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Exploring New Zealand


Hokitika is best known for its flourishing gemstone industry. But jade and other jewels of the earth are not the only things that sparkle in the town.

Step forward Arachnocampa luminosa, a species of fungus gnat native to New Zealand. That's a rather unappetizing name for the splendid insect we know as the glowworm.

These aren't the fireflies of literary lore. In New Zealand, it's the worm-like larvae of the gnat that carry the glowworm name. They sit on the sides of caves or overhangs and let down numerous silk threads coated in mucus to waylay unfortunate flying insects. Once caught on a thread, the catch is quickly reeled in for a tasty meal.

To attract these insects to their silken death, the larvae glow. And the hungrier they are, the brighter they glow. The insect flourishes in damp, enclosed environments...particularly caves. But you also get them outside where there is an appropriate overhang for them to dangle their threads from.

One such location is on the outskirts of Hokitika, just a brisk walk from the centre. This glowworm dell is on the lefthand side of the road as you come into the town from the North (on the main route from Greymouth). It's opposite the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation.

Entry is free and the dell itself is a 2 minute walk from the roadside entrance, where there's an information board if you want to learn more about the insect and its lifecycle. There's also space for a couple of cars to park just off the road.

The path leading to the dell is unlit, but has handrails to guide you. You're best off visiting at dusk, when it's dark enough to see the worms, but light enough to find your way around a little. Or you can bring a torch. A few minutes further walk into town along the main road takes you past a garage open until late evening. There you can buy a torch if you haven't one on you.

You'll recognize the dell as soon as you reach it. The sides are covered with little globes of light. If you want pictures, bring a suitable camera that can handle very low light conditions. And don't forget to disable the flash function. Photos with flash show nothing of the glowworms, but do manage to irritate other users of the dell...both human and insect.

The glowworm area itself is quite other-worldly. It's very dark, yet a myriad of tiny points of light surround you. A thing of natural beauty that arises from the rather more prosaic task of feeding on flies.

The dell is certainly worth a trip if you're staying in Hokitika for more than a night. If you're lucky and have a cloudless night you can combine the starry landscape of the dell with the real thing outside. The milky way in all its glory makes a nice backdrop for a late night beachside stroll.

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