Located in the Southland region of New Zealand’s South Island, the Te Anau caves are an important system of limestone caves on the western shore of Lake Te Anau. It was discovered in 1948 by Lawson Burrows, who found the upper entry after three years of searching, following clues in old Māori legends. This underground world is astonishingly beautiful. By geological standards the caves are very young (just 12,000 years old!) and are still being carved out by the force of the river that flows through them. The result is a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall.
It has now become a major tourist attraction for the area, as the part of the caverns close to the lake shore is home to glowworms. Apart from the Glowworm caves, the township is complete with plenty of delicious local fare including seafood, lobster and venison specialties. We’ve compiled this guide to help you to make the most of your time in this scenic region which is also known as the gateway to Milford Sound.
What to Expect
Your trip to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves begins with a cruise to the western shores of Lake Te Anau on a purpose-built scenic cruise vessel. At the entry to the caves, you’ll get to view the informative displays and learn about this geological wonder before you join your guide underground.
Deep inside the caves, you will be taken by a small boat into a silent hidden grotto inhabited by thousands of glowworms that are unique to New Zealand. In the subterranean darkness, the glowworms produce a glittering display that is nothing short of extraordinary. The light emitted from them has been estimated to be equivalent to one thousandth of a millionth of a watt (one nanowatt) in intensity.
Please click here to see more detail information about the caves.
Te Anau is approximately a 2.5 hour drive from Queenstown and around 5 hours from Dunedin. If you choose to go there by self drive, we recommend you stay a night in Te Anau. The break will make the drive into/out of Milford easier and more enjoyable.
The eastern shoreline of Lake Te Anau, where the town is located is in the rain shadow of the great mountains of Fiordland receiving around 75cms annual rainfall. Across the lake on the western side, the densely forested mountains are fed by more than 250cms of rain each year.
Inside the caves the temperature is a fairly constant 8 – 12ºCelsius, so we recommend you bring a warm sweater or fleece jacket.
At the entrance to the caves there is a large rock overhang and bending is required to pass this section. There are steps and often the walkways are wet, so care is required in the subdued light. It’s always dark inside the caves, so you’ll be able to see the glowworms on any departure. Daylight hours do vary significantly in New Zealand so for evening tours it may be dark for the cruise across Lake Te Anau to reach the caves, or on your return. Just choose a departure that fits best with your itinerary.
Photography and video cameras are not permitted in the Glowworm Caves because flash lights affect the glowworms and visitor acclimatisation to the dark. Glowworms don’t like loud noises – so remember to keep quiet when you are in the grotto.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves has been described as “one of the most unusual limestone cave experiences in the world”. So we strongly recommend you add Te Anau Glowworm Caves into your itinerary in Fiordland.