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The Ultimate Guide to Te Anau, New Zealand

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Nestled on the edge of New Zealand's second largest lake, Te Anau is the point of entry to the breathtaking wilderness of Fiordland National Park and of course Milford Sound. This charming township, located in the south-west of the South Island, is a springboard to a multitude of adventures, from hiking magnificent trails to cruising ethereal fiords. With a myriad of activities and sights to see, Te Anau is a destination that is absolutely worth visiting and staying in for at least two nights as part of your holiday & travel to New Zealand. In this Ultimate Guide to Te Anau, we will briefly cover all that the lakeside town has to offer you.

Te Anau Introduction

te anau nz glowworm caves

Te Anau is on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the second-largest lake in New Zealand and the largest water volume in all of Australasia. Te Anau means 'Cave of Swirling Water' in Maori. Coincidentally the Te Anau Glowworm Caves start on the shores of the lake, travelling deep under the Murchison Mountains and are fed by Lake Orbell high up near the peaks of the range.

Te Anau is a small township of about 2,500 people, however still boasting plenty of things to do, as well as highly rated restaurants, fine dining and cafes. Over the past decade it has started to grow with a lot of new housing being added, especially holiday homes which results in a boosted summer population. It is the base for a lot of activities and attractions in Fiordland, including the Great Walks, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. We explore these and others below.

What is the weather like?

te anau wharf nz

In summer the average temperature is about 20degrees and you can expect reasonable weather for the most part, especially in February - April with very good, sun filled days. Te Anau is one of the last places in New Zealand to see the sunset due to it being in the South-west of New Zealand. Lake Te Anau sits around 18 degrees in summer and is warm enough for swimming and water sports.

In winter, temperatures drop to between -2 to 12degrees and you can expect some snow in the months of June to August however rarely does it settle on the ground in Te Anau itself which is only 200 metres above sea level. On the Milford Road you can expect snow throughout winter once you get to the Hollyford Valley area and often it will settle on the road causing closures or delays. It is highly recommended for this reason that you travel with a tour which has experience in these conditions on the Milford Road which is quite narrow and winding.

Contrary to common belief, Te Anau does not actually get a lot of rain. The western side of the lake which is Fiordland National Park receives about 8000mm of rain each year. Meanwhile Te Anau township on the eastern shores of the lake only gets about 1200mm. This is due to the western side mountains trapping rain systems in amongst them before getting across the lake to Te Anau.

Getting to Te Anau

devils staircase road from queenstown to te anau

Te Anau is approximately 171km from Queenstown, making it about a 2.5-hour drive. The route takes you along State Highway 6 and State Highway 94, offering stunning views of Lake Wakatipu, opportunities for a break, coffee and toilets along the way in small towns Kingston, Garston, Athol and Mossburn. You do need to consider your driving time in winter on this route, snow and icy conditions frequent the road between the months of June and September.

If you're coming from Invercargill, located on the southern tip of the South Island, there are a few different ways to come to Te Anau either by turning off at Winton, turning off at Dipton or even Lumsden however another popular tourist route is along the Southern Scenic Route which follows the southern coast round, before coming up through the Blackmount range. This route does add about 30mins to the usual journey time from Invercargill of about 2-hours. Again, it pays to consider what time of day you are driving in winter months.

Should we drive to Te Anau?

Our suggestion is to yes - drive to Te Anau yourself using a rental car if you are not from New Zealand. Once in Te Anau though, everything is very close in the township that you shouldn't need to use it too often. When it comes to tours such as a Milford Sound day tour, a Doubtful Sound tour, or any of the more local attractions, we suggest using the transport made available by the tour operator. We have heard first hand from visitors how this removes stress of having to find your way to Milford Sound - it gives you a lot more comfort knowing you are travelling with experienced drivers and guides who understand the different nature of this road and can keep you safe, while you focus on the stunning scenery outside the window.

What is the price of petrol/fuel in Te Anau and Queenstown?
How far is Te Anau from other cities?
How long should I spend in Te Anau?
Is the weather good in Te Anau?
Is there bus transport to Te Anau?
Should I drive my own car to Te Anau?
Can I fly into Te Anau?
I've heard the Milford Road can be dangerous, is this true?
What type of accommodation is there in Te Anau?
Can I do the Milford Track, Kepler Track or Routeburn Track from Te Anau?
Is Te Anau or Queenstown accommodation typically more expensive?
What shops & amenities are in Te Anau?
Is carparking free in Te Anau?

Types of Accommodation in Te Anau.

Te Anau offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all preferences and budgets. From luxury lodges, hotels and comfortable motels to backpacker hostels and campsites, you'll find a place to rest your head after a day of adventure.

For a touch of luxury, consider staying at the Cabot Lodge, Fiordland Lodge or Fiordland Eco Retreat, who offer stunning views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. If you're travelling on a budget, Bob & Maxines Backpackers offers cozy and affordable accommodation options. In between are several options including:

We would recommend any of the above and these can be found through your usual accommodation booking website choice. You will notice that Te Anau accommodation is generally cheaper than Queenstown in almost all cases of comparing like for like. The average nights accommodation in Queenstown is $366 per night for two people, versus $265 in Te Anau on a similar style comparison.

There is an abundance of AirBNB's also on offer in Te Anau, some with a very unique experience such as glass ceilings for star viewing, luxury fit outs with spas and saunas, and some much larger options for big groups. Te Anau accommodation fills up very well in the summer months so be sure to book ahead of time. If you are travelling with a large group of four or more people, you can expect to pay between $250 - $450 per night for a large house with 3 - 5 bedrooms.

Good cafes and restaurants in Te Anau.

Whether you're a foodie looking for local delicacies or simply want a hearty meal after an adventurous day, Te Anau offers a variety of dining options. Enjoy a delightful meal at the Redcliff Café, known for its delicious food, fine wines, and friendly service. If you're a fan of pies, don't miss out on the famous Miles Better Pies at 19 Town Centre, for a taste of New Zealand's classic comfort food.

For a more casual dining experience, head to the Sandfly Café for a great cup of coffee and a selection of mouth-watering pastries and menu items. Breakfast here is also a popular choice. The Olive Tree, located down the main street, about halfway, and down a short alley also has a large range of affordable friendly meals, snacks and drinks. If you're after a meal with a view, check out the fine dining MacKinnon Room for dishes prepared with fresh local ingredients and stunning views of Lake Te Anau.

Things to do in Te Anau.

Te Anau is the starting point for three of New Zealand's Great Walks – the Milford Track, the Kepler Track, and the Routeburn Track. Each of these tracks offers a unique hiking experience amidst stunning landscapes. Whether you're an experienced trekker or a casual hiker, these trails are sure to leave you in awe of Fiordland's natural beauty.

Milford Track

Known as "the finest walk in the world", the Milford Track is a 53.5km trail that takes you through ancient rainforests, across suspension bridges, past towering waterfalls, and up to panoramic mountain views. This four-day hike is a must-do for any outdoor enthusiast. If staying in the Department of Conservation huts, you must stay three nights and cannot skip a hut. There is also the option to stay in more upgraded accommodation if you do this track guided with the likes of 'Ultimate Hikes NZ'. You can also only walk the Milford Track from the South end off Lake Te Anau and this is accessible only by boat. Options for transport sit with RealNZ and Fiordland Outdoors Water Taxi. You can do a day nature walk through both of these companies also if you prefer a short visit.

Kepler Track

This 60km loop track offers an incredible variety of landscapes, including vast tussock-covered ridge lines, serene lakes, and lush beech forests. The Kepler Track can be completed in 3 to 4 days, with overnight stays in comfortable huts. Starting just outside of Te Anau from the control gates, the first 8-hour day to Luxmore Hut is a big climb of about 800 metres but is worth it at the top, giving you views across Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri in all directions.

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is a 32km trail that traverses wild and scenic mountain country. It offers breathtaking views of pristine lakes, roaring rivers, and majestic peaks. The Routeburn Track can be completed in 2 to 4 days, depending on your pace. It is extremely popular and the huts often book out within 12-24 hours. The track can be started from either end, at The Divide or from Glenorchy near Queenstown.

lake to lake cycle trail te anau nz

Cycling Trail

If you prefer cycling to hiking, the Lake 2 Lake Trail is a perfect choice. This 29km cycling and walking trail runs between Te Anau (starting at the famous wharf at the very south end of the lake), to Lake Manapouri. You'll ride through beautiful forest and wetland areas, with plenty of opportunities for birdwatching and photography. There are a couple of climbs in the track but overall it is considered a Grade 2 track, or easy. You can hire bikes and e-bikes, as well as a shuttle from several local Te Anau companies.

Glowworm Caves

Experience the magical world of glowworms with a tour of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves with RealNZ. This 12,000-year-old cave network is home to thousands of glowworms that light up the dark cave ceilings like a starry night sky. The tour includes a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau and a guided walk through the caves. We would recommend for all ages above four years. You can book a package with us here at Luxe that includes both our Milford Sound Day Tour and the Glowworm Caves with RealNZ.

the faith boat te anau

The Faith

Take a step back in time aboard "The Faith", a 1935-built motor-sailor that offers scenic cruises along Lake Te Anau. Enjoy the majestic views of the Fiordland National Park while learning about the history of the boat and the local flora and fauna. This cruise takes you part way up the South Fjord of Lake Te Anau, before stopping off for a short nature walk at 'Hidden Lakes', a series of small lakes shrouded by native bush at the entrance of the South Fjord.

floatplane te anau nz

Wings & Water Floatplane

Want to combine the lake and flying in one? This is a great option for a relaxing & captivating experience high above Fiordland with the only seaplane option in the area. There are options that include Doubtful & Milford Sounds, Fly & Jetboat, Fly & Cruise and even a mystery flight. Prices range between $165 - $700 depending on the package and there are several time slots throughout the day. Bookings can be online, or in person at their office down on the lake front.

fiordland jet te anau nz

Fiordland Jet

With a 5-star ranking on Trip Advisor, Fiordland Jet is a fun few hours out depending on which option you choose between rivers, lakes or even Kepler Track transport so you can take a quick walk up to Luxmore Hut. Fiordland Jet also offer bike hire for the Lake2Lake cycle track, as well as fun paddle boats for kids down on the lakefront. Again you book online, or head to their small office beside The Moose restaurant & bar on the lakefront.

southern lakes helicopters te anau nz

Helicopter Trips

For an unforgettable experience, take to the skies with a helicopter tour over Fiordland National Park. Enjoy breathtaking aerial views of Lake Te Anau, the Murchison Mountains, and even the fiords of Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Some tours also include a landing at a remote location for an up-close encounter with stunning glacial lakes and the wilderness. Our favourites are Te Anau Helicopter Services, Southern Lakes and Fiordland Helicopters. Luxe Tours also has a fantastic add on helicopter tour with our Milford Sound Day Tour.

fiordland cinema te anau nz

Fiordland Cinemas

If you're looking for a relaxing afternoon or evening, head to Fiordland Cinemas to watch a movie. The cinema shows a variety of films, including the latest blockbusters and documentaries about Fiordland's natural and cultural heritage. Large bucket seats and a full alcohol bar and snacks are available, which can be delivered to you during an intermission of the movie, a real personal touch. Bookings are essential for popular movies. The cinema sits beside 'Black Dog Bar', a popular evening cocktail bar and a great place to start or finish your night.

Escape Room

For a fun and challenging activity, try your hand at Fiordland Escapes, Te Anau's first escape room. Work together with your team to solve a series of puzzles and escape from the room within 60 minutes. It's a great way to test your problem-solving skills and have fun with friends or family.

doubtful sound nz

Doubtful Sound

While Milford Sound is the most famous, Doubtful Sound is equally impressive and often less crowded. Known for its serene beauty, Doubtful Sound is a must-visit for nature lovers. Take a day cruise or a very popular overnight cruise with RealNZ to explore the fiord's deep waters, towering cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. Keep an eye out for dolphins, seals, and penguins that are often spotted in the area. We highly recommend combining a day tour to Milford Sound, with a day to Doubtful Sound if you are a big lover of cruising & nature.

A wet day Te Anau itinerary

You may think it is hard to find things to do on a wet day in Te Anau however there is always a way to experience the area, even if it is raining. Our suggestion would be that if you are not doing a Milford Sound tour, on this particular day that you consider going to the Glowworm Caves. The tour is 2.5 hours long and it really doesn't matter too much if it is raining, cloudy, foggy or snowing. While the views won't be as clear on the boat journey, it is really the caves themselves that offer the highlights of the experience. Once off the boat, it won't matter at all whether it is raining or not as the rest of the tour is underground in the cave system.

You could also consider going out for lunch at one of the above mentioned cafes/restaurants, and then add on a visit to Fiordland Cinema to watch 'Ata Whenua Shadowland', a short film on Fiordland itself. Otherwise the Escape Room is always a great option, especially with children or teenagers. Another option for the day is to simply put on a coat and go for a walk along the lakefront, it is very rare that Te Anau gets heavy rain that would actually bother you.

Why stay in Te Anau?

Te Anau's location makes it the perfect base for exploring Fiordland National Park and its world-renowned attractions. With its range of accommodation options, great dining venues, and a variety of activities, Te Anau has everything you need for a memorable vacation. Whether you're here to embark on a multi-day hike, take a cruise on a fiord, or simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty, Te Anau is a destination worth staying in for awhile.

Te Anau vs Queenstown

Queenstown has had extraordinary growth over the last decade with house prices soaring and a population boom of wealthier individuals. Housing for workers in town has become extremely difficult with very high rents and the 'lifestyle' that people think they will get in Queenstown has actually become difficult to obtain. This has meant businesses need to pay staff more to attract them, resulting in higher prices for accommodation, food and services to visitors in the past few years. There is almost a $100 difference in the average cost of accommodation per night between the two towns now, and generally eating out in Queenstown is also more expensive. Getting around is more difficult with congested roads and heavy traffic in Queenstown, particularly in the evening. In comparison Te Anau, due to its much smaller size, offers an abundance of car parking and is about a 5-minute drive from one side of the town to the other.

te anau nz

While there is no doubt that Queenstown is beautiful and has a lot to offer in the way of adventure tourism, Te Anau offers an equally beautiful escape and a more relaxed visitor experience with a focus on connecting with nature and the outdoors through attractions such as Milford & Doubtful Sound, the cycle trails, lake cruising and the Great Walks.

In summary, is Te Anau worth spending time in?

We love Te Anau. It is a relaxed, lakeside town with stunning mountain scenery that offers everything you could need for a two - four day visit. About 60% of visitors to Milford Sound choose to stay a night or two in Te Anau. That number is growing and for good reason. More and more Te Anau is seen as a holiday destination in itself, not just a town on the way to Milford Sound. Give it a go, book a night or two and find yourself indulging in the friendly town and all it has to offer nearby!

If you would like to discuss how you could spend a few days or longer in Te Anau, feel free to make contact with our team and we can help you with ideas for an ultimate trip to the beautiful township: or send us a message on Facebook or Instagram!

To get your place on our Milford Sound Day Tour, one of the few tours departing just from Te Anau, view or book here.

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