The night’s snowfall is visible on the mountains but hey, the good news is that we can actually see the mountains. Chris has managed to work out how to use the umbrella, there’s a magic hidden button that results in it springing into action. Fortunately, this vital information isn’t needed at the moment as there is no sign of rain. Despite 1 degree temperatures, it is quite pleasant in the sun as we set off to explore Te Anau. The tour company who were to take us to Milford Sound today have offered to take us tomorrow instead. The snag is that we have a trip to Te Anau Glow Worm Caves booked then. Our cunning plan is to see if we can go to the caves today, freeing us for the rearranged Milford Sound trip. Hurrah there is space for us on the 10.30am glow worm trip today. Unfortunately, the trip may not run as they are currently inspecting the caves for flooding. We wait for the verdict to be phoned in. This morning’s trip is off but we can go this afternoon, providing the flood water has subsided. On the strength of this and with the assistance of the very helpful receptionist at Te Anau Top 10, we call the Milford tour company and agree that we will be on their trip tomorrow. They even offer to throw in a free lunch for our inconvenience – result! Well done Mitre Tours.
We stroll along the lakeside and manage to look round the visitors’ centre that closed hastily yesterday. The Maori legend is that the demi-god Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved the fiords with his ko (digging stick). He practiced on the southern fiords and perfected the technique by the time he got to Piopiotahi, or Milford Sound. We learn about the parrot like Kakapo, of which there are believed to be only 160 remaining. I don’t think we are likely to spot one of those. In fact, so far, the birdlife has been disappointingly European, although we do see a tui today. In 1888, Quintin Mackinnon and Ernest Mitchell became the first Europeans to travel overland from Te Anau to Milford Sound, establishing the Milford Track. Mackinnon disappeared on the lake in 1892.
In the afternoon, we set off across the lake in the Luminosa, heading for the glow worm caves. The fiords, of which there are 14 in the Fiordland National Park and the lake are glacial formations. Lake Te Anau is the largest in Australasia and is 410 metres deep. 210 metres of this is below sea level, making it a crypto-depression. The surrounding vegetation is a cool, temperate rainforest, consisting largely of beeches, mosses and lichens. The caves were rediscovered in 1948. Te Ana-au means ‘caves with a current of swirling water’, which prompted the search. We are to explore only the first 250 metres of the 7km Aurora caves system, which spreads under the Murchison Mountains, this will take us 40 metres underground. The caves are comparatively young, at 12,000 years of age, thus no stalagmites or stalactites have formed yet.
We have been warned that there is to be no photography or noise in the caves, in order not to disturb the glow worms. Experiences whilst penguin watching on our previous visit, suggests that this may not go well. As we disembark, a fantail gives a great display but they don’t stay still for long making photography a challenge. Last night’s rain means that the underground torrents are particularly fast and we have to enter the cave by crouching under a one metre high overhang. After a short walk, we sit on a punt in order to view the worms. The people on our trip were a bit more law abiding than the penguin watchers and it turns out that the worms don’t really mind lights from cameras or noise but this instruction is just a crowd control mechanism.
A brief presentation tells us about the life cycle of the glow worm. They lay 120-150 eggs then, when hatched, the larvae, which are 2mm-3cm long cling to the cave roof. They catch their insect prey on strings of mucus droplets and the flies are attracted by the glowing lights. Once they are caught, the ‘worm’ sucks up the droplets and the food. There is a short nature trail to enjoy and the fantail is in evidence again. Credit to ‘Real Journeys’ for a great trip and for allowing us to change our booking. Now to hope that the weather is in our favour for the next two days’ trips.