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Open Features, Open Features: All Aglow In Te Anau

Karen Wilson tells of a visit to enchanting grottos.

On Good Friday, 2nd April 2010 my husband and I were assembled with other guests in the foyer of our hotel waiting to hear whether our scheduled Cave Tour was a ‘goer’. Due to heavy rainfall over the last few days the caves required prior permission from safety officers who inspected them for damage and flooding. Though the caves were brimful with rushing water, the corridors were sufficiently safe for tourists to walk through them early evening.

At 5:30 a boat was waiting for us at the Te Anau wharf. The caves were half an hour away. On arrival we were ushered into the Visitors’ Centre where we were divided into groups of 23 and issued with life jackets and helmets. We were warned that the taking of photographs was forbidden.

Before we set off on our journey we were advised to be silent once we reached the grotto areas. Apparently the glow-worms were sensitive to noise and subsequently dimmed their lights should voices be heard. Finally our group was given the nod to enter the corridors. In single file we followed our energetic guide through the dimly-lit narrow, winding paths. When jutting stalactites unexpectedly appeared around corners I was glad I was wearing head protection as I frequently bashed my helmet against the dripping protuberances . In some areas the ceiling was so low we crouched on all fours to get past obstacles. I hadn’t realised that the journey could be so arduous on stiff bodies.

In the meantime the roar coming from the whirlpool and the waterfalls was deafening. It was a relief when we reached the boat landing. By then we were in total darkness. I’ve never known such darkness; I was panicky as I tried to keep my balance while waiting to board.

One by one our group was physically guided to a specific seat so the small boat would be perfectly balanced. I was glad to sit down after such a strenuous journey. How exciting it was as we glided into the glow-worm grottos. I couldn’t make out the faces of people sitting next to me. Feeling so fearful I sought out a fellow passenger’s hand, unaware whether it was that of my husband. However, the human contact gave comfort to my trembling hand.

As we entered the grotto the luminously lit cave mesmerized me. I was in heaven. Innumerable glow-worms shone brilliantly and formed out-of-this world patterns of light that were suspended from the ceiling. Away from the boom of the rushing water, it was peaceful and surreal – not a sound could be heard, even the boat paddles were silent as we glided our way through the grottos. Glow-worm patterns were eerily reflected on the inky-black water’ surface. It was as if we were surrounded by millions of miniature stars — a peak experience I shall never forget — as we progressed through the glittering grottos. I could have stayed there forever. However, our wondrous experience ended when it was time to turn back for the next group waiting at the landing.

To this day, I still wonder who held my hand so reassuringly during our magical experience. I do know though, that the hand that held mine did not belong to my husband.


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