Te Anau is the gateway to the southern wilderness area of Fiordland National Park and is set around the shores of Lake Te Anau. Postcard views depict mirror-smooth lakes, snow-capped mountains and the contrasting lush green of native forest. Yet many tourists choose to pass through to Milford Sound, missing the relaxed vibes and alpine scenery of Te Anau. Spend some time here for the perfect weekend or overnight trip from Queenstown and Dunedin.
Day 1 – Exploring around Te Anau
Driving from Queenstown, follow the road to Te Anau as it curves gently along the banks of Lake Wakatipu. Soak in lakeside vistas framed by the dramatic mountains above before arriving in Te Anau – the main visitor base for exploring Fiordland National Park.
Te Anau has firmly cemented it’s title of “The Walking Capital of the World” due to its close proximity to 3 of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks – The Milford Track, Kepler Track and Routeburn Track. These are multi-days walks, although sections of these picturesque tracks can be completed in just one day and are accessible from Te Anau.
For those wanting to access these rugged alpine areas and forests, we recommend the Brod Bay to Te Anau walk. Catch a ride on the Kepler Water Taxi to the shores of Brod Bay, before walking the 11km back into town.
Alternatively take a stroll to the Punanga Manu o Te Anau/Te Anau Bird Sanctuary – just fifteen minutes from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. Open from dawn until dusk, the sanctuary is home to some of Fiordland’s most special birds including the rare flightless takahe, and the beautiful kākā – a native forest parrot.
A full list of Fiordland Day Walks can be found in this brochure from the Department of Conservation.
In the afternoon check out the Fiordland Cinema, which was purpose built in 2004 to screen a spectacular half-hour movie called Ata Whenua. Ata Whenua was filmed by helicopter pilot, and the creator of Fiordland Cinema, Kim Hollows. Its purpose is to show aerial footage of the Fiordland World Heritage Park, and is combined with a soundtrack of native New Zealand wildlife and traditional Maori instruments. Not to be missed.
In the evening make a reservation for The Redcliff – most likely the best restaurant in Te Anau. It’s delicious menu showcases Te Anau’s heritage in the hunting and farming industry with a selection of local game including wild hare and venison, as well as fresh fish from the local rivers. It’s a true kiwi dining experience, complete with a glass of Central Otago pinot noir.
Day 2 – Explore Fiordland National Park from Above
While hiking and driving are one way to experience the Fiordland National Park, it’s a whole different experience soaring above these jagged peaks, sparkling glaciers and thundering falls with a scenic flight. Of the 14 fiords in the Fiordland region, only Milford Sound is accessible by road – but don’t let that limit your experience.
Doubtful Sound is Fiordland’s second biggest fiord and is three times longer and 10 times larger than Milford Sound. It’s three distinct arms stretch some 40km to the ocean. Accessible by sea and air only, this remote wilderness area is renowned for its wildlife and arresting natural beauty, so if you are lucky you will be able to spot some of the rare and extraordinary wildlife that calls Fiordland home . Gaze down on the peaks without the agony of climbing there, let your pilot point out the masses of fur seals, penguins and pods of dolphins, and pack your picnic to enjoy on one of the landings you will make throughout the journey.
If you choose a Doubtful Sound Scenic Flight and the weather is favourable, your helicopter will detour into magical Campbell’s Kingdom, a beautiful hanging valley encompassing a lake and a waterfall. This is the stuff of fairytales. Scenic flights depart daily from Te Anau and require booking in advance.