Te Anau is a town in the Southland Region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is situated in the midst of Fiordland right on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau. Lake Te Anau is notable for being the largest lake on the South Island and the second largest lake in all of New Zealand after Lake Taupo.
The town lies right on the doorstep of the beautiful and well regarded Fiordland National Park. As such, many visitors to the park use Te Anau as a base for their excursions into the park and to the legendary Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, both of which are also quite near to the town.
Avid trampers looking to complete the well-renown Milford Track and Kepler Track also commonly use Te Anau as a base with the latter actually starting in Te Anau.
What to Do – Te Anau
The proximity to Fiordland National Park makes it a great place for visitors to base themselves for their visit to the park.
Fiordland National Park is 1.2 million hectares of truly stunning scenery.
Filled with huge forested mountains, beautiful fiords, endless kilometres of coastline, rivers, lakes, and fascinating wildlife, Fiordland National Park is one of the most beautiful locations in all of New Zealand.
The park served as the dramatic setting for multiple scenes in the well regarded Lord of the Rings movies. The park is also part of Te Wahipounamu, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in addition to being given important status by the United Nations due to its truly outstanding natural features.
The park is the largest National Park in New Zealand and is perhaps best known for its many fiords, as well as being the home to some of New Zealands most sought after tramping tracks in the Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks.
Kepler Track -Te Anau
The Kepler Track spans for 60 kilometres and will take the average walker around three to four days to complete. It is an intermediate trail, but since it is one of the Great Walks, the condition of the trail is very good.
The track is a look and it starts and finishes at the Kepler Track carpark. For those not interested in walking the full 60 kilometres, the track can be broken up into smaller sections. Here is a suggested guide for those wishing to walk the whole trail.
Day 1: Kepler Carpark to Luxmore Hut: 13.8 kilometres. The track begins with a walk through beech forest along the shore of Lake Te Anau all the way to Brod Bay. At Brod Bay, there is a campsite where bookings are required. From there, you will embark on a relatively difficult climb that will take you above the tree line.
From the top, walkers will be treated to stunning panoramic views of the Te Anau Basin and the surrounding mountains. From the tree line, it is a 45-minute walk to Luxmore Hut. Should you desire, from the hut, there is a 20-minute side trip to Luxmore Cave.
Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut. 14.6 kilometres. From Luxmore hut, you will continue climbing to a ridge situated just below Mount Luxmore. From here, you will be treated to wonderful views of Lake Te Anau all the way to the Murchison Mountains. Iris Burn Hut is located on the top of the ridge in a large tussock clearing.
Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut, 16.2 kilometres. This portion of the walk boasts diverse scenery before winding through a gorge and lowland beech and podocarp forest. After passing through the forest, you will arrive on the shores of Lake Manapouri. The Moturau Hut has wonderful views of the lake.
Day 4: Moturau Hut to Kepler Track Carpark, 15.5 kilometres. The final day is a long, but easy walk along a fragile wetland. You will then follow the Walau river terrace to a swing bridge at Rainbow Reach. The track will then continue along the Walau River to the Kepler Track carpark.
Walkers wishing to complete the Kepler Track should be aware of the following things:
1) During the Great Walks Season, late-October to early-May, the huts are fully operational with water supply, flushing toilets, washbasins, and cold, running water. There is also heating with fuel available and normally a common area with solar lighting. Finally, there will be fuel cooking facilities, but no cooking utensils. You must have a booking to stay in a hut during this season.
2) Outside the Great Walks Season, late-April to late-October, the huts have a limited array of services. There is no gas provided, flush toilets are replaced with self-containment toilets, running water is turned off inside the huts, and beds are first come, first served.
3) Outside the Great Walks season, the weather can be poor and change very quickly. Also, there is an avalanche risk.
Arguably the most well known trail in the Fiordland National Park – Mount Aspiring National Park area is the Routeburn Track. This 32 kilomertre track will take the average walker around three days to complete. The track is an intermediate grade and it is best traversed between late October and late April.
The track boasts soaring mountain peaks, stunning valleys, waterfalls, and lakes with striking, clear water. The highest point on the track is 1,255m above sea level, thus allowing for wonderful views. The track also links the Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park.
The area that the track runs through was created by successive periods of glaciation, leaving behind fjords, rocky coasts, huge cliffs, glacial lakes, and beautiful waterfalls. The track is also filled with an abundance of birdlife, including native tomits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons, bellbirds, and cheeky Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. The track is not a loop track and as such, it can be walked in either direction. Here is a quick guide for hiking the track.
Day 1: Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut, 8.8 kilometres. After leaving the car park, you will cross a swing bridge before passing through stunning beech forest and walking along the Routeburn Gorge. A second swing bridge will take visitors to open, grassy flats, prior to climbing up through more beech forest. Walkers will cross over two more swing bridges prior to ending at the Routeburn Falls Hut.
Day 2: Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake McKenzie Hut, 11.3 kilometres. Day 2 starts with a steady climb to the outlet of the river at Lake Harris. While it is a long climb to the top of Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track, it is worth every step as the views are absolutely stunning. The top of the saddle is surrounded by the Darren Range, Mount Madeline, and Mount Tutoko, among others. The track then heads down towards the Hollyford Valley, eventually ending at the Lake McKenzie Hut.
Day 3: Lake McKenzie Hut to The Divide, 12 kilometres. After leaving the Lake McKenzie hut, walkers will wind through a grassy region dotted with a few trees prior to arriving at the 174m high Earland Falls.
The track then begins a slow descent down to the Lake Howden Hut, which is a great lunch spot. From there, the track climbs up to the Key Summit Track turnoff. From here, walkers can enjoy wonderful, panoramic views of the surrounding area. Walkers then pass through one more beech forest prior to reaching the divide on Milford Road.
Walkers can stay at any of the four public huts along the way. All four are run by the Department of Conservation. There are also an additional two huts that are run by Ultimate Hikes, a private organization. The DOC huts are equipped with mattresses, flushing toilets, running water, and cooking facilities. During the offseason, cooking facilities and running water is not present, so if you are walking during this time, plan accordingly.
As the trial is not a loop, walkers must arrange transport at both the beginning and the end of the trail. Shuttles and buses are easy to book in advance. One end begins near Queenstown, which is filled with accommodation and transportation options.
Milford Track – Te Anau
The Milford Track is 53.5 kilometres, one way, on an intermediate trail. However, as it is a Great Walk, the quality of the trail is quite high.
The trail starts at Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at the Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. Walkers are only allowed to walk the track in one direction and it takes around 4 days to complete the whole track for the average walker. There are a few stages of the walk where there are very ascents and descents. Here is a quick guide to walking the Milford Trail.
Day 1: Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut, 5 kilometres. You start by walking through stunning beech forest along the banks of the Clifton River until you reach the Clinton Hut. Pretty much all walkers stay at Clinton Hut their first night. The hut is surrounded with wonderful swimming holes and a wetland boardwalk.
Day 2: Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 16.5 kilometres. You start the day with a gradual climb along the Clinton River to its source, Lake Mintaro. You will pass Hirere Falls, where you will be treated with your first views of Mackinnon Pass and the unique and beautiful Pompolona ice field.
As you continue up the Clinton Valley, you will be dwarfed by giant rock walls towering above on either side of the trail. You will continue climbing until you reach the Mintaro Hut.
Day 3: Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, 14 kilometres. You will start by climbing to Mackinnon Pass where you will find a memorial to Quintin Mackinnon. There are stunning views of Lake Mintaro and the Clinton Canyon below from the memorial.
Not long after the memorial, you will reach the highest point along the trail, 1,154m, at the Mackinnon Pass Shelter. From there, you will descend through an alpine garden all the way down to the valley floor, passing several beautiful waterfalls along the way. As you approach Dumpling Hut, you will be able to spot the majestic Sutherland Falls in the distance.
Day 4: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point, 18 kilometres. From the Dumpling Hut, you will follow the Arthur River to the historic Boatshed. As you continue, you will stumble across Mackay Falls and the unique and interesting Bell Rock. There are a collection of fascinating man-made rock cuttings alongside the Arthur River and Lake Ada as well that walkers should stop to enjoy.
The final 3 kilometres of the track is smooth and wide and was constructed by a prison labour gang between 1890-1892. A short boat ride will take you to the trail’s end where you can enjoy the world-renown views of Milford Sound.
Walkers should be aware of the following before embarking on their journey.
1) Camping is not permitted on the Milford Track.
2) During the Great Walks season, the huts are fully equipped with water supply, flushing toilets, wash basins, cold running water, heating with fuel, solar lighting in the common area, cooking facilities with fuel (but no cooking utensils), and a resident DOC ranger. You require a booking to stay in a hut as well.
3) Outside of the Great Walks season, the huts don’t have as many amenities. Gas is not provided, flush toilets are replaced with pit toilets, runnin water is turned off inside the huts, and there are no DOC rangers on site. Additionally, beds are on a first come, first served basis.
4) Due to the elevation gained on the walk, walking the track should only be attempted by fit, experienced, and well equipped walkers.
Of course there is more to Te Anau than Fiordland National Park. Lake Te Anau also provides a wide variety of activities for visitors to the area. From the lake, visitors are treated to wonderful views over the Kepler and the Murchison Mountains.
There are also wonderful lakeside beaches and beautiful lakefront walks that are sure to both relax you while also taking your breath away. If you want to take in the lake and it surrounding scenery from above, then book one of the many helicopter and plane tours. These tours give visitors a stunning bird’s eye view of one of the most stunning areas of New Zealand.
Of course, Te Anau, and the surrounding area, is also home to some wonderful wildlife. Bird watching enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to see some rare and unique bird life in the bird park that runs right along the lakefront. Visitors can also visit the unique and fascinating glow worm caves on the other side of Lake Te Anau.
The caves are over 12,000 years old and were formed by the force of the river that flows through them. Tours are offered from the lakefront in Te Anau. A boat will take visitors across the lake and lead them through the caves where visitors will be treated to a sight unlike any other.
Accommodation – Te Anau
Te Anau is home to a number of accommodation options. Whether you are looking for an affordable backpacker’s hostel as you make your way along one of the multiday trails, or you want a luxurious getaway in a beautiful resort, Te Anau has something to match your taste and your budget.
Travelling from Abroad?
Travellers heading to Te Anau from abroad have a few options with regards to getting to their final destination.
The closest airport option is in Queenstown. While the airport there is quite small, it does offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Gold Coast from abroad as well as from Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, Hamilton, and Nelson domestically.
Of course if you do have a larger travelling budget, Te Anau does have an airstrip that can handle chartered flights. From Queenstown, it is only a short two hour drive along a beautiful and scenic road to Te Anau.
Visitors can also make the trip via either Invercargill or Dunedin. Both of these towns have slightly larger airports that might be more accessible from abroad. However, the drive will certainly be longer. From these destinations, visitors will hop on the Southern Scenic Route, which is just as scenic as its name suggests, to their final destination at Te Anau.