Day 26: Meredith Goes to Moria

Published: December 25th 2010
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Actually, this is supposed to be The Hobbit, not LotR, so I suppose it was the goblin-caves really. But "Moria" alliterates, and it was frightening.

"Te Anau," pronounced "Tee-ah'-nah," like "tiara" with an n instead of an r, means "The Cave with Rushing Water" in Maori. Today, I went to visit the eponymous Cave.

That wasn't the only thing I did. I had planned to go back for a Christmas Day service, but after some dithering I decided not to. Instead, I went off to try to walk to the town's Wildlife Center, which is the only place on the mainland where the takahe, a very rare bird (about 250 exist at present), can readily be observed by laymen.

To reach it, you had to walk around one end of the lake. I walked along an attractive brick walk with many seats. I walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Several times I thought I must have missed the place somehow and asked for directions. Eventually I fetched up at a small red building, probably the controls to the Te Anau dam, which seemed to be a dead end. At that point, I gave up and walked
Quintin McKinnonQuintin McKinnonQuintin McKinnon

The Meriwether Lewis of Fiordland

When I told the desk clerk about my unsuccessful expedition, she said, "It was only about ten minutes' walk from the red building."

Well, that would have been another half-hour, given how far I had already walked and how tired my legs were, and there wouldn't have been any more brick walkway with benches.

I really want to see the takahe, so if weather permits on the 27th I *may* try again and make an entire day of it. But that's what it will take. At one point, when I asked for directions after about 3/4ths of a mile of walking, I was asked, "Are you
walking or driving?" It's always a bad sign when people ask you that.

I got back to the hostel after nearly two hours of walking, with my legs very tired indeed. Fortunately, there was time to fix and eat lunch before I had to catch the Real Journeys Glowworm Cruise at 2 p.m.

I headed down to the Real Journeys' wharf just before 1:30 p.m. It too was only two blocks away. This YHA is very well located! We boarded a smallish launch, the Luminosa. Like the larger Milford boat, it had a main deck full of cushioned seats and tables. This time, though, none were reserved, and I snared a nice one at a little three-person table, which no one else wanted as most groups were bigger than that. Kids sailed for free on this trip, so there were a lot of families.

We were shown a safety video, and the guide then encouraged us to go upstairs, to the open sun deck of the launch. I didn't try it; my legs were still very tired and the lake was choppy. I sat in my seat and took photographs through the window.

At one point on the outbound journey they brought the boat to a near-standstill to encourage less mobile passengers to climb to the Sun Deck. I considered it, and actually walked back to take a look at the stairs, but I decided not to. I was afraid that the cave journey might be physically taxing and I wanted to save my strength.

We were off-loaded into a reception area, Cavern Hall. They told us that we would be divided into small groups of ten to twelve people, each with a guide, and that the first two groups would start off at once. The others would watch a taped presentation on the glowworms and wait their turn. They warned us that we were not to take photographs in the cave, as it would frighten the glowworms.

Although I was at the back of the line, since as usual I had been slow to move and slow to walk, I ended up in group two because I was a singleton. They asked whether there were any single travellers to round out the group, and I was the first to speak up. I may have been the only singleton on the trip.
Most participants were in large groups of five or six people.

We went down a short asphalted slope to enter the cave. My night-vision is poor, the result of a long-ago retinal detachment, and the entrance looked pitch-black to me, though it had safety lights near the floor. I could move along the walkway, which had a corrugated-iron floor and iron handrails at waist height on both sides, without turning sideways, but I filled it completely. This turned out to be important, because for a few terrifying minutes (that felt like about fifteen minutes at the time, but were probably no more than five) the surrounding rock closed in around us so tightly that the only space was the space of the walkway, plus a few inches above it. I had to bend double to proceed.

What made this especially frightening was that I was as usual the last of my group, and the roar of the water below the corrugated-iron was so loud that I could hear nothing else at all. The person in front of me soon got far, far ahead of me, and I was alone there in a dark tunnel that was no wider than I was.
I was afraid I would straighten up too soon and hit my head. I was afraid the passageway would get even lower and I wouldn't be able to bend any farther. I was afraid my glasses would fall off and slide through the guardrails (which were *not* corrugated) into the water.

After a young eternity I caught up with the others on a landing, and found I could stand up. The guide turned on a penlight and showed us a natural air shaft in the rock. He had to scream his commentary because the roar of the water was so loud.

Then we set off again. Never again, until it was time to retrace our steps, did we have to bend double, but we often had to lean out over the walkway (and the river) one way or another to avoid a projecting rock face. I was in terror for my glasses.

We paused for a long while in a space with a waterfall, and for some of that time all the lights were turned off except the safety lights (and, for a joke I think, the guide turned even them off for an instant). After that my eyes had finally dark-adapted to the extent they could, and there seemed to be enough light to move around. I took the new tip off my cane, as it kept catching in the corrugations and I knew it would come off and be lost if that kept happening. I was glad I had worn clothes with zip-up pockets.

After that we went up steps to a wharf, and there in the dimness was a barge, long and thin with a seat in the middle, big enough for six adults on each side. I was called forward to go in first; not sure whether it was because of my size or my disability.

To my relief, getting in was a fairly easy matter of stepping across from the bank to the boat, the two being level except for a ridge where the boat's side came up. Of course, the boat's floor sank when I got in, causing me to mutter, "Oh my! Oh my!" But I kept my balance, sat down, and slid along the seat to the far end of the boat. That gave me a splendid view of the waterborne portion of the trip.

We glided along the underground river, and it really was pitch black then. No safety lights I could see.
We had been told to keep our hands and belongings inside the boat and to be perfectly quiet to avoid scaring the glowworms, though the noise of the water was so loud that I should think a brass band could have played and no one would have noticed. (I exaggerate, but not by much.)

The glowworms were astounding. They were, unquestionably, everything they'd been cracked up to be. They were completely unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and they were very, very beautiful. They are larvae, and they fish for underground insects by glowing. The light attracts insects to them and they catch them in sticky strands. Eventually, as we were told in the presentation we saw after our return from the cave, after about nine months as larvae, they pupate and emerge as small flies, over 90%!o(MISSING)f whom are immediately caught by other larvae of their species. But each female fly can lay 150 or so eggs, so < 10%!i(MISSING)s enough to sustain the species.

They made glowing patterns on the ceilings and walls around us. They glowed brightly and their sticky strands glowed too, more dimly, so that they looked like huge, delicate brooches set with jewels.

We were told afterwards that we had been very fortunate, as a fresh batch had just hatched, and they are always brightest when they are young. A bright glowworm is a hungry glowworm.

When we returned, the boat was of course facing the other way, so I was first out, just as I had been first in. There was no chance to step aside, so I led the entire group back, being guided by our guide of course. I had been dreading the return journey, but it turned out to be much, much easier. My eyes were as dark-adapted as they get, so I could see our path clearly, and when we came to the narrow sections there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And of course the guide was always there within sight this time, holding a flashlight and encouraging me.

I was surprised at how short the narrow segments were on the way out. They took only a few minutes to get through, if that. Then I was climbing up the asphalted slope again.

We were offered complimentary coffee or tea before the presentation, and I accepted because the cave had been cold. That turned out to be a mistake. Just as before, after a ten-minute delay, I found myself throwing up nearly all the coffee. I didn't even cough first. I don't know whether it's something about New Zealand coffee, or all coffee (though I didn't have this problem with coffee on the train) but I mustn't have any again.

I threw up as discreetly as I could into several Kleenexes, and I don't think anyone noticed.


16th February 2011

You never cease to amaze me, the adventures you pursue despite having so many issues & disabilities. I would just avoid them under such circumstances. I think that's what makes Bilbo's blog such fun reading. :)

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