What is a glowworm?
Glowworm is the common name for various groups of insect larvae that glow through bioluminescence, a chemical reaction between the glowworm and the oxygen in the air. A glowworm uses its light to attract insects which are its food. Glowworms usually live in dense forests and caves all over the world. Caves with dark and damp interiors are the best habitat for glowworms. Glowworm caves are a popular tourist attraction in New Zealand.
Where are the glowworm caves in New Zealand?
Waitomo in the North Island has one of the most famous glowworm caves in New Zealand. Metro Caves, also known as the Te Ananui Caves, are a great place to see glowworms in the South Island. I visited the Metro Caves while touring the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
About the Metro Caves/Te Ananui Caves
The Metro or the Te Ananui Caves are in their natural state without any walkways or ladders. The upper part of the cave system is easy to walk and also has a grotto with glowworms. There are also several stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the walls and the ceiling of the cave. The entire cave can be toured in one hour from one end to the other.
Where are the Metro Caves/Te Ananui Caves located and how to get there?
The caves are located in the Paparoa National Park on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Parts of the cave system are accessible by cave tours and rafting. A commercial tour operator based in Charleston offers several options for exploring the caves, from guided walking tours of the upper levels including the Nile River Glowworm Cave, to underground rafting and adventure caving.
From Charleston the Te Ananui Caves can be accessed via a 3 km narrow road, followed by a bush tram ride and a short walk. The walking track crosses the Waitakere or Nile River on a suspension bridge to reach the Triclops entrance halfway up the side of the Nile River valley.
I did a private tour of the caves with Neil Silverwood, a certified caver and tour guide based on the West Coast.
About caver, Neil Silverwood
Neil Silverwood is a full-time photographer specializing in the environment and photography in extreme places where few others dare to venture. He is also a cameraman and cave/outdoor guide. More information on Neil is available on his website http://www.neilsilverwood.com.
What to bring with you on your caving adventure?
A helmet with a flashlight attached to your helmet.
A pair of cheap hiking boots or heavy-duty rubber work boots.
Warm clothing like a down jacket. The interior of the caves are very cold.
Food and water.
Some tips from my experience
If you are not a professional caver or don’t know the area well, please go there with a guide and companions. Even though I explored the Metro Caves with a guide, on my way back, I thought I could make it on my own to the car park. However, I was wrong. I got lost, and there was no mobile phone service in the area, so I could not contact my guide. It took more than an hour for my guide to find me, and in the meantime, I was pretty sure, it was my last day on earth!
If you want to take photos inside the cave, wear bright clothing like a bright, yellow jacket which always looks good in cave photos!
Neil Silverwood sometime spends up to two weeks exploring caves. But for me, the one and a half-hour inside the cave was enough. After visiting Metro Cave, I discovered I am not a caving person. I prefer being outdoors in the sun and the wind.
Also, make sure that at least some people know that you are going caving. Neil is a professional caver, but once he got stuck in a crevice in a cave and it started raining. Thankfully he had gone caving with his father, who was able to bring help in time, and his life was saved.
The Metro Cave doesn’t seem to be very touristy. I was pretty much alone there with my guide.