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New Zealand (Day 4): Te Anau Glowworms

Summary: Our next stop on our trip New Zealand trip was in Te Anau. We used this cute South Island town as a launching point to hike the gorgeous Routeburn and Kepler Tracks, kayak Milford Sound, and visit the famous glowworm caves. From Queenstown, it is a scenic 2.5 hour drive through the countryside to our lodging location for the next three days. In the afternoon, we took a boat trip from central Te Anau to see the area's famous glowworm caves.

Drive from Queenstown to Te Anau. After three fun-filled days in New Zealand we were ready for a mini break. This transition day involved a 2.5 hour drive through the New Zealand countryside, which was dotted with sheep, of course, and contained rolling green hills that reminded us of our home in Northern California.


Te Anau. This town of only 3000 residents has a well-stocked grocery store, restaurants, a nice visitor center, plenty of accommodations, and other services catering to tourists. Located near the popular Kepler Track, Te Anau is also only 90 minutes from Milford Sound and the Routeburn Track, another popular hiking destination. With a modest amount of driving, we found that Te Anau had reasonable prices as compared to the limited lodging available closer to Milford Sound.


Ferry Ride. After stocking our AirBnB with fresh groceries, we headed out in the afternoon to visit the famous glowworm caves in Te Anau. Tickets should be purchased in advance and currently run about $60 per adult, depending on the exchange rate. The ferry departs from the central Te Anau visitor center, located on Lake Te Anau, and takes you to the Glowworm caves. Total trip time is about 2.5 hours.

Te Anau Glowworm Caves. As explained in the first photo below, taken from a sign just outside the glowworm visitor's center, the glowworms are located deep into the mountains. Access to the glowworms involves a brief walk through a forest to the cave entrance. From there, visitors are required to duck through a narrow opening which may be difficult for the claustrophobic. Even though I have those tendencies myself, I was surprisingly okay with this experience primarily because they take only small groups at a time and after a brief time, the cave opens up into a bigger space.

The rare occasion when being short helped. The boys were not so lucky.

Deep into the caves. One of the fascinating things about this experience is just how deep you travel into the caves. I'm not sure what I expected but for some reason I had pictured the glowworms being much closer to the entrance. The caves are carved from running water so not surprisingly, there are rivers accompanying you throughout the experience. Wearing a light rain jacket helped with overspray and dripping water from above. After these photos were taken, our cameras were put away as there's no photography allowed near the glowworms. I don't know that it would have mattered because it is pitch black once you get to the glowworms.


Glowworms. Viewing of the glowworms slowly starts as you walk into the mountain. However, the show really begins when you reach a river boat launch, which reminded me a lot of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean for some reason. In the boats, you will not be able to see even your hand in front of you, but look up and the walls will be lit with these fascinating insects glowing by bioluminescence. The boat ride takes you further into the mountain as you quietly views the constellation of light created by these insects.

Presentation. After emerging from the caves, our group received a presentation about the glowworms, including the life-cycle of the glowworm and preservation efforts. One thing we noted was a comment about weather events occasionally killing off the population. We were told it can take several weeks for the population to return after this occurs. It may be worth checking in on the status of the cave before booking your tickets. We were lucky that they were in full force during our visit.

Dinner in Te Anau. After the boat returned to Te Anau, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at The Fat Duck.

Dessert at the Air BnB. Back at the Air BnB, we decided to try "Kiwi's Favourite Dessert," the Pavlova. Resembling a meringue, this popular New Zealand dish is, oddly enough, named after Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. The recipe itself, though, predates Ms. Pavlova as a common New Zealand dish dating back to the late 19th century. Like the cover photo, we enjoyed our dish with strawberries and whip cream. I'd say it is physically much lighter than angel food cake but just as sweet. It's not bad!


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