Thursday, February 16, 2012

Glow little glowworm: visiting the glowworm caves in Te Anau

After checking into our two-room suite at the Distinction Te Anau and enjoying a glass of wine in the lobby bar, we walk across the street to Real Journeys, an organization that runs a variety of outdoor adventures throughout New Zealand. On our agenda this afternoon is a visit to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. We board a boat that whisks us across Lake Te Anua, the second-largest lake in the country, to the entrance of the glowworm caves. 

Until 1948, the glowworm caves were strictly legend. It wasn’t until explorer Lawson Burrows spent more than three years searching hundreds of miles of lakeshore that he noticed water gushing from under a rock buttress. Braver than I would ever be, Burrows burrowed himself under the rock and found himself in a cave with strange overhead illumination – thousands of glowworms hanging from the cavern ceiling.

“It was a fantastic sight,” he said. “It looked like a page out of a science fiction book; a weird place but not at all frightening.”

So after a quick briefing by our tour guide, we head into the cave. Getting through the entrance requires us to bend nearly in half and we navigate our way, single-file, along a metal ramp several feet above torrents of loud water rushing from deep inside these mountains out to the lake. 

Yup, we're going in there...

About 1/3 of the way into the cave, our guide points out our first glowworms. We peek under a ledge and see long strings of silvery mucus that the glowworms produce in hopes of capturing their next meal, which they will reel up and liquefy before feasting. 

We push further into the cave and finally stop at a small metal dock, where the water below us roars. Our guide gives us the “silence please” signal, and we climb, one-by-one, into a small boat, sitting on padded benches. Our guide then turns off all of the lights, and pulls us, hand-over-hand on wires suspended above our heads, though a cavern illuminated only the glowworms above. The boat occasionally clanks against the side of the limestone cave walls. The setting is surreal.

No photography is allowed inside the cave, but I’ve taken pictures of the travel brochure that shows you the metal pathway we followed and the boat we rode through the cavern. 

Here are some photos of the exotic beach outside the visitor's center at the caves:

Not a trip I’d recommend for anyone with claustrophobia or with a fear of dripping mucus, but if you ever find yourself in Te Anau and want to see a true wonder of nature, check out the glowworm caves.

Some photos from the boat ride back to our hotel in Te Anua:

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