doubtful sound and te anau glow worm cave

day 7 (day 2 of abandonment) and i had a busy day with a doubtful sound cruise and then a trip to the te anau glow worm caves.

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sights from my early morning drive to catch the boat in manapouri.
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the trip begins with a nice cruise across lake manapouri.

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our first cruise ends at “west arm”, where we board the bus for the tour of the manapouri power station. the power station was purpose built in 1972 to serve a single customer – the tawai aluminium smelter on the south coast near bluff. the power station is built deep in the mountain and uses water from lake manapouri to generate power. the original proposal was for a larger power station that would have required raising the level of the lake by 30 meters, with massive environmental costs. this sparked a nation wide protest and is credited with the birth of the environmental movement in new zealand. during the protests the labour party ran on the platform that if elected they would kill the proposal to raise the lake level. they won and the proposal was quashed.

the power plant is impressive in that is is buries deep in the mountain and is only accessible by a skinny 2k long tunnel that was dug into the hard rock by blasting. the rock is so hard that there is no supporting structure for the tunnel. the tunnel is so skinny that during construction trucks had to back down with their loads. problem was that the road is so steep that there was no ability to correct if the truck started veering towards the wall – so the drivers were guided down by walkers with signal lights. fastest time for the trip – 7 hours.

the power plant is now fully remote controlled and only has a safety officer on hand. you can see the raw rock face along the walls of the turbine room.

bus driver trivia – soon after the station opened queen elizabeth was scheduled to pay a visit. since the facilities were quite basic it was decided a bathroom suitable for royalty was required and built at considerable expense. it was never used.

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after visiting the power station we headed over wilmont pass on our way to deep cover to begin our cruise in doubtful sound. the dirt road over the pass was constructed to bring in the equipment and machinery required for the power station, and is now used almost exclusively by the tour company (the only one with a permit for tours in doubtful sound). the road was the most expensive in nz history at NZ$2 a centimeter (about $5 an inch).

looking down from wilmont pass to doubtful sound

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once over the pass we arrived at deep cove to board the boat for our cruise of doubtful sound. we went all the way out of the sound into the tasman sea before turning around to repeat the entire journey in reverse.

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the tour company (real journeys) was very good and i would highly recommend them. they boats & busses were in great condition and their guides gave just the right amount of information, trivia and humor.

one of my favourite bits was “queue the dolphins”

captain to first mate (pretending microphone is accidentally on): “how’s the wife?”
first mate: “great. and your kids?”
captain: “good. busy every day with sports. what time did you book the dolphins?”
first mate: “they’re scheduled for 1:45. they should be here in less than a minute”
captain: “good on ya.”
first mate: “and thats 5..4..3..2..1 queue the dolphins”
captain: (now officially on the microphone to the passengers). “ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look over the starboard side i believe you’ll see we have some visitors…”  

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next time i would like to go out on a kayak like these folks below

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our cruise ended back at manapouri at about 4, giving me just enough time to make it back to te anau and grab a snack before heading out on the te anau glow worm caves trip at 7.

first part of the trip was a nice sunset cruise across lake te anau (# 4 for the day) to the glow worm caves.

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after arriving at a small ranger’s station you are split into small groups of 10 with a tour guide who reminds us several times that we must remain silent or the glow worms will turn off their lights. did i mention there is a very chatty 4 year old in our group? the description of the trip did mention that you would need to bend over a one point – but that was a bit generous. skrunched down into the smallest ball you can make whilst still on your feet and then slowly shuffling forward would have been a closer to the truth for me. claustrophobics needs not apply.

after you are in the cave there is a 15 walk down a catwalk through the cave, with water rushing through. quite spectacular. at the near the end of the catwalk the light is fading to black guilde is now using a flashlight to usher us along. we then carefully pile into a small “boat” – more a metal bathtub and then the guide turns of the flashlight and leaving us in *total* darkness. the guide then pulls us along in the water using (invisible to us) a system of overhead cables and into the glow worm grotto. after a couple of moments the glow worms start to appear as thousands of tiny points of light. the chatty 4 year old was perfectly silent the entire time.

the story of the glow worm is a bit depressing. the young larvae live on the ceiling using their lights to attract prey into their sticky “fishing lines”. when they eaten enough to build up their energy reserves they emerge briefly to mate and die. without a mouth or digestive track they can only live on the energy they build up during the larvae stage.

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this photo shows the boat that is used – although the ride is in total darkness and not as shown. (hard to have a photo of a boat in total darkness…). you can get a sense of the light from the glow worms on the ceiling and walls.
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the sunsets views from outside the cave, before a final cruise back to te anau and the end of a busy day.

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