The Glowworm Caves

New Zealand is home to this natural wonder. The glowworms are widespread in New Zealand generally in cave systems. The most popular of the cave systems to view glowworms are at Waitomo, Te Anau and Waipu.

A short introduction on the glowworms

The New Zealand variety of glow worm is actually the larva of an insect which looks like a mosquito. The scientific name is Arachnocampa luminosa. The larva produces a blue green bioluminescence. The Maori name is “Titiwai “meaning projected over water. They live in dark, cool , damp and humid environments like caves, sheltered banks and native bushes.

This is not to be confused with fireflies which also are bioluminescent but belong to the beetle species.

The insect eggs are deposited on cave walls. On hatching, the larvae immediately begin to glow. They grow from the initial size around 4 mm upto 40 mm. over several months. They move around the cave wall and finally attach themselves to a site and start producing a silk nest. The larva produces long silk threads which have sticky droplets on them to capture prey.

The bioluminescence is a result of an enzyme luciferase acting on a molecule called luciferin. Though the enzyme has similarities with that found in fireflies and other bio luminescent systems, the composition of luciferin is totally different in this species. The purpose of this glow has been attributed to attracting prey and also potential mates.

The adult stage

The larva and the silk threads

Bioluminescence

Our Trip

We decided to do the glow worm tour at Te Anau. Real Jouneys is the tour company which organizes these tours from Te Anau.

The glow worm caves lie in the mountains across the Lake Te Anau .The caves are around 12000 years old and are still being carved out by the force of the water that flows through them. The result is a twisted network of limestone passages, whirlpools and an underground waterfall.

Tourists have to take a catamaran to the other side of the lake. These caves are situated close to the water level and the trips are called off if there is flooding in the caves. The trip was cancelled on the previous day due to heavy rain and flooding of the caves.

We were lucky to get a rain free day to do the trip. The catamaran ride lasted about 40 minutes.

Once we reached the other side, we were guided by helpers to get across the slippery rocks on the edge of the lake. The whole area has a very marshy , damp , slippery appearance with dense vegetation .Then we were guided to the Cavern House. The Cavern house has tourist facilities like a small cafe , toilets etc and has a small hall where the guides explained about the bioluminescence and the larvae . There are educational exhibits here too…

The mountains where the caves are situated

The catamaran luminosa that takes you across Lake Te Anau

The Cavern House

Photography is strictly prohibited in these caves.

After the educational session, we were divided into small groups with a guide for each group. We followed the guide along some narrow passages among caves. At many places, limestone formations are seen inside the caves. One has to bend and turn and manouvre oneself to prevent injuries from jutting rock formations. As we went further inside, it got darker. The guide had a headlight on her forehead. At places, there are steps made manually too. At places there are small lights too.

As we walked along the caves, there were silk threads visible at places. But the larvae could not be seen. Finally we reached a small area with flowing water and we boarded a very shallow boat. The boat is so shallow that you cannot sit upright. This is also to prevent injuries to the head as the boat goes through the narrow channels.

Once the boat was on its way, we started seeing the beautiful blue green light all along the walls of the caves. At places, it was very bright and at places it was dull. I assume it depends on the density of larvae at that site. It was indeed a great experience. It looks like a sky lit up with stars!!

Some pictures…

Walking to Cavern House with the guide

The underground waterfall

Walking tracks inside the caves

At places one has to bend to avoid injury

The shallow boat ride and the glow worms on the walls

The star like glow of the larvae

After this wonderful experience we were treated to some hot coffee and took the cruise back to downtown Te Anau.

Our trip to Milford Sound was scheduled for the next day . See you next week at Milford Sound….another beautiful location.

Till then, good bye

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Te Anau

After pulse raising Queenstown, our next destination , Te Anau was a total contrast. A quiet, peaceful ,small town. We took a bus to Te Anau and were the only passengers on the bus. The driver directly dropped us off at our hotel at Te Anau.

The hotel had a beautiful ambience and was very cosy and homely.

The Beautiful Asure Amber Court Hotel where we stayed.

First let me tell you about this cute little town….Te Anau.

Te Anau in Maori language means Place of the swirling waters

Nestled on the edges of the picturesque Lake Te Anau is this pristine , quiet town of Te Anau. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and second largest in New Zealand. The Mt Luxmore and Murchison mountains form an awe inspiring backdrop to this beautiful lake.

The town on the edges of Lake Te Anau

Beautiful Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau from various angles

Te Anau is the gateway to Fjorland National Park. Though Fjorland can be reached from Queenstown also , Te Anau is closer and the drive less tiresome. Te Anau came into the lime light only after the opening up of the Homer tunnel on the 120 km alpine road to Milford Sound . It has since become a hub for those visiting Fjorland. It is also the hub for those doing tramping at the Kepler and Routeburn tracks which is a loop adventure activity along the tussock covered alpine vistas.

We decided to do a day trip to Milford Sound( Fjorland) from Te Anau. Since we were at Te Anau during the fall season, the fall colours added to the beauty of this place. Some pictures…

A typical street in Te Anau

A typical house in Te Anau

Some pictures from downtown Te Anau

A shop with the model of a takahe….an endemic bird of New Zealand

The Takahe…

It is a variety of swamp hen indigenous to New Zealand. It was extensively hunted by Maori and was considered extinct. But was rediscovered in the late 1900s in the Murchison mountains close to Te Anau. It is now considered a threatened species.

There are many activities one can undertake at and from Te Anau. Some such activities:

Day tour of Milford Sound:

A two hour ride on Milford highway passing the Homer Tunnel and a cruise on the famous Milford Sound…the detail episode on this trip coming up soon!!

Fjorland from air:

A helicopter or float plane ride over the fjords and sounds of Fjorland National Park.

The Float plane used for Fjorland from air

Lake 2 Lake cycle trails

Cycling and biking trails along the banks of lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri

Lake Cruise on TeAnau and Manapouri lakes

A cruise along the lakes takes one through some exquisitely beautiful scenery

The Glow worm Caves

Across the Lake Te Anau lies a glow worm grotto which can be explored. We did this and I will be doing an episode on these caves soon

The Great Walks

The Kepler, Milford and Routeburn tracks offer a magnificent way to explore the unique eco system of Fjorland

Apart from these activities, Te Anau is a nice destination for a quiet break in the midst of a hectic sightseeing schedule too.

Digressing a little from Te Anau, I have mentioned a lot about the scenic beauty of New Zealand. It is time I told you about the beauty of it’s people….

I had mentioned that Kiwis are great hosts and that tourists are treated with warmth and affection in New Zealand…some instances

Athithi Devo Bhava!!!

I must tell you about a very interesting anecdote from Te Anau. Apart from the sheer surprise, it really points out the sincerity with which the Kiwis treat their tourists. We were strolling around Te Anau town one afternoon as our connecting bus was scheduled only in the evening. Suddenly I saw a bus parked on the street with my name written on it. I just could not believe my eyes!!. There was a contact number asking me to contact the person to schedule an early departure.

Imagine seeing your name on a bus in the middle of a small town somewhere in New Zealand!!!….I had to pinch myself to be sure I was not dreaming!!

When I called him, the driver said that he is free and since we are the only passengers in the bus, he will take us as per our convenience. Mind you, this is a government intercity bus booked online from India! To fulfill their commitment to the tourist, they were not only running the bus but adjusting to our requirements. This is really Athithi Devo Bhava(our guests are like God)….a famous Indian proverb! There were at least two instances where we were the only passengers in a luxury bus and the driver dropping us directly at our hotel.

Athithi Devo Bhava….Kiwi style!!!

The Intercity bus

When this driver dropped us at Queenstown, he called up a cab and put us in the cab to our hotel. All this without any request from our side.

At another place called Rotorua, which I will cover later, the receptionist at the hotel waved down a bus and helped us carry our luggage to the bus. Mind you, its a regular local bus. And the driver of this bus digressed from his regular route and took the adjacent street so that he could drop us at the correct bus station….with no complaints from our co passengers!

Many a time, local passengers ahead of us in queue would let us board a bus first .

When we expressed our surprise and appreciation of this kind of hospitality,the reply was

“You are our guests and it is our responsibility to get you safe to your destination”

This motto is followed by everyone…it is almost like a rule…that tourists should be assisted at all places.

I really wonder how this approach has been ingrained in all the people there. Definitely something worth emulating!

Well, this episode has shown you the beauty of the land and its people!

Next I will meet you at the Te Anau Glow worm grotto….with those beauties that spread light even in darkness….

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QUEENSTOWN

Starting my New Zealand series with Queenstown….the adventure sports capital of the world. Staggering natural beauty and heart pumping thrills await you at this great destination.

A short Overview on New Zealand

New Zealand … an island nation consists principally of two main islands, The North Island and The South Island.

New Zealand is an awesome country, extremely beautiful and is a storehouse of tourist attractions. Fjords, Sounds, Geothermal phenomenon, unique wild life etc combine to make it a tourist’s dream destination.

The Maoris were the original inhabitants of this land. Even today, they keep up their traditions and put up cultural shows for the tourists.

The people are extremely friendly and treat tourists very specially. Preference is given to tourists at all places. This has to be seen to be believed. I will narrate our experiences as I write along.

Drive anywhere in New Zealand and your eyes will spot some white balls moving around the lush green meadows. These are sheep and they are an integral part of New Zealand’s economy.

Bio safety regulations at New Zealand airports are very strict. Being an island nation, they have unique flora and fauna and are very careful in retaining them as it is. No vegetable or fruit matter is allowed into New Zealand. The idea being that scattered seeds from fruits and vegetables brought from elsewhere may grow in NZ and over take their local produce. This shows how strict they are in such matters. So much so, baggages are sniffed by sniffer dogs much like drug detection.

They are also very strict in the road safety protocols they follow. Any repair or maintenance work on the road, there are warning signs from almost a kilometer away and the police oversee the entire process. It might seem very strange to us but I felt it was very good. Just shows the value attached to human lives!!!

Our Trip

Our Air New Zealand flight from Melbourne to Queenstown was indeed a dramatic one. Queenstown being a centre of adventure tourism , I was prepared for that….but….I did not know that our adventure tourism activities would start from the flight itself!!!!

Landing in Queenstown, we were thrown into some real bad weather and the flight kept circling Queenstown. The captain announced that the earlier flight had been hit by lightning and so we were diverted to Christchurch. After landing in Christchurch, we were told that depending on the weather situation in Queenstown, we would either refuel and fly or offload at Christchurch and head to Queenstown by road. Luckily for us, the weather cleared up. Soon the flight was refueled and we flew back to Queenstown.

The landing in Queenstown is spectacular. You fly in between the snow capped Southern Alps (much alike the views of our own Gulmarg ) with the beautiful Lake Wakatipu and the trees in fall colours.

After landing we drove to the hotel as we were already late. The Rydges Hotel was beautiful with views overlooking the Lake Wakatipu. The lake with the trees along the shores reminded me a lot about Dal Lake in our very own Kashmir. After a long and tumultuous flight, we crashed for the day.

The next day was a bright and sunny day much to our respite.

Queenstown is a beautiful city lying on the shores of Lake Wakatipu against the backdrop of the Southern Alps. It is highly tourist centric and the quaint streets are lined with bars, pubs, restaurants, gift shops and tour companies. Some pictures….

Beautiful Queenstown

A typical Queenstown street

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu, an inland lake in the South Island is renown for its scenic beauty. Queenstown is located on its northern border. The beauty of this lake is essentially the essence of Queenstown. It drains into the Kawarau River which is the venue of many of the adventure sport activities held here. Bordered by The Remarkables mountains,it is also an important winter sports destination. A vintage ship TSS Earnslaw regularly plies on this lake enabling tourists to enjoy the beauty of the lake and mix it with some history too! A large wine producing area also thrives along its edges.

Lake Wakatipu

Sunset over Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu on a less cloudy day

The Vintage ship on Lake Wakatipu

Being an adventure tourism destination, lot of tour companies promoting adventure tourism are seen dotting the quaint streets of this great resort town.

Why is Queenstown known as the adventure sport capital of the world?

Well, it is the birthplace of commercial bungy, has the highest cliff jump, the world’s steepest zip line, the world’s biggest human catapult and has one of the largest giant swings in the world. Tandem skydiving and paragliding started here. Whitewater rafting and jet boat rides on the Kawarau river started commercially here.

We visited the A J Hackett Bungy centre. They are the pioneers in commercial bungy jumping. Here they have short video shows on bungy jumping. One can register here and then they take you to Kawarau Gorge where the actual jump takes place. We visited the Kawarau gorge which is about 20 minutes bus ride from Queenstown.

Some pictures…

The Kawarau Gorge

Bungy centre entrance

The bungy jumping platform

A jumper takes off from the platform

A live bungy jump….(click on the video)

We saw some of the tourists indulge in these great jumps and other adventure sport activities. Some pictures….

Ziplining

Jet Boat Riding

White water rafting

Canyon swing

Skyline Queenstown is the gondola that takes one to Bob’s Peak on top of the Ben Lomond mountain. It gives great views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu as it takes one up the peak. There is a restaurant on the peak from where there are beautiful views.Some pictures…

The Skyline Queenstown

The restaurant at Bob’s Peak

Apart from Queenstown being a resort town in itself, it is also the starting point for many of the beautiful sightseeing locations in South island. Fjorland National Park and its main attraction…The Milford Sound can be reached from Queenstown. The beautiful small town of Te Anau which is famous for its Glowworm caves is also easily accessible from here.

Since the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound may be too long, we decided to halt at Te Anau and do the Sound from there. Our next destination was a total contrast from the live and bubbly Queenstown. Te Anau is a small peaceful, quiet resort town…a sleepy town infact. But we were awe struck by its natural beauty. See you next week at beautiful Te Anau…

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