Enchanting and magical. That’s the only way I can describe what it felt like to be inside the caves.
We booked a tour with Real Journeys when we got to Te Anau, but I’d recommend booking in advance as for safety reasons only a certain amount of people can be taken into the caves at one time. In saying this, there are multiple departures per day, so chances are you won’t be disappointed.
One pleasant surprise was that we had to take a scenic 20-30 cruise across Lake Te Anau, complete with running commentary on the area, to get to the caves. Although it was windy, standing on the deck getting blown about was worth it to see the towering mountains and lush greenery surrounding us. I feel like such a snob when I say the lake did not impress me. After seeing the vibrant blue lakes and rivers like Tekapo and Shotover, this was just another lake. I fear so many lakes will never live up to the high expectations I have after seeing the others.
We choose to be the last group to go into the caves so we could listen and watch the presentation before we went into the caves. I’d definitely recommend doing this so you know what you are seeing in the caves. On second thought, if I went into the caves first I would have remained blissfully ignorant to the fact those shining lights are actually part of a maggot . Seeing photos and videos of these … maggots … with the lights on revealed them in all their slimy, wormy, mucusy, hungry, territorial and cannibalistic glory, and to be honest, it was gross.
The worms glow to attract moths and other food sources to their light. These creatures become dinner after they get caught in the worms paralysing silk fishing line with little drops of mucus which look like tiny glass raindrops. These little works then suck the intestines out of poor little moth like a milkshake, letting the moth carcass fall to the floor. I was terrified a dead moth was going to fall on my face.
But all these thoughts drifted away as soon as I entered the cave. Or crawled. The entrance is very low & the guides advised us to adopt the most fantastic phrase “hand before head.”
It’s dark almost immediately. You can feel the dampness in the air. The water gushes and crashes and echoes against the walls. It is a young cave and there are no stalactites or stalagmites, save for a tiny one about the length of a matchstick named Percy, but this doesn’t make it any less impressive. If anything, it’s even more fascinating being inside a cave that is still being formed with each liter of water that rushes through.
But the most spectacular of all? The stars of the show – the glowworms.
We get to a tiny boat and fill in. It’s pitch black. Our guide puts a finger to her lips, points to the roof and turns of her torch. Suddenly it feels like I’m outside in a field looking up at the stars. There are hundreds and hundreds of little blue lights, no bigger than a pinprick. Some glow brightly whilst others barely create a light. Some are gathered in huge clusters whilst others are alone. Dad described it as looking at large cities compared to tiny country towns at night. It’s magical. Water drips and some drops fall on my head. I can hear the nearby waterfall thundering. It’s deafening and terrifying as I have no idea where it is. It sounds like it is surrounding me. I also have no idea how our boat is moving but despite my curiosity I just let it go and go back to watching the galaxies above.
The peace and the magic ends far too quickly. I could have sat there for hours and hours. We’re off the boat and walking out of the cave and then back on the boat to Te Anau, but I’m still with those lights. I couldn’t wait to go to bed, close my eyes and pretend I am still in that cave.
Magical and enchanting. Far too short, I could have spent all 2 1/4 hours of the tour inside the cave, but spectacular and worth a visit nonetheless.
For the benefit of other visitors and the glowworms there are no photos allowed, so you’ll just have to go and visit yourself!!!