Some people fear dark water, others tremble at the thought of confined spaces. For me the thought of combining the two and topping it off by strapping scuba gear to my back is horrendous…ly appealing.
My first cave experience came about after a tall-tale of a far off cave in the Solomon Islands told by a cohort at my Sydney diving club. He told of a dark hole in the ground accessible only by trudging through the underbrush in full scuba gear that was once a feeding hole for sharks and traveled through the island’s insides to open into the ocean. I booked my ticket that evening.
Little did I know what I was in for… To term my two-month trip to the ‘Sollies’ ‘epic’ would be a gross understatement but until the final days I hadn’t managed to track down my cave.
In Gizo I boarded a “ferry” to Munda comprised of eight plastic chairs precariously positioned in a skiff, and as it happened I pulled up my soggy bucket seat next to a bemused-looking fellow and he tipped an invisible hat to me. Little did I know that this was the man who held the key to my long-desired cave!
Becoming quick comrades I told him the story of the fabled cave and he chuckled back at me, “yea, I know where that is..” he said, “it’s about 45 minutes out by boat but we only dive it on special occasions..”
My eyes widened, could he be serious? Had I finally found my cave? I wiggled excitedly in my soggy seat and asked him to elaborate.
The cave is real, and; on the island of Ndokendoke. The legend tells of a young man dragged beneath the reef by a shark trying to steal the turtle he’d caught. The shark swam deep into a dark tunnel. Reaching the end of his lungs he saw a light above him and let go and swam to the surface, finding himself in a small pool in the jungle.
The boys family eventually found him, sitting bewildered in the trees and telling of his incredible adventure.
I was thrilled and pleaded for the opportunity to take my own trip through the legendary tunnel.
After much coersion and pestering to the amusement of my new friends it was decided, I was to dive the cave – hurrah! That day I awoke early and flew out of the hotel room and down to the dive shop, fidgeting like a five year old on red cordial.
The boat ride across a glassy sea flew by and soon I stood in the jungle with a three meter wide hole in the ground stared back at me, quietly pondering my scuba-suited self. The opening to the cave offered an easy stair-step into the pool, overhung by the top outcropping of rock and several spindly trees. Our dive plan was simple ‘descend straight down to 42 metres, then follow the bend up to the left and swim through, single file, torch on, and enjoy!’
As we descended I smiled into my regulator and surveyed the walls around me; jagged stacked slabs of rock lined with silt layered like sharpened Jenga bricks with a human-wide hole through their middle. Shortly the cavern floor crept into view and as I entered the first chamber I adjusted my buoyancy, musing at the aquatic version of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossble.
I felt no fear, merely a sense of wonderous calm. Here I was, snug in my scuba gear, experiencing what few humans ever do, a trip into the natural history of our little, wet planet.
Ancient stalactites adorned the walls, the cave is comprised of three chambers connected by a thin tunnel. The smallest opening between the second and third chamber, a metre and a half wide and at a sharp angle.
I glided through, mimicking the gently swaying Cardinal Fish. Larger Squirrel Fish and Soldier Fish meandered near the pale blue of the ocean opening.
I wasn’t ready to leave when we swam out onto the reef, I regarded the fan corals with a hint of disdain as they simply weren’t as majestic as the dark beginning to my dive. Sharks swam past, followed by manta rays and a turtle but they too paled in comparison; I was hooked, line and sinker, on holes in the ground.
Returning to the boat I’m sure my dive buddy’s guffaw meant my face read precisely the first words out of my mouth, a justified, if juvenile, “I wanna go again!”