Te Anau, New Zealand
An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983
Te Anau is a small town on the South Island of New Zealand, often labelled as the gateway to the wilderness and amazing scenery of Fiordland. This is because it’s the last inhabited town on the border of Fiordland National Park, but it’s still a solid 120 kilometres (2.5-hour drive) away from Milford Sound, what many consider as the main attraction of Fiordland. The town is on the shore of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake of the South Island, and second largest of New Zealand (Lake Taupo being the largest). It is also home to many great New Zealand walks, such as the Milford Track, the Kepler Track, a multi-day loop hike to and from the town and the Routeburn Track that connects Queenstown and Te Anau on foot.
Odyssey Traveller an escorted small group tour for senior and mature travellers to New Zealand. Typically limited between 6 to 12 participants, it is an opportunity for the curious travellers to enjoy the company of like-minded people and learn about history and culture of New Zealand with the help of a knowledgeable Odyssey tour leader and expert local guides.
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History of Te Anau
In Maori Te Anau means ‘Place of Swirling Waters’ and it relates to the limestone cave formations carved out by water on the western shores of Lake Te Anau. These formations were rediscovered in 1948 and are known today as the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, visited by many tourists.
There are signs that the area was first settled by Maori people as soon as they arrived to New Zealand some 800 years ago. Captain Cook explored the southwest coast of Fiordland and Doubtful Sound (then named Doubtful Harbour) and made contact with the Maori as early as in 1770. Europeans didn’t seem particularly interested in settling inlands, but sealing soon began only to become economically infeasible by the mid-19th century.
Some pioneers persisted, such as Quintin McKinnon, Donald Sutherland and John Mackay who cut the Milford Track, now one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. The 53 kilometre walk opened in 1899 and was the only way to access Milford Sound. The town of Te Anau was first surveyed in 1893, but only started to flourish and develop significantly from 1953, when the Homer Tunnel and the Milford Road finally opened, providing road access to Milford Sound. The current population of the town is around 2000, but the town is ready to host some 4000 visitors in peak tourist season. The whole of Fiordland National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and no wonder why: wherever you go, you’ll stumble across something extraordinary.
Milford Sound (even though technically it’s a fiord, not a sound) is probably on the must-see list of everyone visiting New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. Immerse yourself in the power of nature while taking on a Milford Sound Cruise exploring the narrow passage carved by ancient glaciers among the cliffs of the Southern Alps reaching the Tasman Sea. Enjoy the famous peaks, The Elephant and The Lion, and the two permanent waterfalls: Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. Milford Sound is also one of the attractions you should be visiting when it’s raining because a few hours of rainfall would create countless temporary waterfalls which can be seen from the water but also on the way to and from Milford around the Homer Tunnel. Milford is quite a day trip both from Queenstown (291 km, 181 mi) and Invercargill (278 km, 173 mi), that’s why many choose to stay in Te Anau town or to take a short scenic flight to Milford.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary/Te Anau Wildlife Centre
The wildlife centre (although you’ll only find endemic birds here) can be easily reached from Te Anau town centre with a 10-minute walk on the lakeshore. It is your chance to see amazing native birds, such as the takahe, kereru (native pigeon), pukeko (blue flamingo), tui, kea, kakariki, kaka, and weka. Many of these are rare and endangered, and the Department of Conservation runs intensive programmes to protect them from non-native predators. The sanctuary is open to the public from dusk til dawn every day and entry is by donation. You are even allowed to go for a swim in the lake. Alternatively, you can join the daily feeding session from 10.30am.
The somewhat lesser known sibling to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is just as majestic and well worth a visit. Compared to Milford, the Doubtful Sound is longer and more widespread, with the cliffs surrounding it being a bit less dramatically tall and vertical. The area is surrounded by dense native rainforest and rich in flora and fauna. Chances are high the you catch a glimpse of New Zealand Fur Seals and Fiordland Crested Penguins while exploring Doubtful Sound on a cruise. Most tours depart from Manapouri, which is another small town 20 minutes from Te Anau. You can also go on an overnight cruise to get the most out of Doubtful Sound.
Hike one of the Great Walks of New Zealand
Many say Te Anau is the walking capital of New Zealand, as the Milford, Kepler, and Routeburn Tracks either start or finish here, or pass through the city. The Milford Track is probably New Zealand’s most famous walk. It’s 53 kilometres long, and it is recommended it’s done in 4 days (there are huts along the track where hikers can stay for the night). The track leads visitors across suspension bridges, mountain passes and to the Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand.
The Kepler Track was designed to show the hikers the best of the national park: mountains, native forest, waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys. While challenging (it also takes 4 days to complete it), it’s still an easier walk than the Milford Track, as streams are bridged and the steepest sections have steps.
The Routeburn Track connects the Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park, from Queenstown to Te Anau or the other way around, whichever you prefer. It usually takes 3 days to complete the track and has some of the best scenery of these walks: oaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, waterfalls and jewel-like lakes.
A bit lesser known track is the Hollyford Track, a hidden gem taking you through Hollyford Valley, before joining the Milford Road. It is for the most adventurous, as only 2000 people per year set out to explore this area.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves
The Te Anau Glowworm Caves are one of the youngest in New Zealand, carved some 12 000 years ago. You can approach the caves from the Te Anau Lake, so all visits start by a cruise on the western shores of the lake. This underground world is a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall. Later during the tour, you are taken on a boat to a small hidden grotto, inhabited by the glowworms, unique to New Zealand.