New cave passages found under Mt Owen

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New subterranean passageways have been uncovered in New Zealand’s Kahurangi National Park.

World-renowned caver and New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association (NZOIA) member Kieran McKay and his team uncovered the passages beneath Mt Owen during a quest to find one of the world’s longest cave systems.

This latest expedition follows the team’s discovery of New Zealand’s deepest cave system under nearby Mt Arthur in 2014.

Kieran says the new finds were “incredibly exciting”, and were an important development in the North Owen Caving Expedition’s search for links between the Blue Creek Spring system on Mount Owen’s northern side and the massive Bulmer Cavern to the south.

Three previously unexplored vertical shafts were measured at around 300 metres deep. Kieran says the first, accessed from Curtis Gill, led to a rock wall. In the next shaft, a strong breeze was found coming from a crack in the rock at the bottom of the shaft, indicating a connecting passage.

At a third shaft leading from a well-known descent known as the Giant’s Staircase, the team discovered a “huge sump” where Kieran said he was able to dive for about 70 metres underwater before returning to the surface. Estimated to be at least 300 metres deep, it was much bigger than anything the team had anticipated, and may indicate a connection to as-yet undiscovered caves.

The team will continue the expedition, which they hope will lead to the discovery that the Bulmer Cavern system is one of the longest cave systems in the world.

“When you look at maps of the area, the Bulmer system takes up a third of the space under the mountain, but in the other two thirds we don’t really know what’s out there.

“To start with we’ll go back to the Giant’s Staircase and keep diving. We also found lots of other big passages. It’s an incredible place.”

Kieran and his team plan to release a film documenting their recent exploits at the Wanaka Film Festival following on from their award-winning film, The Cave Connection – Into the Unknown, which screened at film festivals around the world.