Visiting New Zealand’s South Island? Pack in some of the best things to do in Te Anau. The beautiful lakeside town is famed as the gateway to the spectacular Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. While many visitors whisk through as a stopover, Te Anau is worthy of more attention.
Many of the town’s top tourist attractions sprout around the waters of Lake Te Anau, the second-largest lake in New Zealand. Around its pristine shores, unique sightseeing opportunities await. Popular experiences include glow worm caves, walking tracks, fiords, and jet boating.
Ready to plan out what to do? Add to your Southland adventure with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Te Anau.
What to see & do
Lake Te Anau
Te Anau is chock-loaded with natural beauty. Need proof? Cast your eyes upon Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on New Zealand South Island. In New Zealand, its 344 km² of surface area is trumped only by Lake Taupo on North Island.
At first glance, you’ll realize: Lake Te Anau is no ordinary lake. The western shores of the lake are fringed by the Kepler and Murchison Mountains. Peering west from the town onto the lakeshore, you’ll marvel at one of the most spectacular scenes you’ll ever behold.
Lake Te Anau crawls westward into the mountains with its three stunning fiords: North Fiord, Middle Fiord and South Fiord. Unlike New Zealand’s 14 other fiords, the trio are the only inland fiords in the country. The rest crawl from the coast.
Got tramping on the brain? Two of New Zealand’s Great Walks launch from the shores of the lake. The trailhead for the Milford Track sits at the lake’s northern tip. The Kepler Track starts at the southern tip of the lake, where it flows into the Waiau River.
To get the most mileage out of your visit, opt for a relaxing sightseeing cruise.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves
While not as famous as its counterparts in Waitomo, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves are a must for any Te Anau sightseeing journey. The caves are located on the western shores of Lake Te Anau.
A visit to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves begins with a relaxing scenic cruise across the lake. As you float into the limestone caves, you’ll be whisked away into a unique subterranean world. Upon the ceilings and walls of the caves, thousands of glowworms twinkle like stars in distant galaxies.
Often labelled as the 8th natural wonder of the world, Milford Sound is a must for your Southland itinerary. Milford Sound is often listed as one of the best Queenstown day trips. Truthfully, launching your Milford Sound journey is more convenient as a day trip from Te Anau.
At Milford Sound, majestic mountains pierce the sky, rising up from its deep fiords. You’ll see dolphins leaping from its calm waters and penguins waddling on the shores as you inch closer to the coast. Milford Sound is truly one of the world’s most amazing natural sights.
There’s a wide range of ways to experience Milford Sound from Te Anau. Among the most popular experiences are scenic flights, boat cruises, and kayaking adventures.
Planning to go hiking in Te Anau? There’s hardly a trail more worthy of your time than the Kepler Track. The 60-kilometre loop track starts at the edge of Lake Te Anau, a few kilometres south of town.
The Kepler Track traverses the best of Fiordland National Park. Tramping along, you’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramic views. You’ll marvel at rivers, mountain ranges, waterfalls, and native forests.
Among all the New Zealand Great Walks, the Kepler Track is one of the most well-maintained. Unlike other hikes in the area, you’ll enjoy extra “amenities.” You’ll find bridges over streams, steps over steep sections, and boardwalks through low-lying muddy areas.
However you tackle it, you’ll need to plan your 3- to 4-day Kepler Track in advance. During the Great Walks season, from late October to April, bookings are required for the track’s hut accommodations. You can book your Kepler Track accommodations online at the DOC website.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
New Zealand’s got plenty of unique wildlife, none more famous than its native birds. See them in action at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.
The stars of the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary are the takahē. Takahē are an endangered flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand. Not long ago, the birds were on the brink of extinction. Today, there are over 400 of them in various locations, including Fiordland and Tiritri Matangi Island.
Other birds of note at the sanctuary include kereru (NZ wood pigeon) and kākā, a native NZ forest parrot.
The bird sanctuary is open daily from dawn until dusk. Entry is on a donation basis. You can also join one of the daily feeding tours at 10:30 am for $10 per person. Tours must be booked in advance at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.
Ivon Wilson Park
The tranquil Ivon Wilson Park lies a kilometre south of the Fiordland National Park Centre. The 35-hectare park offers a peaceful escape from the bustle of the tourist town.
You’ll enjoy a time-out in the park’s lush greenery as you soak in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. For more active pursuits, there’s also an 8-kilometre-long mountain biking trail. The terrains showcase varying difficulties.
The most compelling reason to visit Ivon Wilson Park, though, is to enjoy some fishing with the kids on Lake Henry. Children can get a free fishing license at the park’s visitor centre and cast a line into the lake. It’s well-stocked with both rainbow trout and brown trout. The kids will love it!
The headwaters of the Waiau River begins on the southern shores of Lake Te Anau. The river flows south into Lake Manapouri before flowing into the Foveaux Strait near Tuatapere.
While the Waiau River’s scenery is stunning, the real reason to add it to your Te Anau itinerary is for its activities. One of the most popular options is an exciting jet boat ride over its waters. For adrenaline-pumping experiences in the area, it can’t be beat!
The Waiau River is also a popular destination for trout fishing. You should have no problem finding outfitters in town to hook you up.
Often seen as a quieter alternative to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is an area of immense untouched beauty. The glacier-carved fiord is the deepest on South Island. And, at 40 kilometres, it’s the second longest in New Zealand. And, boy, is it ever worth your while!
Doubtful Sound’s landscapes feel a bit “wilder” than Milford Sound. As it’s a little further afoot, Doubtful Sound is less accessible. It sees far fewer visitors than its Fiordland counterpart.
Whether you explore its serene waters on a kayak or a scenic cruise, you’ll whisk past beautiful waterfalls and wild wooded peaks. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, too. You’ll likely spot bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and penguins on your travels.
Perenuka Mountain Bike Park
Looking to get active on your Te Anau trip? Hit the trails at Perenuka Mountain Bike Park. The popular adventure activity park hosts about 10 kilometres mountain biking trails. The trails range between easy to death-defying black diamond difficulty
The Perenuka Mountain Bike Park is located 6 kilometres from Te Anau on Sinclair Road.
How to get there
Te Anau is a major destination along the Southern Scenic Route. One of New Zealand’s most epic road trips, the Southern Scenic Route traverses a U-shaped route between Queenstown and Dunedin.
From Queenstown, the road skirts the eastern boundaries of Fiordland National Park. It continues along from here towards the southern coast of South Island.
Te Anau is about two hours from Queenstown by car. From Invercargill, the town is about two and half hours away via the scenic drive.