Te Anau

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After breakfast in Queenstown we boarded the coach and drove the short distance to Arrowtown which is located on the Arrow River. It’s a small place that owes its existence to gold mining. Alluvial gold was found in 1862 and the miners flocked here – including the Chinese. As in Australia, the Chinese were not popular and were forced to make their homes outside the town. But over the years a level of respect developed. The Chinese have always been resourceful people and if they couldn’t search for gold, they set up businesses to supply the miners with what they needed.

You can read a bit more about Arrowtown’s colourful past at the town’s website.

Peter and I had visited the town’s excellent museum and its many exhibits displaying the history of the town and how mining was carried out last time we were here, so we searched for the Chinese village built on the edge of the river. That proved unsuccessful, so we spent our time looking around the well-preserved town. It’s a pity the Powers That Be hadn’t turned the main street into a mall. Without all the cars, Arrowtown is a walk down memory lane.

Then it was off to Te Anau with the mountains on our left and Lake Wakatipu to the right. On our way Linda told us about the Deer Wars. Deer were introduced here for hunting. After all, what could go wrong? The deer enjoyed the high country. No predators, no competition, life was great. Their numbers exploded and they decimated the native species of flora and fauna. Something had to be done, so the Government introduced a bounty. At first, the hunters trekked into the mountains on foot. Then they arranged for helicopters to drop them off and pick them up, taking some of their kill back with them. Then somebody thought, why not shoot from the helicopters? So they did, hanging out of the open door or lying on the sled. They shot hundreds of deer in a day and sold the meat as venison. But they were the victims of their own success. It was harder to find a deer to shoot, so some people decided to farm them. At that stage the hunters became deer catchers, bringing out living deer in slings under the choppers to establish farms.

It was a reckless, dangerous, lucrative business. You didn’t need a licence to fly a chopper so a lot of people tried. Lots died, too, victims of what the unpredictable alpine weather will do to a helicopter. The money died when the Government withdrew the bounty.

Deer are often seen behind two metre fences. A deer can clear one of those without a run-up but they’re herd animals. They’ll happily stay in a green paddock with their mates. There are still wild deer in the mountains, but their numbers are controlled.

Linda played this video for us on the bus. It’s about half an hour long, but well worth watching. Be warned, some of it is quite brutal.

It’s compelling viewing – but be warned, some of it is brutal.

When we reached Te Anau it was too early to book into the hotel so we went off to look around and find some lunch. Making a booking for me for the glow worm tour proved to take much longer than it should have but was resolved when the staff eventually discovered they did, indeed, accept Amex cards. By the time we got to the highly recommended pie shop our group had already cleaned them out. We put our bottom lips back and found sandwiches in a supermarket.

We stayed at the Distinction hotel closest to the town centre (such as it is). In 2019, we’d stayed in the Distinction opposite the lake. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, it wasn’t open. The hotel we stayed in had very wide and slightly confusing corridors but the room was fine. However, the seafood chowder wasn’t a patch on what we were served on a cold and miserable day in 2019. Different hotel, different chef, I guess.

A statue of a takahe takes pride of place at the roundabout

Linda had offered to take us to the local bird sanctuary and a few of us jumped at the chance. It’s hard to see New Zealand’s endangered birds in the wild – and it wasn’t all that easy in the park. Still, we saw a couple of blue-breasted parrots and I even got a photo of a Takahe.

A real takahe. We were told he and his mate were breeding
A blue bellied parrot

Apparently, the place had a kakapo but he was nowhere to be seen. Still, here’s a short video (2.5 minutes) of Stephen Fry’s meeting with a kakapo. Maybe that’s one reason why they’re endangered. 🙂

That evening, six of us had elected to visit the Te Anau glow worm caves. Since we had to be at the jetty at 7pm, we had dinner early, then headed off. We’d just reached the jetty’s reception area when the Chief (John) realized he’d left his phone in the restaurant. We had a few minutes before boarding so he ran – ran – back to the hotel a few blocks away to collect it from Linda and returned in one piece. Hats off to John.

The caves are actually a long way down the lake from where we boarded the boat. It’s a big lake, the second largest by area in NZ after Lake Taupo. Lake Te Anau doesn’t cover as much area as Lake Taupo, but it is deeper so it actually holds a larger volume of water. When we arrived at the caves we were disappointed to learn no photos were allowed so we kept our phones in our pockets. I hadn’t bothered taking my Canon.

After an introductory talk, we went off in groups of twelve into the caves. Some passages are quite low, but even my inflexible spine managed without too much trouble. Streams rush through the tunnels and the noise is deafening. Our guide stopped here and there to explain features. She shouted to make herself heard but even so it was a challenge to understand her.

When we reached the large cavern where most glow worms live we were admonished to remain silent. We all sat back-to-back facing the sides in a barge and set off. The darkness underground was absolute except for the pin pricks of light that were the worms. It’s disorientating. I knew I was facing the side of the boat but my brain preferred the idea I was looking forward.

When it was over, Lynn and I agreed the caves themselves were fascinating. We could have done without the glow worms. It seemed to us most worms were clustered around the area where we got on and off the barge – understandable, because insects would be attracted to the light and that’s what the glow worms eat. They’re actually a form of caterpillar and they hang down a sticky thread to ensnare tiny insects which are brought into the caves via the stream. If they ate a few sand flies I reckon we’d all be happy. As for staying silent – I think that was so we wouldn’t pick up the fact that several boats were in the grotto at any given time. I’m sure the glow worms didn’t care.

There are 2 glow worms in this photo *

The Glow worm caves website has a photo that doesn’t look much like what we saw in the grotto. We only saw dots of light like a not very starry night sky. But never mind. We enjoyed the trip and learning about how glow worms operate. Learn more about glow worms here.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

* Photo by By Mnolf – Photo taken in Waitomo, New Zealand, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=701651

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