YHA Te Anau traveller taking photo of sounds

Long Weekend Getaway to Te Anau

Sounds fabulous! Head off on a long weekend getaway to Te Anau to explore Milford & Doubtful Sound and more delights of Fiordland.

South Island

The little town of Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland, with the world famous Milford and Doubtful Sounds drawing visitors from near and far every year. A scenic two-hour drive from Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu it is the perfect long weekend getaway destination for a cruisy or active break!  In case you didn't know, Lake Te Anau (home to Te Anau township) is the largest lake on New Zealand’s South Island. 

We've put together two itinerary options to help you experience the best of Fiordland. The first, the cruisy one, is for those that like to travel at a slower pace and not break too much of a sweat while exploring. The second, the active one, is for those with ants in their pants that love to explore under their own steam. Or if you're a little of both pick your favourites and do a combination.

Trekking in Te Anau


The Cruisy Itinerary

Day 1

Start off with the scenic drive to Milford Sound, allow a good couple of hours so you can stop along the way and take in the scenery. Wherever you stop your car beware of cheeky Kea (NZ Mountain parrots) coming to investigate your car, and its contents. They are particularly interested in windscreen wipers!

About halfway between Milford and Te Anau, a stop at the iconic Mirror Lakes is highly recommended - especially on a still morning. The walk is just 400m return and a perfect opportunity to stretch the legs. You’ll walk along small lakes which are aptly named for capturing the reflections of the Earl Mountains.

Shortly after you’ve made the journey through the Homer Tunnel you'll reach the settlement of Milford Sound, part of Te Wahipounamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to explore the fiord is, not surprisingly, from the water. Choose anything from day cruises to overnight stays on the water!

Make sure you have your raincoat and your camera at the ready. Most tour/cruise operators will go up close to the many featuring waterfalls you can see. That’s the great thing about Fiordland - the rain makes the waterfalls even more spectacular – so don’t despair if it is bucketing it down!

If you fancy feeling like a gold fish for a day, join a tour that visits the Underwater Observatory – here you can view the fascinating underwater environment from the secure and dry comfort of the enclosure. 


doubtful sound cruise

Day 2

After the hustle and bustle of the busier Milford Sound, it’s time to get off the beaten track a bit more and visit the equally beautiful but quieter Doubtful Sound, also sometimes called the Sound of Silence. This part of Fiordland can only be reached by organised tour operators, making it a little less crowded than its sister Milford. Doubtful Sound is about three times longer than Milford Sound and seems all the more remote for it. You start your journey from Te Anau with a scenic cruise across Lake Manapouri before hopping on a bus across Wilmot Pass.

There are several cruise options for Doubtful Sound as well – you will most likely see plenty of wildlife, including dolphins, fur seals and even the occasional penguin.


photography at doubtful sound

Day 3

This morning, stay on dry land and check out the local wildlife. The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is a great place to see some of the birds that are rare to spot in the wild. It’s also free, so grab a picnic brunch and head on over checking out the mighty Takahē, Kākā and kereru/New Zealand wood pigeon amongst others.

In the afternoon, join one of Real Journey’s Glowworm Cave tours. The tours include a scenic cruise on the western shores of Lake Te Anau and a guided cave tour. With their 12,000 years, the caves are actually relatively young and they are still being carved by the river that flows through them today. Travel through the limestone passages on foot and by boat to find a grotto of thousands of glittering glowworms, native to New Zealand.


The Active Itinerary

Day 1

Today is all about getting the arms moving with a Doubtful Sound kayak tour. You'll start with a scenic cruise across Lake Manapouri and a coach ride over Wilmot Pass where you are then moving at your own pace. You can kayak from a few hours to a full day through the sound, exploring small coves and islands from a different perspective. A moderate level of fitness is required for this trip but no previous kayaking experience is necessary as you will be led by experienced kayak guides.

If you feel one day isn't enough to fully immerse yourself in the sounds, you can take part in an over-night kayaking experience. With 2 solid days of kayaking, you will truly be able to connect with the wilderness in the Sounds.  


scenic doubtful sound

Day 2

Today you better rest your arms and let the legs do all the work! The nice thing about the Kepler track is that is starts so close to town, the car park is only a 5km short drive or if you fancy it – walk from town. Hiking up to Luxmore Hut will give you a great taster of what this Great Walk is all about.

The return trip can easily take you all day, with the Luxmore Hut as a nice lunch spot. The track starts off along the lake shore before climbing steeply through mountain and silver beech forest. Once you have reached the bush line you get rewarded with panoramic views of the Te Anau basin and the surrounding mountains. If you would like to stay in the Luxmore Hut to explore the open tops a bit longer, make sure you have booked in advance. 



Day 3

After some climbing yesterday, start off easy this morning with a Milford Sound Cruise (see the cruisy itinerary for more details). On your way back you should have enough time for a quick stroll up to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track. The Routeburn Track, another one of New Zealand Great Walks, starts from the Divide car park approx. 30 min from Milford Sound. The return walk to Key Summit takes about 3 hours and offers spectacular views of Fiordland National Park. 


Those itineraries sound too good to be true? Head down to Fiordland rain or shine and see for yourself that the fuss is all about! 

Saskia Wohlgemuth

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