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Te Anau May 30, 1988 - Glow worm cave is visited Monday

By Bob Van Leer

  (TE ANAU, NEW ZEALAND, May 30, 1988) - This is a resort town of 3000 people located on a huge lake of the same name on the eastern edge of Fiordland National Park, at 1.2 million acres, New Zealand's largest. The standout of the day was a visit to the glow-worm caves.

  We left Dunedin in the morning, driving south and west through sheep country. The land is beautiful rolling green hills with thousands upon thousands of sheep grazing, broken up by an occasional pasture of deer. As we got farther west we began to see snow-capped mountains. The countryside gradually changed to alpine scenery. Peaks range to over 3000 meters.

  After dinner Betty and I went down to the lakefront to catch a boat to the glow-worm caves. The lake boat, the Tawera (Maori for Morning Star) was built in 1899 and is the oldest working boat in New Zealand. It is 70 feet long and diesel powered.

  It is a 16 kilometer boat ride to the caves and the Tawera is not a speedboat, the trip takes about 50 minutes. At the dock by the caves, we were given an orientation. The glow-worm is the larval state of the Arachnocampa Luminosa, a fly. The worm is about the size and shape of a wooden match except that the worm makes its home on the top of the caves and threads hang from the body. At the end of each thread is a small globule that the worm can cause to glow. This attracts insects which become entangled in the threads and are digested. The caves were only discovered in 1948.

  Entrance to the caves is through a passage only a meter high. We traveled along a narrow catwalk over a rushing small river. Then we were loaded in a small boat and our guide pulled the boat through the first part of the cave by means of a chain. The sound of falling water became a roar. Then we were unloaded and led up another catwalk to get us over and around an underground waterfall. Now we were loaded on a second boat for the final trip into the glow-worm caves themselves. For this part of the trip silence on our part was required as the worms turn off their lights when disturbed. The sensation was ghostly, being slowly pulled through the cave in pitch darkness with the only sound that of the rushing water. As our eyes became adjusted we could see them, faintly glowing clusters of greenish lights on the roof of the cave which sometimes was only a foot or two over our heads.

  After the tour of the glow-worm caves we retraced our steps back to the dock for the return voyage to our motel. By now the cloud cover had lifted and there was a full moon. The snow-covered peaks stood out white against the dark sky and overhead we could see the Southern Cross, a constellation of stars visible only in the southern hemisphere.

  It was nearing midnight and cold when we returned to the motel. The manager saw us go by and invited us in for a nightcap and we visited with some of the local residents before turning in. As in Australia, the people we have met have all been friendly. On the boat we met a couple from Newport, Oregon, also touring New Zealand.

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