Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


Speleology is the scientific study of caves, the exploration of their form and extent, the consideration of their manner of formation, and the description of the flora, fauna, and minerals found in them. Those participating in this science are called speleologists or, more commonly in New Zealand, “speleos” or “cavers”.

The Maoris of pre-European times believed caves to be the abode of monsters (taniwha) and rarely ventured into them beyond the limit of daylight. At present speleologists in New Zealand are mainly concerned with the discovery, exploration, and description of caves, with but a few geologists studying the origins and developments of caves, and a few entomologists studying cave fauna and its ecology.

A speleological society was formed in 1949 to foster the sport of cave exploration, to ensure that its members have the necessary equipment, and to preserve unspoiled the beauty of the caves for future generations. Practical caving is neither simple nor free from danger and much preparation must be done if the caver is not to risk his life needlessly. In addition to physical fitness, speleology calls for determination, courage, wisdom, and comradeship, and an experienced caver never enters a cave without at least two companions. All gear, including boots, helmet, lamp, overalls, flexible ladders, and ropes must be thoroughly efficient. Larger expeditions amass such equipment as winches, dinghies, and telephones, so that any obstacle may be overcome safely and quickly.

by Leslie Owen Kermode, B.A., Geological Survey Station, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Otahuhu.

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