Deep in the South Island of New Zealand, on the very edge of Fiordland NP, lies a relaxed and laidback town of Te Anau. Not very well known to those travelling in large tour groups, this town is arguably regarded as one of the best hiking destinations not only in NZ but also the world. This little township sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau, largest lake in South Island. It is the last piece of civilization before one enters Fiordland NP through Milford Highway. While most tourists flock to the picturesque beauties of Queenstown, Te Anau holds its own when it comes to hiking and exploring the wilderness.
Getting to Te Anau is fairly easy with regular bus services connecting it to Queenstown(173kms), Invercargill (159kms) and Dunedin (291km). One can also rent a vehicle and drive to Te Anau enjoying the picturesque landscape of Central Otago and Southland. Both Invercargill and Queenstown airport are roughly 160kms away from Te Anau, but Queenstown being a much popular resort town offers better air connectivity to other cities across NZ as well as Australia.
Te Anau offers a wide range of accommodation ranging from fully serviced hotels and motels to hostels and backpackers as well as campgrounds and holiday parks. It is particularly well suited to those looking to spend more time exploring Fiordland NP. Accommodations are usually booked well in advance owing to presence of 3 great walks close to the town as well as the proximity of the town to Fiordland NP and Milford highway. For those still looking to have a more isolated accommodation have an option of staying in Lake Manapouri township, which is roughly 15mins drive from Te Anau.
Coming into the town, one quickly experiences a sense of calmness wrapped over the town. Kepler and Murchison mountains looming over Lake Te Anau provide a very beautiful backdrop to the town. While clear summer skies can sometimes become very hot and difficult to bear, lying on the edge of Fiordland NP on west coast, Te Anau receives its fair share of rainfall keeping the temperature here quite low and chilly throughout the year. Mornings especially can be very chilly, and anyone planning to stay here should bring appropriate clothing to keep themselves warm and dry.
The Milford Highway begins from Te Anau and offers a lot to see including Eglington valley, mirror lakes, Lake Mistletoe and Lake Gunn, Homer tunnel, The Chasm and the Hollyford valley. The highway is marked by number of campsites till The Divide which is approximately 45mins from Te Anau. The last fueling and refreshment stop lies in Te Anau and hence tour buses ferrying people from Queenstown and Milford Sound take a stopover in Te Anau temporarily making the place hustle and bustle before resettling into its calmer self again.
Te Anau acts a base town for trampers planning to walk on the greatwalks. The milford great walk arguable one of the best walks in the world, starts from the northwest end of the town and over a course of 3-4days traverses through beautiful fiordland rainforest, waterfalls and serene landscapes to finish in Milford sound, which boasts of majestic fjords and gushing waterfalls shrouded in layers of mist. On the other end of the town is the Kepler great walk, a 60km loop track which climbs high into the Kepler mountain ranges up to Mt. Luxmore and traverses through beech forests, sub alpine tussocks and alpine ridges before winding back through Lake Manapouri back into Te Anau. The Routeburn track is the 3rd great walk in this region and though it doesn’t start from Te anau, a 45min bus ride onto Milford highway towards the Divide gives access to this great walk which traverses through 2 national parks, Fiordland NP and Mt.Aspiring NP giving stunning views over Hollyford valley and Darran Mountains. Apart from these great walks, a lot of shorter walks and day hikes can be walked from the town, some situated on the Milford highway whereas others in the Lake Manapouri area.
Apart from these walks, Te Anau offers a range of other activities including fishing, hunting, kayaking, parasailing as well as plane rides over Fiordland. Kayaking in Milford sound and Doubtful sound can be arranged from the town and might include a half day or a full day excursion inclusive of travel to these remote sounds. Parasailing, jet boat rides and fishing on lake Te Anau are very common and easily available. Te Anau also plays host to its own glow worm caves, which are available to explore with a tour and can be booked either on the lake shore or at i-site visitor center. Located on the west shore of the Lake, a scenic boat ride across the lake followed by a path and a small punt will take you through intricate channels of limestone cave network.
A Department of Conservation Visitor center is located at the edge of the town, and is handy for trampers and hikers since it provides valuable information on surrounding terrain, wildlife and weather. Tickets to the Great Walks can also be collected from here. Around 10mins walk from DOC visitor center is the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. It provides a wealth of information on the local flora and fauna of the Fiordland National Park and also rears a number of species which are endangered including Takahe and Kaka. It is open from dawn to dusk and entry is free of cost.
Inside the township, one can expect to find a lot of stores selling souvenirs and memorabilia of Fiordland NP as well as some specialized in selling Jade stones and other valuable gems found in Fiordland NP. This is mainly to cater to the tour groups halting here while travelling to and from Milford Sound. For the ardent trampers and adventurers, a handful of shops offer wide range of outdoor gears and equipment that can be bought or can be hired for a small deposit. A number of stores also offer adventure activities that can be undertaken in a group or privately. In the middle of the town is i-site visitor center which gives all the information that one might need about Te Anau and surrounding places as well as assists in making bookings and travel arrangements. A lot of eateries are spread around the town with small cafes to plush joints offering food of all cuisines including Italian, Mexican, Indian as well as Chinese. For backpackers and trampers, a fresh choice and a 4-square supermarket is also available till late in the evening to replenish food stocks.
Te Anau also boasts of a small cinema also called Fiordland Cinema. While one may be able to catch up on a latest Hollywood flick, the cinema plays a half an hour movie called ‘Ata Whenua – Shadowland’ every hour in its special small theatre. The production of this movie is supported by DOC, NZ and it showcases parts of Fiordland ‘World Heritage Status’ Wilderness that one would otherwise never see. It takes one on an unforgettable journey through one of the most stunning and awe-inspiring landscapes on this planet and is highly recommended for anyone planning to stay in the town overnight.
A small township at the edge of wilderness, Te Anau offers a lot to someone who isn’t afraid to embrace the wilderness and raw beauty of Fiordland NP and anyone staying here would cherish every moment spent here.