Getting Up-Close to the Glowworms of Te Anau

Adrenaline city, see you some other time… 100% pure New Zealand wilderness, here we come! Yes, today we are finally leaving Queenstown and the not too distant memories of a bungy jump, white water rafting, jet boating, hiking a New Zealand Great Walk, go-karting, ziplining, luging, canyoning and 4×4 driving. We are swapping it for Te Anau, the gateway to one of the world’s largest World Heritage Sites, Fiordland National Park. We have lots of wilderness exploring planned, from cruising in Doubtful Sound to scuba diving in Milford Sound.

To start off this next leg of awesomeness, we are diving straight into Te Anau Glowworm Caves, so we leave Nomads Queenstown bright and early to make the two-hour trip to Te Anau.

Following the edges of Lake Wakatipu

This might come as no surprise to you but the drive, again, is pretty damn stunning. Leaving Queenstown, we have the rest of New Zealand’s longest lake, Lake Wakatipu, to marvel at as we drive along the mountainsides. The mountains are still hanging onto the snowfall from yesterday.

Kia ora, Southland!

Once we leave the lakeside of Lake Wakatipu, it is official: we are now in the region of Southland. To mark the occasion the scenery changes to flat farmland, straight roads and mountains all too far in the distance. Without really noticing, we drive up to higher land surrounded by red tussock. It’s a bizarre scene we’ve not seen yet on this 365-day road trip – the colour is that of a wasteland, yet there is still vegetation thriving here.

As we approach the mountains and a huge lake again, it is clear that we’ve made it! We’ve made it to Te Anau!

A pit stop at the Lake Wakatipu Lookout A pit stop at the Lake Wakatipu Lookout
On the tour of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves On the tour of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves
A glowworm garden A glowworm garden
Those shiny maggots never fail to impress! Those shiny maggots never fail to impress!

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

We check-in for a powered site at the Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park, then we have no time to lose to catch a boat with Real Journeys out to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves.

Te Anau Glowworm Caves are right on the other side of Lake Te Anau (the western side) and actually gave the name to the lake and settlement, meaning: “the cave of the swirling water current” in te reo Maori.

Cruising across Lake Te Anau

About 40-50 people join us on the boat/ferry across the lake to the caves. Despite the weather being pretty miserable, we still make our way to the top deck to capture some awesome views across the lake. Forested islands and mountains can be seen between scattered clouds. We brave out the wind for as long as we can, trying to keep our balance on the lake that feels more like the ocean right now, until we head downstairs to claw at the windows and the magnificent views for the rest of the journey.

After passing islands and beaches, the boat approaches a jetty. From there, we unload and make our way through some ancient mossy forest to the Cavern House. While some of our group are being taken into the caves now, the rest of us are staying in the warm Cavern House for hot drinks and a presentation about the glowworm’s life cycle.

This is why they call it “the cave of the swirling waters”

Glowworms up close

We see some close-up footage of what glowworms actually look like, how they make their sticky lines, both in real time and lapsed time, there’s even footage of a glowworm eating another glowworm! The stuff they have managed to capture is amazing! We start to understand more about the glowworm than we have had the chance to anywhere else.

In fact, the footage gets so much for one lady that when asked if we have any questions, she cries out: “Why are they here?!“, “What do they want from us?!” and “Are our children safe?!” Ok, we may have made up the last two questions…

Entering the te anau glowworm caves

We are now going to see the aliens that are going to take our children with our own eyes in the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Our group of 14 are being lead by the guide who gave the wonderful presentation, Vedant. A photographer takes our photo (to buy later, of course) as we squeeze down a layered limestone corridor and crouch through a low-lying ceiling into the caves.

The cave opens up with a powerful stream flowing underneath the metal walking platform and a cave with the maximum height only being about 20-30m above our heads. As you can imagine, it’s going to be a pretty intimate experience in this cave.

Drinking from the tomo

We all gather close to Vedant at the first stop in order to hear him over the roar of the water. An almost perfect cylinder tomo is lit up above us with water dripping vigorously from the middle of the huge cave hole. We are invited to drink the clean and fresh water, then move onto the next section.

Introducing the tomo of Te Anau Glowworm Caves! Introducing the tomo of Te Anau Glowworm Caves!
Emerging back into daylight Emerging back into daylight
Robin WILL soak up the views no matter how windy it is! Robin WILL soak up the views no matter how windy it is!

 

Glowworm gardens

Lights show us interesting cave formations, such as the tiniest stalactites we have ever seen! What’s more, the bits of hanging limestone about half and inch long have taken 400 years to form! Poor guys. Alongside the stalactites are the lines of the glowworms looking like thin beaded jewelry hanging from the ceiling. They even have a nice little garden of moss surrounding them.

underground waterfall and whirlpools

As we wait for the group ahead of us to pass so we can move on, Vedant shines a light in the river to reveal a couple of trout swimming against the current. Then we are heading up to higher cave ground to reveal a tumultuous waterfall fed by a swirling whirlpool, which in turn is fed by streams coming from all directions. Now we understand where the Te Anau (the cave of the swirling water current) gets it name from.

A galaxy of glowworms

Now for the grand finale, floating underneath a galaxy of glowworms. We load onto a small boat, Vedant turns the lights off, and off we go slowly floating underneath blue lights, some like a distant stars in a much higher part of the cave, while others are inches away from our face! We are incredibly close and seeing the glowworms like we have never seen before, as they shine at their brightest just above us. No one says a word as we drift away from the roars of the underground river and move into a quiet pool section.

Back on the metal walking platforms we make our way back through the caves, stopping at a different viewpoint of that tumultuous waterfall along the way.

Fiordland forest

It’s back out into daylight once again where Vedant leads us through some magnificent forest to talk about one of it’s residents: the takahe. Instead of having a real takahe knocking about, he holds up a huge stuffed toy takahe for people in the group to hug and pose for photos with. (Which they are extremely happy about, by the way). From there, it’s back on the boat to Te Anau.

The Te Anau Glowworm Caves is a taste of the beauty held within Fiordland National Park – a taste which is about to get a whole lot sweeter in the next fewdays. Tomorrow, we are going off the beaten track for a full-day experience in Doubtful Sound – that other fiord that is forever in the shadow of its brother, Milford. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Whirlpools and glowworms in Te Anau Glowworm caves
Whirlpools and glowworms in Te Anau Glowworm caves Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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