From Tui Base Camp to Te Anau Glowworm Caves and Wildlife

This post covers a few days of our adventures from Sunday 21st March. We’ve included the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, even though we went here after our Doubtful Sound overnight cruise, which will be the next post. Just because it fits so naturally into this one, look at those amazing tahakē above! New Zealand is such a unique place for wildlife such as these.

Loving Tui Base Camp In Tuatapere

Following our exhausting but exhilarating walk on the Humpridge Track, we had absolutely no problem paying $15 a night for an unpowered pitch at the Tuatapere Tui Base Camp. So much so we stayed for two nights rest and recuperation – including lots of laughs with the locals. What a well run and friendly place. We relished the hot spa, caught up with washing, had lovely long showers, shopped at the local Four Square (they’re such great places down here), and enjoyed the revelry in the cafe/pub.

We had a great camp spot, with a view of the rising sun colours from the window. Tuatapere is only a small town, but it’s got a massive heart. It’s so close to the south coast, Fiordland, and of course the Humpridge track. https://www.onnaturesedge.co.nz/tuatapere/

Sausage Capital of New Zealand

Tui Base Camp reckons it makes the best sausages in New Zealand. Who are we to argue? Barry had sausages the first night we arrived, and I bought six frozen ones to take away. I separated them into three lots and put them in the freezer. They reminded me of German ‘Bratwurst’ sausages, though were tastier. I loved their t-shirts:

An Afternoon Of Pool and Laughter

When I bought the sausages, I spotted a notice for a Sunday afternoon pool competition. Barry is rather good at playing pool. It’s not worth me bothering taking him on as he always beats me easily. I thought he may enjoy playing with people who were as good as he is! He was keen. So I sent him to register. He came back asking if I wanted to play too. Not on your life I said! I wasn’t wasting $10 to go out in the first round. Ha! Little did I know …

We turned up just before the advertised start at 2.30 pm and found the bar busy. It doesn’t look like it from the photos admittedly! They were all on the left side. The right side is the cafe/restaurant. We had no idea how the draw went – we think it was just a case of the order of registrations. Barry was called after about four rounds and won his first two games, then lost two. There was quite a mix of skills – though everyone was far better than I was so I was glad I’d declined the offer of taking part.

After a couple of hours, I went back to the van as I had things to do. Sitting drinking in a pub from early afternoon till nighttime isn’t as appealing to me as it is to Barry! I returned about 7.30 pm and the competition had only just ended. Someone won ‘a plate’, I think of sausages. Apparently, anyone who loses in the first round goes into another round for this accolade.

The actual winner, who’d beaten Barry, won $100. We still had no idea how the whole thing was worked out but guessed there was a structure we knew little about. Barry loved every minute. When I arrived he was chatting amiably to a table full of blokes. Some who’d been there when I left had gone home, rather worse for wear after one too many tequila shots. I can’t comprehend why people do this to themselves or their bank balances! But Barry assures me there was great hilarity.

Two of the men at the table had been at Orepuki Tavern the week before. ‘Dingo’, who’d done his best to cheekily chat me up there, continued unabated saying he remembered me clearly but not Barry. It was all done in the best possible taste as Kenny Everet used to say. Barry was totally unfazed – though that may have been due to the quantity of beer consumed by all except me!

Barry, Nick, Glen, Jayden (who won the plate), and Dingo

Lovely people, fabulous place. Thank you all for your hospitality. If you’re reading Nick, good luck with the move.

Lake Manapouri

Our next adventure continued on the Southern Scenic Route north to Te Anau (pronounced Tea-Ar-Now, I believe) and a boat trip across Lake Te Anau to the famous Glowworm Caves. Our trip was booked for Monday 22nd March at 2 pm.

Along the way, Barry spotted a dam on the river Waiau. There’s a great story about how the Lake was saved by not only the local population but people across New Zealand. Way before social media, people realised how important it was to preserve the water levels in the lake and consequently surrounding flora and fauna. Thank goodness; it’s a very special body of water. We were to travel on it on two separate journeys.

The Manapouri Project

The birthplace of our environmental awareness The Manapōuri project is regarded as the birthplace of New Zealand’s environmental consciousness.

The original plans for the power station were developed in the 1960s and proposed raising the level of Lake Manapōuri by up to 30 metres. But Lake Manapōuri’s famed wooded islands would have disappeared, and the fragile shoreline beech forest would have been left to rot in the water.

An increasing number of New Zealanders realised the extent of the environmental impact, and protest became widespread and passionate. In 1972 the Government confirmed that the lake level would not be raised. In February 1973 the Government created the Guardians of Lakes Manapōuri, Monowai and Te Anau to oversee management of the lake levels.

The Guardians are still active today. Meridian also supports the habitat restoration work of the Waiau Fisheries and Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Trust in the Waiau Valley catchment.” 

https://www.meridianenergy.co.nz/who-we-are/our-power-stations/hydro/manapouri

We’d be seeing the Manapouri Hydro-Electric Power Station close-up the following day.

We were a little unnerved by the off-putting signs about freedom camping near the lakeside viewpoint. It’s fascinating travelling around New Zealand to see the stark contrasts in how the local population and councils view freedom camping. Thank goodness most are welcoming. There’s an NZMCA campground at Te Anau, which was our intended overnight spot. We knew that for a while, there would be no free camp spots. It’s the price we were willing to pay to visit Fiordland at last.

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau is larger and deeper than Lake Taupo. However, it’s a glacier lake rather than a crater lake. At its deepest point, it’s 417 meters. From the boat we travelled on, it’s 200m above sea level. Lake Te Anau is the second deepest lake in NZ; the first is Lake Hauroko, where we intended to visit but never made it, sadly.

We’d booked a trip to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves with Real Journeys at the same time as our overnight Doubtful Sound booking. The glowworms were amazing – but not nearly as prolific or mindblowing, we felt, as those we’d seen on the short walk from Jackson’s Alpine Retreat with Jamie.

The boat was brilliant; Barry and I managed to score the best viewpoint on the top deck at the front. I’m not going to bother posting many of my meagre images – Barry’s in his slideshow below are far superior. I’ll tell you the stories that stood out and share a few images to wet your appetite.

Tree Avalanches

We first heard about ‘travelanches’ on this trip. Basically, the trees here are growing on rocks. There is no soil. The seeds bide their time, waiting until a thick layer of moss covers the rocks, then plant themselves there. The rock is called diorite rock, which is similar to granite. These trees spread their roots far and wide in the moss. Then they literally bear hug the rocks to hold on. One of the trees will be an ‘anchor’ tree that the others cling onto, weaving roots through their nearest neighbours.

Now and again, especially a heavy downpour of rain following a drought, the anchor tree can’t hold on any longer and falls. The others go with it literally sliding down the mountains’ walls in a ‘tree avalanche’. This creates scars on the mountainside, leaving a bare rock face behind. The whole process then restarts, taking up to 120 years for the trees to grow back. It would be awesome to witness, though you wouldn’t want to be too close! We were to see many of these scars in the following week’s journeys.

The result of a recent tree avalanche

The Milford Track Founder

We learnt about Quentin McKinnon, a Scottish settler, who founded the world-famous Milford Track, which begins close by. He lived out on the lake at Garden Point below. People on the mainland would light a fire to say they wanted to come for a walk to Sutherland Falls. So he’d sail across the lake and pick them up. On 29 November 1892, McKinnon departed to cross Lake Te Anau to go to Milford but never arrived. A worker from the Te Anau station last saw him sailing with a fair wind on Lake Te Anau. A search party was sent to the area in January 1893 but didn’t find any trace of him. They later discovered his wrecked boat and belongings, but his body was never recovered. He was presumed drowned in Lake Te Anau.

Garden Point Lake Te Anau
Garden Point Lake Te Anau

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

It took us around 30 minutes to arrive at the Glowworm Caves, after an informative trip across the lake. We loved the commentary sharing snippets like those above. Once on the land of the Murchison Mountains, another great guide told us all about the Gloworms and their history.

The glow of these worms comes from silk, mucous and urea. So they’re basically puking and pissing at the same time. Yuck!

They’re actually maggots, not worms, living in a 6.7km long aurora cave system. For safety sake, no electronic equipment was allowed to be switched on in caves – which meant photographs. This helps adjust your eyes to the dark to see in the narrow space. It also gives complete darkness to see the glowworms up close like millions of magical stars in a different galaxy.

However, I found a photo from the Real Journeys website to show what they’re like as you enter. There’s a bit of ducking down at the start:

Real Journeys Te Anau Glowworm Caves
Photograph of the entrance to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves from the Real Journeys website

For many years, these incredible caves were lost in legend. Their presence was hinted at by the ancient Maori name for the area – Te Ana-au – which means ‘caves with a current of swirling water’. The location had eluded explorers until 1948 when Lawson Burrows found a stream, Tunnel Burn, flowing from a cave at the Murchison Mountains’ foot. With the help of ropes, ladders and lamps, Burrows, Wilson Campbell, and George Pollard climbed a waterfall to find a huge gallery lit by millions of glowworms.  Initially, visitors had to climb down a rope and slide inside the cave on a board.  Oh my goodness, they were brave! Since then, the entrance has been widened, walkways installed, and today thousands visit each year from Te Anau to Te Ana-au.

The glowworm caves are part of a younger section of the Greater Aurora system and are approximately 12,000 years old. The caves continue to grow due to the Tunnel Burn stream flowing through the system. Watching the water coursing through them, dropping down into enormous caverns at times, was spectacular. The short boat ride in pitch blackness. We were dazzled by the glowworms do their thing. Only a set number of visitors are able to visit each year to protect and preserve the fragile ecosystem in the caves.

Wildlife In The Murchison Mountains

The brightly coloured big native NZ birds at the start of this post, Takahē, were presumed extinct until found in the Murchison Mountains. There are around 200-220 now. Plus, about another 400 across NZ in predator-free places, as their protection was so successful, there were too many in the mountains, so some are moved. They have the flying ability of a brick and produce around 6-8 metres of pooh a day! We first saw these at Zealandia in Wellington. There’s some at the Te Anau bird sanctuary, which we visited (read on).

Immense efforts are being taken to protect them in this wild place from invasive, non-native predators, particularly stoats and rats. There is an intensive trapping programme in operation in the Murchison Mountains. http://www.teanau.net.nz/See-a-takahe

Ta Anau Takahē statue
The Takahē statue in Te Anau – they’re understandably proud of this local resident

Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

After hearing so much about the Takahē, we were keen to see them close-up and booked via the DOC Information Centre to go on a feeding tour at the sanctuary for $10 each. We saw a pair of rare blue ducks (there’s only about 2,000 in the whole of NZ), five takahē, some kaka, parakeets and a sleeping morepork. Barry managed to find an angle to photograph the latter – we’ve heard them lots but never previously seen one.

Sadly, although the sign below talks of Tumbles and Kawa, Tumbles died after New Year 2021. He was 17. Tumbles and Kawa had adopted a baby takahē and Kawa continued to care for him – or her! The DOC guide said it’s a challenge to work out what sex young takahē are. Young takahē are at risk of being taken by hawks and falcons when they’re little, but not when they’re big! The eggs are at risk from stoats and rats. It’s quite a precarious journey into adulthood. The pair here had produced many empty eggs – one was passed around carefully. It was a humbling experience to gently hold it.

Barry captured some awesome photos of these beautiful birds in his slideshow below.

What a treat to be able to get so close to so many rare NZ birds. Te Anau and surroundings is pretty amazing.

Barry’s Slideshow

There’s some spectacular images in Barry’s slideshow today. Click on the first image to begin:

4 thoughts on “From Tui Base Camp to Te Anau Glowworm Caves and Wildlife

  1. Pingback: Travelling the Te Anau to Milford Highway ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  2. Pingback: Feeling Tearful At Doubtful Sound ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

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