Fiordland Fun – Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Fiordland Fun – Te Anau Glowworm Caves

We had so much fun in the Fiordland National Park. The first thing I had booked was a tour of the Te Anau Glowworm caves. Neither of us knew what to expect. We’ve experienced a romantic evening in Japan watching fireflies, so I had a feeling glowworms might be something like that…but in a cave. It was actually completely different. Glowworms have a sort of eerie blue-green light and they remain completely still, unlike the dancing fireflies we saw in Japan.

Details if you’d like to go:

Time: The tour is just over 2 hours long
What’s included: A boat trip across Lake Te Anau, a walking tour through the cave, followed by a cave-boat tour…oooh plus plenty of free tea and coffee.
Cost: NZ $83.00 (although we were give 20% off because I booked two tours through the same company)
What to bring: Suncream – because it’s fun to sit outside on the boat! Some sort of sweater as even in summer the caves are pretty cold. I was wearing flipflops, which worked well as the caves are quite wet BUT my feet were chilly.

Getting to Te Anau

We had another early start to drive from Wanaka down to Te Anau. We then drove past Queenstown along an incredibly picturesque route to get to Te Anau. If you don’t hire a car then I think you need to get a bus from Wanaka to Queenstown, and then a second bus to Te Anau.

Te Anau Glowworm Cave Tours

We chose a tour with a local tour company called Real Journeys. My teeny blog is not sponsored in any way, but I did think the tour was good value and totally worth doing if you are in this area. I am not really a fan of tours, but I don’t think it would be possible to see those cool glowing dudes without them.

The tour involves a pretty boat ride across Lake Te Anau, followed by a walking/boat tour through some really cool caves.

How to find Real Journeys:

This part was pretty easy. Te Anau is not a big. If you drive down the Lake Front Drive (the main road close to the lake) you’ll see their building by a small roundabout. If you see a huge statue of a blue takahe bird, you’ve gone too far! We were told to check in 20 minutes before our boats departure, so we did, and then had time to wander across the street for coffee or ice-cream with frozen fruit mashed into it.

The Boat trip across Lake Te Anau

The only way to reach the Glowworm caves is to take a boat from Te Anau, across the sparkling blue lake. I felt like we were getting a free cruise after paying to see the glowing bugs! The Fiordland is incredibly pretty as Glaciers have carved the mountains to leave them with steep sides that reach right into the water.

We were told that Lake Te Anau has three large fiords that are the only inland fiords in New Zealand. We zoomed past the first fiord, peeking in towards the mountains. I learned the difference between Fiords and Sounds, and found out that Milford Sound is actually a fiord, not a sound. I guess someone failed when they named it. Anyway, It takes around half an hour of these pretty views before you reach the Te Anau Glowworm caves.

The Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Once you arrive on the island, the boat full of people is split up into smaller groups, each with their own tour guide. The caves are cool, filled with water and a little maze-like. They have a few different routes through the caves, so you hardly see the other groups.

If you come on this tour, get ready to watch your head! The ceiling gets pretty low at some points, and there is not much light (to adjust your eyes for looking at glowworms…)


I can’t show you any photos of the actual Glowworms. I don’t think they would have come out in that low light anyway BUT I can tell you how pretty they were! As we walked deeper into the cave, our guide pointed out occasional glowworms, the further in you go, the more the ceiling starts to glow!

Once we made it deep inside the cave, it was truly enchanting. We were all guided onto a long thin boat, that took us even further into the cave. This was the perfect way to view the glowworms. You can relax in the boat and just stare up at the ceiling. It is kind of like looking at star constellations from an alien sky. You won’t recognize the patterns in the lights, but they really do seem like starlight. The whole experience is really relaxing. We were asked to keep quiet, so the only sound was the swooshing of the water through the cave.

It turns out glowworms aren’t actually worms. They are larvae (from fungus gnats!) that hang to the ceiling in the cave while dangling lines of sticky spit! They are teeny, pretty predators. Small insects move towards their glow and then get caught on their silk snares. The insects probably think they found a way outside and are flying up towards the stars! I didn’t know anything about fungus gnats, so I found the whole this fascinating. I was only slightly grossed out after feeling a couple of raindrops on my head. Our guide mentioned that it might be dripping water through the rocks above, it also might be glowworm goo. Ah, nice.

Outside the Caves:

Once you exit the cave, you get a short walk through some pretty forest. I spotted a mossy log that looked incredibly like a Kiwi! We never saw a Kiwi in Kiwiland, so this is as close as I got!! The tour finished off in a hut with lots of tea, coffee and information about the glowworm’s life cycle. We could also look out to the pretty Lake Te Anau in the sun. It is a pretty stunning view!

In no time at all we were all ushered back onto the boat to head back to Te Anau. We also got to see a view of another one of NZs Great Walks! The mountain below is Mount Luxmore, which you get to climb on the first day of the epic-sounding Kepler track. People must have been looking down to some amazing views from up there!! These views make me want to return to NZ to do more of these great walks.

So, that was the Real Journeys Te Anau Glowworm Caves tour.  It was brilliant, but…

Why I hate Tour Groups

I mentioned above that I am normally not very keen on touristy tours. I had a fantastic time visiting the glowworms but it did remind me *why* I hate tours. It’s because normally polite people often seem to turn into tour-monsters. A tour monster is likely to push in front of everyone to ensure they have the best spot. They elbow folks out the way to get their prefect photo (thank goodness we weren’t allowed cameras in the caves – this part of tour-monster-itis couldn’t happen.) Tour monsters chat loudly when the guide has asked us to stay quiet. Marc and I spent most of the time at the back of the group because we were pushed aside so many times.

I don’t really understand *why* some people act in that way. We could hear just fine from the back and we weren’t in a rush to leave the glowy-worms! I discovered that although I love meeting new people, I don’t want to make friends on tours.

42 thoughts on “Fiordland Fun – Te Anau Glowworm Caves

    1. Yeah it was really amazing to see glowing larvae! Although I can see why they don’t call them fungas gnat larvae caves…it doesn’t sound quite as cute as glowworms!!

  1. What a cool thing to do. Glow worms are so mesmerising (I remember seeing some in France). Also, I really hate tour groups for the exact same reasons as you. I always spend a lot of the tour silently judging everyone haha.

  2. I’ve neglected reading your blog for too long. I could give a litany of excuses, but I won’t because I don’t want to look like one of those guys who gives lots of excuses for things.

    My favorite part of being in a tour group is trying to get my facial expression to cover a nice balance between “I’m concentrating because I’m so smart” and “I’m desperately trying to hide the fact that I have indigestion.”

    I feel like I say this every time I comment, but your blog is very fun to read (perhaps I’m a not-so-closeted sycophant).

    1. Lol no worries! It’s always nice to catch up after a while. I don’t always see new posts for everyone that I follow so I totally understand!

      But you would hate the glowworm tour! It’s all so dark that you can’t see everyone’s faces, so your perfected concentrating/no indigestion face would be totally wasted!!

  3. Ooh I went to the Waitomo glow worm caves when I was in NZ – absolutely magical!! I would go again if I could – Te Anau sounds like a good option for a second glow worm experience hehe

    1. Although I saw photos of the Waitomo caves and they look like they might be older with loads of stalagmites/ stalactites – these are much more recent caves, so you don’t get to see the cool stone pillars in the same way. I loved all the stripy rocks though!

      1. Oh, yes! I think these Tour Monsters are the same people who are Plane Monsters, Train Monsters, Hotel Monsters, etc.! 😂😩😩😩😩 You weren’t being a bitch at all!

  4. Wow!! I never knew you could do this on the south island!! I really wanted to do the Waitomo caves but I’d much rather go back to this area so this would be amazing! (I also hate tour groups though, I’m with you on that!)

    1. I know! I thought it was all ‘oop north too! We found this one while I was researching all the tours for milford sound. Most of our trip involved hiking, so it was kind of nice to relax on a boat and see glowworms for an afternoon!

  5. I love cave tours, and I’d definitely go on the one you went on just to see the glow worms – how cool. I completely agree with you on the tour groups. I try to avoid them at all costs – and I usually try to travel after kids go back to school to avoid busy times. 😊

    1. Aah true. I guess we were in the middle of the summer holidays! No wonder everywhere was busy!

      Some places are so cool that it is worth going with tour groups! This was one of those kind of places. I am glad we went! 🙂

  6. Thanks for such a useful post Josy – we are looking at going to this part of NZ with our kids later in the year and they would love the glow worm caves. I used to be anti tour group like you but now I am a huge fan – probably because we tend to do small group or private tours. Big groups do tend to bring out the worst in human behaviour unfortunately.

    1. Yeah, I went on a really small tour in Mongolia that was amazing (we could only fit the number of people who could squeeze into a 4×4) So you’re right, mini tours can be brilliant! It’s just the large groups with tour monsters that I hate!

      I hope you have an amaaaaazing trip to NZ. It must be such a good place to explore with kids. I need to write up a few more of the stop offs between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Some of them would good for little ‘uns too!

    1. Thanks Leigh! Phew. I am glad there are a few people that understand the idea of tour monsters!!

      Did your mom visit this cave on the South Island? I think there is another amazing one in the North too! 😀

  7. I completely understand what you mean by Tour Monsters! It’s amazing how people act sometimes (and makes me a little extra diligent that I don’t unknowingly do the same thing!). I haven’t seen glowworms / their effect yet, but hope to visit something one day to experience them!

    1. Oooh you’ll love them Cynthia!

      I think your way is the best way. You can only try not to join the crowd of tour monsters, by being some sort of tour angel.

    1. It was even more impressive in the parts where we couldn’t take photos! Glowworms are really cool to see up on the roof of a cave.

      But it’s all good that you’ve never been in a tour group. Just imagine how pushy some people can be when they want to be first onto a bus/train. It’s just like that around each corner!!

      1. Oh my word, that does sound nightmarish lol… What ever happened to wait your turn, stand in line, etc… It’s all “me first” these days.

        Those glow worms sound incredible though. I think I’ll Google them…

  8. Josy, I have to say that I don’t feel your posts are complete anymore unless there’s a picture of you jumping in the air. That’s sort of your trademark. Of course of you didn’t want to jump for fear that your hair would get caught in the glow worms spit, I guess I understand

  9. That fjord was beautiful all on its own, Josy! I would take the boat ride just for that. We’ve done a few cave tours, including one in Mexico that had a restaurant. Cool but I agree that tours and such aren’t my normal MO. Tour monsters ruin it for everyone… 🙂

    1. That is what I thought too! It’s pretty awesome that you get such good views even before the main tour!!

      I am really glad that so many of you understand what I meant by tour monsters!!

  10. Ugh I haven’t been getting post notifications from you! Anyway, I do not like people either. I’ll never forget the one lady that I encountered on my horseback riding trip in Iceland. I knew from the moment she got in the bus to go there and starting complaining about how hot it was. She also complained about the contents of the trip – as in, she didn’t read what she signed up for properly. “The picture on the site is deceiving! You need to take it down RIGHT NOW.” And she was very eager to get in front of everyone as we were riding the trail. Some people don’t know how to relax. I, on the other hand, enjoyed to beautiful views of the countryside, my uber friendly horses, and some amazing photos of myself on an Icelandic horse. (and then relaxing geothermal heated pools afterwards.) Just remember, those types of people aren’t really enjoying themselves. They’re often too bitter or needy to really take it all in.


    1. Oh no about the notifications…but don’t worry! I’m the same..I get so many e-mails that I tend to read my favorites in big hungry chunks when I find them again!!

      I totally agree with you, although it is a little sad. I hope those kind of tour monsters feel like they got their moneys worth as I did (it sounds like you did too in iceland!!)

  11. I love glow worms but didn’t know there were any in te anu!
    I know what you mean about group tours and people being rude. I saw glow worms at waitomo in winter and did the black abyss adventure tour. My friend and i were the only ones on that tour and it was brilliant! I think smaller groups where possible is definitely the best way.

    1. Ooooh that must have been fantastic! My friend went to both places and said that caves in waitomo are older, so are a little more impressive with stalagmites/ stalactites. Still, I loved the te anau caves (apart from the crowds!)

  12. Yes! Water! Love that scenery. Fellow hater of group tours here. I know they are sometimes necessary, and the success of a group tour often depends on the other members of the tour group. Really got spoiled off tour groups recently when we took a private tour (there were simply no other tourists around) from Dhaka to the backwaters. It was a bit of a spurge, but our party of two (a colleague and me) loved our private tour

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