10 Reasons to Spend the Night in Te Anau
Most visitors only see Milford Sound on a hurried day trip from Queenstown, treating the tranquil lakefront township of Te Anau as little more than a pitstop.
But hey, those guys don’t know what they’re missing out on. From New Zealand’s best walking trails and the South Island’s largest lake to glowworm grottos and nerve-jangling jet boats, here's why you need to plan a longer stay in Te Anau.
1. To truly appreciate Milford Sound
New Zealand’s most famous fiord attracts admirers like moths to a flame, but a hasty visit from Queenstown doesn’t do justice to the majesty of Milford Sound. Te Anau is the perfect launchpad to spend a little longer exploring Milford Sound — cruise or kayak through the towering peaks and icy glaciers to experience this awe-inspiring wonder up close and personal… without having to worry about rushing back to your tour bus for the long journey back to Queenstown. You can even dive into the water to view rare Black Coral, or plunge into the underwater observatory if you don’t want to get wet. Take your time to enjoy Milford Road, too — the only road to Milford Sound takes in spectacular views of the Fiordland National Park.
2. As well as Doubtful Sound
Just down the road from Te Anau, the village of Manapouri begins your journey to Doubtful Sound, an equally gorgeous fiord further south that’s swimming with dolphins and other marine life. Doubtful and Milford Sounds are just two of 14 fiords that punctuate 215 kilometres of pristine South Island coastline, and the friendly township of Te Anau is the perfect place to stay when you’re exploring this secluded corner of the country.
3. To tackle a walking trail
Te Anau dubs itself the Walking Capital of the World, and it’s easy to see why. Three of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks — Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks — are waiting right on Te Anau’s doorstep, twisting and turning through the Fiordland National Park’s 1.2 million hectares of untouched native forest. These hikes take a couple of days to complete but you can easily tick off the first section of the Kepler Walk from town — just wander around the lakefront to reach the start of the trail.
If you're keen on a shorter trek to sample the area's stunning natural beauty, check out the likes of Key Summit, Lake Marian, Lake Mistletoe, and more. DOC has the full list to get you inspired!
4. To see glowworms twinkle
The Te Anau Caves sit on the other side of the lake from the township, welcoming visitors to a fascinating underground glowworm grotto that’s illuminated by the beetles’ luminous sparkle. Cruise tours leave everyday from the Te Anau lakefront - YHA members can even get a discount.
5. To spot rare birds
Glowworms aren’t the only colourful animal you’ll find in Te Anau. This part of the world is home to the endangered takahe — a flightless bird with brilliant green and blue feathers and a bright red beak — as well as other native species like kaka, kea, morepork and parakeet. Te Anau’s bird sanctuary boosts the local population through breeding and rehabilitation programs, plus it’s totally free to visit.
6. To explore the lakes
In the shadow of the dramatic Kepler and Murchison Mountains, Lake Te Anau is the largest lake on New Zealand’s South Island, with three stunning inland fiords piercing the virgin forest on its western shore. You can see the lake on a comfortable cruise, a laid-back kayak, or even a hair-raising jet boat, which speeds through the serene water via River Waiau and a handful of Lord of the Rings filming locations. Follow the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri and you’ll discover a body of water that’s perhaps even more beautiful, boasting beaches, islands and the soaring Mount Titiroa as its backdrop.
7. To witness Fiordland from the skies
This undisturbed wilderness area looks as wondrous from above as it does from below, and Te Anau’s many tour operators provide fixed-wing, helicopter, float plane and vintage biplane flights over Fiordland for the full aerial experience. Can’t squeeze a scenic flight into your backpacker’s budget? The Ata Whenua movie is the next best thing. Head to the cinema to see this thrilling helicopter footage that captures Fiordland on film, and (you guessed it) there's a YHA member discount.
8. To play one of the world’s most scenic golf courses
If there’s a golf course anywhere on earth with nicer scenery than Te Anau’s, then we’d love to see it. Play 18 holes with million-dollar views of the lake and the nearby mountains — just don’t let the scenery distract you from your short game.
9. To feast on local food
Te Anau is only a small town — 2000 people live here year-round, and the population balloons over summer (January and March) — but it still has plenty of great places to eat and drink. Make sure you sample some local Fiordland fare — venison and seafood are the local specialties, especially the fresh-caught lobster.
10. To relax!
Te Anau is surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most mind-boggling natural scenery, so why rush your visit? Slow down and take some time to appreciate everything Fiordland has to offer with an extended stay at YHA Te Anau, a homely hostel just a block from the water’s edge. From the depths of Lake Te Anau to the peaks of Mount Titiroa, this stunning slice of New Zealand is worth so much more than a day trip.
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