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Exploring New Zealand

Te Anau Area Guide

Campervan on Milford Te Anau Highway above
Lake Te Anau. State Highway 94 - ©
The town of Te Anau, the main gateway into the wild Fiordland National Park, is on the south eastern corner of beautiful Lake Te Anau, the south island's largest lake.

Known as the 'walking capital' for its easy proximity to three of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks, Te Anau lies on the eastern boundary of Fiordland, a land of deep-water fiords and steep rainforest-cloaked mountains. From Te Anau, the scenic Milford Road heads north along the east coast of the lake, and on to Milford Sound, the only one of the fiords accessible by road.

While many visitors simply use Te Anau as a base before going hiking or tramping, this pretty lakeside town offers plenty of activities. The lake itself was sculpted by glaciers, the main body of water broken up by three arms reaching out to the mountains in the west. The best way to explore the lake is to go on a guided kayak trip, or to take a scenic cruise, or boat journey across to the western shore to explore the magical Te Anau Glowworm Caves with their waterfalls and glowworm grotto.

The Te Anau Wildlife Centre on Manapouri Road offers an opportunity to see some of New Zealand's rarest native birds, including the flightless takahe, which was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the remote mountains of Fiordland in 1948.

The Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, at the south end of Lake Front Drive, is the best place to plan your trip into the heart of Fiordland. You will need to book well in advance if you want to do any of the multi-day Great Walks, especially in the peak January and February periods. If you don't have time to do a four-day hike, a guided one-day trip along the Milford or Routeburn offers a good alternative.

From the National Park Visitor Centre, there is a good 50-minute walk around the southern edge of the lake to the Control Gates, used to regulate water flows between Lake Te Anau and neighbouring Lake Manapouri. From the Control Gates, you can walk the first 30 minutes of the Kepler Track to Dock Bay for a swim and a picnic.

The beautiful scenery around Lake Te Anau was used to film some of the locations in the Lord of the Rings movies. The Waiau River, which flows between Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, became the River Anduin for part of the fellowship's journey, while the tranquil Mavora Lakes, north east of Te Anau, provided locations for Fangorn Forest and Nen Hithoel (the Lake of Many Mists).