Information on the New Zealand Speleological Society



The New Zealand Speleological Society (NZSS) is the national body for recreational caving in New Zealand.  We promote the sport of caving, the exploration of caves and the conservation of caves and the karst or lava landscapes they reside in.  The membership is mainly made up of members of affiliated local clubs.  The NZSS also operates the NZ Cave Search and Rescue system on behalf of LandSAR and SAR NZ. 

NZSS is a proud member of the International Union of Speleology and welcomes contact from international cavers. Click here to visit the UIS website.

The NZSS achieves these tasks through;
• Running and sponsoring expeditions to discover and study new caves and cave passages
• Advocating to landowners and the government on matters concerning the conservation of caves and cave landforms (karst, coast or lava)
• Publishing a twice yearly Bulletin which includes information on new cave discoveries, karst science, cave fauna, karst hydrology and other larger articles of interest to the caving community.
• Providing specialist training in caving and rescue
• Running Search and Rescue Exercises
• Publishing a newsletter four times a year to members which includes the latest caving news and breakthroughs, news of expeditions and other events, caving tips and techniques.
• Giving grants for caving related activities which will further the aims of the organisation
• Encouraging cavers from different areas to meet and cave together
• Maintaining a library of caving related  literature and information at the Waitomo Museum of Caves

History of the NZSS


On 1 October 1949, the Society came into existence. It had one member, Mr Henry G. Lambert, who was declared President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Editor of the NZSS Bulletin.

At that time very little was known about caves in New Zealand. Information was gleaned from Borough Councils, Museums, University geologists, Geological Survey and private people. The Society was set up to collate this information and make it available to earnest enquirers to stimulate further exploration and to add to this knowledge.

A month after the Society came into existence Judd Davey joined, and since then membership has increased steadily. There are currently about 300 members.

Early Days

In the early days, the Society was very much based in Auckland and activities were limited to the Auckland and Waikato regions. Before long, a strong core of active cavers developed in the Waikato, particularly at Hamilton and Waitomo. During the 1960s, caving clubs were formed in Wellington, Nelson, and Christchurch, and these became affiliated to the Society, gradually extending its influence across the country.

The society sponsored and organised expeditions to explore some of the larger caving areas including the first descents of Harwoods Hole on Takaka Hill in 1958 and the Mt Owen expedition of 1962.

The Contemporary NZSS

Nowadays, most caving activity is based out of Waitomo, Mahoenui (North Taranaki), north-west Nelson, and north Westland. The Society's structure reflects is broad geographical base, though most of the membership resides in the Far North.

In the 1980s the Nettlebed system under Mount Arthur was explored and Bulmer on Mt Owen was discovered and is still being explored today. In the 1990s Mt Arthur saw a lot of action with the Ellis Basin being the focus of activity.

More recently there have been many extensions to caves on Takaka hill as well as some new finds and connections. In 2011 Stormy Pot was discovered and after much hard work it was connected with Nettlebed in 2014.





The Society is administered by a “Council” which meets up to four times a year, consisting of the President, Secretary, Business Manager, and six other officers with special responsibilities. These are the:

  • Search and Rescue Coordinator
  • Conservation & Research Coordinator
  • Training Coordinator
  • Safety Coordinator
  • Membership Coordinator
  • Information and Publications Coordinator.

Job descriptions for all council officers is laid out in the NZSS Handbook. You can contact council officers via the Contact Page.

The Council has the power to appoint persons from the Society's membership to serve as Society officers outside of Council. The officers appointed usually include the North Island and South Island Maps Officers, Tomo Times editor, Bulletin editor, webmaster, and librarian. Council members may hold these positions.

Any member of the Society may attend any Council meeting, and shall have speaking rights but not voting rights.

Annual General Meeting

The Society's Annual General Meeting is held on the Saturday of Labour Weekend in October and is followed by the photographic and survey competitions and a semi-formal dinner. The AGM is hosted by a different group each year, usually in a location suitable for caving. A full weekend's programme of varied activities including caving trips, is organised by the host group. 

Election of NZSS Council officers

Nominations for Council officers are called for prior to the AGM. If more than one nomination is received for a position, or the incumbent officer wishes to stand again and another one or more nominations are received for that position, a vote will be held. All members will be advised if a vote is to be held. For full details of the nomination and voting process refer to the constitution Clause 11.