Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park and few places can rival its surroundings. The small town sits on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on New Zealand’s South Island, at the foot of the Kepler and Murchison Mountain Ranges. To the north is the Milford Road leading to famous Milford Sound. To the west is Doubtful Sound, which doesn’t get quite the hype but is three times longer than Milford Sound and ten times larger.
In some respects, Te Anau is an unassuming alternative to Queenstown. It has the classic South Island scenery, and with a population of only 2,000, is considerably less busy. There isn’t the same rush of adrenaline sports but that appeals to some people. For the laid back outdoor crowd that doesn’t require the buzz, Te Anau is a great place for you.
Things to Do in Te Anau
The Milford Road departs from Te Anau and makes it way a dramatic 117 km (approximately 2 hours driving) to Milford Sound. The drive is a journey in itself—those who visit Milford Sound on a daytrip from Queenstown often sell themselves short by covering this section too quickly. Travelers who stay in Te Anau can drive the Milford Road at a more leisurely pace and make stops along the way. An added advantage is being able to stay later at Milford Sound and take one of the last cruises of the day with fewer boats on the water.
If Doubtful Sound is considerably bigger and longer than Milford Sound, why does it only get a fraction of the visitors? First, Doubtful Sound isn’t as steep or immediately imposing as Milford Sound. Second, there isn’t a road to Doubtful Sound—first you must take a boat over Lake Manapouri and then a bus over Wilmot Pass. The result is that Doubtful Sound offers more of a wilderness experience. Trips to Doubtful Sound (overnight trips are recommended) depart from Manapouri 20 minutes south of Te Anau. For a more complete comparison of the two destinations, see our article: Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound?
The Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, begins just outside of Te Anau. The full 60 km loop takes 3–4 days to complete. A shorter option is to the Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track, one of the best challenging day hikes in New Zealand (permits aren’t required for day hikers). The round trip from the Te Anau control gates to the Luxmore Hut is 27 km and 8–10 hours of hiking. Taking the water taxi to and from Brod Bay makes the hike a more manageable 16.4 km round trip.
Climate/When to Go
Te Anau has a cool, temperate climate. High temperatures in the summer average 20°C (68°F) and drop to 8°C (46°F) in the winter. On the whole, Fiordland receives some of the highest levels of rainfall on earth: it sustains the rainforests, lakes, fiords, and waterfalls. The mountains play a large role in dictating Fiordland weather, however, and Te Anau is much drier than nearby Milford Sound. Travelers should be prepared for wet conditions at any time of the year. Peak hiking season runs from November through April.