Glowworm Caves, New Zealand – a Dazzling Display of Light

Written By: The Planet D

Visiting the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand is a magical experience.

“I wish I was a Glow Worm

A glow worm’s never glum.

‘Cus how can you be grumpy when the sun shines out  your bum!”

Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

That was the cute sign that we saw during our glowworm tour with Real Journeys in Te Anau, New Zealand.

We wanted to see the glowworm phenomenon while we were traveling New Zealand and Te Anau seemed like the perfect place to do it.

glowworm saying
A glowworm sign

We booked with Real Journeys, a very large corporation that leads many different trips in the area. They run a slick and well-tuned operation with very reasonable prices.

We hopped on our boat for a scenic cruise across the beautiful Lake Te Anau from the downtown waterfront office in Te Anau town.

The cruise was a pleasant scenic trip taking in the views of the Fiord Land National Park surrounding us.

glowworm caves dock
Walking to the caves

After about 20 minutes we were on the opposite side of New Zealand’s second largest lake where we were met by our guide and learned about the glowworms.

Glowworms spend their lives in caves

Glowworms never leave the cave and they spend their lives in there feeding on insects that make their way into the deep caverns.

Their bioluminescent lights attract the bugs where they are trapped in their gooey string to await their slow death.

One glowworm hangs hundreds of threads to catch their prey and then makes its way down through the tube to feat upon their dinner.

We are split into small groups and we only have 7 people on our tour of the caves. Read 14 Cool and Fun Facts About New Zealand

caves sign
Learning about the caves

We started the tour with a walk through the most phenomenal underground caves system we have ever witnessed.

Rushing water has carved a beautiful labyrinth of passageways creating whirlpools, waterfalls, impressive rock formations and a strong underground river.

I would hate to fall into that water; you would never be seen or heard from again.

glowworm caves waterfall
Waterfall in the cave

We weren’t allowed to take photographs once we entered the glowworm caves so as to not disrupt the worms and we had to be very silent.

No Photographs and Complete Silence

Any noise or light will make the worms “turn off” and we would, therefore, be stuck sitting in a pitch-dark cavern rather than a recreation of a starlit night.

I didn’t know what to expect but was dazzled by the sparkling display taking place over our heads.

It looked as if we were sitting under a very clear starry night.

Millions of glowworms clung to the ceiling creating a twinkling in the darkness above.

glowworm caves glow
Millions of glowworms

Photo Credit – My new life in New Zealand – we borrowed this photo because we didn’t’ take any. We’re a stickler for the rules especially if it means turning off the glowworms.

We couldn’t see anything but the glow from the worms and had to keep our arms and legs in the boat at all times.

You never know when you may bump into a rock or the jagged wall of the cave.

Our guide pulled the boat along a rope while we looked up to the ceiling of the cave to watch the glowworms do their thing.

We spent about 20 minutes in the cave and felt completely satisfied with our glowworm experience.

glowworm caves group
From Real Journeys Website, what we’d look like in our boat

The Glowworm Tour

The tour began with a 15-minute walk through the cave system to the final stop where we boarded our boats just above a small waterfall.

We climbed carefully in and received our instructions once again to not take photographs or speak.

The glowworms will turn off their lights if they feel threatened at all.  We were then pulled along a rope by our guide into the darkness.

Inside the Cave was Dead Quiet

There was no motor or paddle on this boat. Our guide stood at the front of our vessel and pulled us silently through the cave.

Here the water was still and silent and all I could hear was our breathing.  It wasn’t long until we came across the cavern filled with glowworms.

It had been raining hard for a few days here in Southern New Zealand bringing in many insects for the glowworms to feast upon. Because of this, the glowworms were shining brightly for us. Little did they know they were entertaining a group of people, they were simply trying to attract their meal for the evening.

glowworm caves light
What the glowworms would look like if lit up

Photo Credit – Jolanta Sketch – There are some great photos of glowworms and slime on this site.

Glowworms have a very short lifespan of about 6 months. Once they have lived out their purpose, the larvae transform into a fly. As a fly, it only lives for a few short days and spends it’s time reproducing.

The fully grown fly does not have a mouth as it is meant to live for only a short time.

Once it lays its eggs, the glowworm lifespan starts all over again and continues to will continue to satisfy New Zealand tourists for years to come.

About the Glowworm Cave tour

  • Bookings can be made in Te Anau at Real Journeys located on the waterfront.
  • Glowworm Tour and Scenic Cruise costs $67
  • 1 NZD = .7 CAD and .7 USD
  • 1NZD = .5 Euro and .5 British Pound

Read More Things to do in New Zealand

Te Anau Caves tour is courtesy of New Zealand Tourism and Real Journeys.
Our trip to New Zealand is sponsored by Flying Kiwi.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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18 thoughts on “Glowworm Caves, New Zealand – a Dazzling Display of Light”

  1. I had no idea that glow worms only lived 6 months- that’s really interesting. Sounds like a fun tour, I’d totally be into this!

  2. This is totally cool! I want to add this to my list of underwater adventures. I went snorkeling on a coral reef in the Florida Keys 2 years ago and still consider it one of my best adventures. We were blessed with a tour by locals…my cousin and her husband live on a boat at Marathon Key.

  3. I really enjoyed doing it also. I had heard some mixed reviews, but I was a fan. Really interesting afternoon.

  4. When I was in high school someone gave me that gloworm quote and I had it on my fridge for years – it always made me smile! This sounds like such an awesome (and unique) experience.

  5. Hey, I don’t even know they have glowworm caves in Te Anau! We did cave tubing in Waitomo glowworm caves, and I totally love the serene feeling just floating on the underground river, facing up looking at these blue stars.

    • I would have loved to do the Black Water Rafting in Waitomo. We wanted to do the absielling into the cavern but we didn’t have enough time. We only stopped in Waitomo for a few hours:(

  6. I went to waitomo, and saw the same thing. Aren’t they amazing? If I saw them in just daylight, I would not really like it. But they have some kind of superpower! Amazing.

    • Very true Juno, seeing the worms in broad daylight wouldn’t be very interesting, but seeing them with their glows on is quite cool. Did you Black Water Raft in Waitomo?

  7. Fascinating. Will definitely put it on my list should I ever make it to NZ. I’ve always been especially drawn to such natural phenomenon – like the “River of Fire” (amazing luminescence!), solar eclipses, etc.

    • Me too Dyanne. We have been lucky this year we saw the luminscence in the water in Thailand this year when we were kayaking and then to see this in New Zealand has checked off two things on my list that I have wanted to see for some time.

      • Davendeb – Which of the two did you enjoy more? The luminescence in Thailand or the glow worm caves in New Zealand? I’m thinking of going to the glow worm caves in New Zealand but would like some perspective. Thanks!

      • They were both completely different experiences. The glow worm caves were definitely impressive. But paddling in the dark in the middle of a Hong in Thailand was pretty spectacular.