The Guide's Guide to Te Anau Glowworm Caves by Guide, Richard Parkinson

This is a trip that’s for everyone, you don’t need any experience or skill level you can just sit back and let it unfold.

Advice for those planning a trip to Te Anau Glowworm Caves
The only planning needed is to make sure you book ahead, as it can book out, particularly in summer.  A lot of people are surprised that there’s no road access to the caves and that the cruise takes you to a World Heritage Area where there’s nothing else around but cool temperate rainforest.   Once you’re across Lake Te Anau,  the entrance to the caves is a short walk away.  Really tall people sometimes find it tricky bending down to go through the entrance to the caves because it’s been left in its natural state and is quite low.  But it quickly opens up to a very high ceiling and they always say it’s well worth it.  Occasionally there are people who simply don’t want to go underground but they still seem to enjoy the scenic cruise across the lake and the nature walk.

My pick of the best time to go
I would always recommend a trip that departs in day light rather than going at night.  Lake Te Anau is Fiordland’s best kept secret and you cruise past the Dome Islands too which are in a World Heritage Area.  Once you’re inside the caves of course it’s always dark so it makes no difference what time you go but don’t underestimate that cruise. 

My pick of the best time of year
There are four or five times more glowworms in summer than in winter, but on the other hand the water formations in the caves are more impressive over winter.   It’s a great experience whichever you do.  I sometimes sum it up by telling people that there’s a lovely lake cruise, then waterfalls and whirlpools in the caves and to top it all off there’s another boat ride and glowworms at the top.

What questions do I get asked the most
“How do you see in the dark and how are the boats (that view the glowworms) powered?”   I usually tell them that it’s all a bit of luck, but in fact we use ropes to guide us AND pull the boats.

The other main question people ask is: “What does glowworm poo look like?”  Rest assured that no blue green goo-like substance drips from the ceiling of the cave as some guests are concerned about.  Instead they excrete micro amounts of predominantly water that accumulate in the mucous tube (the glowworms’ hammock in which it suspends itself from the cave ceiling) which gradually build up until it forms a drop large enough to break free and drip down. 

And the strangest question I get asked is "Does this boat go to Milford Sound?"  (Milford Sound is over 100 kms away and is a fiord not a lake!)

About Richard Parkinson
I’ve been a guide for the last eleven years throughout Fiordland, but the Glowworm Caves is where I started my career in tourism and it’s changed a lot – for the best definitely.  Back then we let more people visit the caves and there were fewer staff so it was busy.  You didn’t get anywhere near the same visual and interactive information about glowworms or attention from your nature guides as you do now.  The smaller groups we have now are definitely the way to go.  

About Real Journeys
Real Journeys is a multi-award winning tourism company operating in Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Te Anau. Queenstown and Stewart Island.  The locally owned and operated company has guided excursions into this region for more than 50 years.

Visit Real Journeys website at:

Article by

  • Phone
  • Book now
  • Visit our website

Have you got a great story to tell? Add your own article