard slog to get there at the moment."

Mr Patterson said the 15-strong group had gone into the area early last week to explore country on the western side of Mt Arthur above and below the bushline and a deep marble cave on the mountain. The group came out on Sunday.

He said the group managed to explore only a small part of the cave system, including a chamber about 150m long and 50m wide.

"It's very exciting and we are looking forward to going back."

He said the trip was partially sponsored by annual exploration grants from the New Zealand Speleological Society.