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Te Anau is one of my favorite little towns in New Zealand. With a population of just over 3,000 people, this small town more than triples in size during the busy summer months as visitors from all over the world come to check out all of the different things to do in Te Anau. Te Anau is a very popular vacation destination because it’s the gateway to both Milford and Doubtful Sound.
But Te Anau is so much more than just Milford.
Te Anau has everything you need for a great vacation – fantastic accommodation options and lots of yummy restaurants. Plus, there are so many awesome things to do in Te Anau that you’ll never be bored.
From visiting a mystical glow worm cave only accessible by boat to visiting the natural wonders in Fiordland National Park. Not forgetting the bucket-list-worthy activities like a floatplane tour or even a heli-hike up the great Kepler Track. Seriously, how could you ever get bored in Te Anau!?
If you’re planning a vacation to Te Anau, then this blog is for you. I’ve listed the 17 best things to do in Te Anau, including some of my favorite tours and experiences, too! These are the absolute best activities in Te Anau that you really don’t want to miss out on.
- Te Anau, New Zealand FAQs
- 17 BEST Things to do in Te Anau, New Zealand
- 1. Visit the Te Anau Glow-worm Caves
- 2. Hike the Kepler Track
- 3. Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
- 4. Drive the scenic road to Milford Sound
- 5. Explore Milford Sound
- 6. Visit Doubtful Sound
- 7. Go on a heli-hike
- 8. Explore on a bicycle
- 9. Enjoy brunch at the Sandfly Café
- 10. Jet boating
- 11. Scenic lake cruise
- 12. Ride in a floatplane
- 13. Visit Rainbow Reach swing bridge
- 14. Eat at Miles Better Pies
- 15. Visit Ivon Wilson Park
- 16. Enjoy a lakefront sunset
- 17. Check out Lake Te Anau Viewpoint
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Where to Stay in Te Anau
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Te Anau, New Zealand FAQs
17 BEST Things to do in Te Anau, New Zealand
1. Visit the Te Anau Glow-worm Caves
First up on our list is something truly unmissable – a tour of the Glow Worm Caves is a must-do here in Te Anau! It’s definitely a memorable experience for the whole family and, in my opinion, seeing glow-worms is one of the most incredible things to do in New Zealand.
Glow-worms are actually unique to New Zealand (and one small region in Australia) so you’re unlikely to see them elsewhere in the world. These little larvae light up like the night sky through bioluminescence, and although they are technically just bugs, seeing them all light up together really is quite special.
While there are many different places to see glow-worms in New Zealand, this is definitely one of the very best spots!
Would you believe the caves here are 12,000 years old? They continue to be carved out by the flow of the river which runs through it. The glow-worm caves are a twisting network of limestone passages with whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall.
This Te Anau glow-worm tour takes just over 2 hours total and includes a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau. This guided cave tour allows you to get up close with hundreds of glow-worms. Walking through the narrow cave passages to spot these creatures as well as taking a cruise through the caves in the dark feels like such an adventure!
My advice is to wear appropriate walking shoes on this tour, as the ground can be quite slippery (no flip-flops or high heels). Also, take a waterproof jacket – it is an underground wet cave, after all! A warm fleece or sweater is also essential, as the average temperature inside the cave is about 9 °C (48 °F).
Tickets for this experience cost $119 NZD per person, with tours available throughout the day. You must book a tour to visit these glow worm caves as you need a boat to get there. You can select your time slot and book your spot online in advance here.
Note: Photography and filming are not permitted inside the caves, for a good reason. Flash photography can negatively affect the glow worms and ruin their bioluminescence.
Related Read: Seeing glowworms in Te Anau is one of the best attractions on the South Island – find what the others are to create your own South Island bucket list!
2. Hike the Kepler Track
My absolute favorite hike in New Zealand starts just minutes from Te Anau – the Kepler Track!
The Kepler Track is a 60-kilometer-long (37 miles), 3 to 4-day loop track that follows along the shoreline of both Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri. Even hiking just a portion of the Kepler Track can be so incredibly rewarding.
Some of the many scenic highlights include golden tussock-covered ridges, cheeky keas, views of deep fiords, and stunning alpine mountains. The trail is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks and is easily one of the best hikes on the South Island.
If you don’t have time to complete the entire Kepler track, don’t worry, there are shorter day hike options available too!
One option is to walk from the car park to the Luxmore Hut for the night, approximately 13.8 kilometers (8.6 miles) each way. It will take you about 6 hours to complete, with this part of the track following along the shores of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay.
There’s a steep climb to the viewpoint over the Te Anau basin, from here it’s a 45-minute walk to the Luxmore Hut. During the great hikes season (24th Oct to 30th April), a stay at the hut costs $68 NZD for NZ residents, and $102 NZD for international visitors. For the rest of the year, it costs just $25 NZD per person to stay here! Bookings are also required during the great hikes season.
From the hut, I’d recommend exploring the very cool Luxmore Caves, which are just a 10-minute walk away.
You can even shorten the trail more by taking this ferry from Te Anau to Brod Bay. Costing just $25 NZD per person, this is perfect for anybody wanting to hike up to the hut and back down in just a day.
A detailed overview of the full Kepler Track
The entire Kepler Track is 60 kilometers (37 miles) long, and it will take you around 3 days (about 6 to 7 hours of hiking each day) to complete. On your hike, you’ll spend the night at Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut and Campsite, and Moturau Hut.
After spending the night at Luxmore Hut, continue to a ridge just below Mount Luxmore. From this viewpoint, you will have a great vantage point over Lake Te Anau and the Murchison Mountains. From here, you can continue along the ridges to Iris Burn Hut.
After a night spent at the Iris Burn Hut, the next step is to follow the track over a low saddle down to Rocky Point. From there, you’ll continue the winding downhill track to the shores of Lake Manapouri. This is where the beachside Moturau Hut is located – what a stunning location to spend your third night!
The Moturau Hut has 40 bunk beds and, like the Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut, requires bookings during the great hikes season.
Start the next day’s hike in the forest and continue onto a wetland area. Thankfully, the track over the wetlands is a boardwalk – so you won’t get too muddy. It continues on to another forested area that follows the Waiua River, the largest river in the Southland region of New Zealand!
After crossing the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach, you can choose whether to catch a shuttle from here back to Te Anau. If not, continue a little along the track to the car park.
On this track, keep an eye out for the cheeky Kea, New Zealand’s very own alpine parrot. It’s notorious for its mischievous antics but very beautiful to photograph.
Even during the summer months, the weather here can change very quickly, so be prepared with wet weather gear. This area is known for its high rainfall, after all! My favorite time to hike the Kepler Track is during the warmer months (from late October to April), although if you visit slightly outside of these months you’ll be able to keep accommodation costs down.
Kepler Track guided tour options:
If you don’t feel like tackling this hike alone or prefer to just see the highlights of long hiking trails, then a guided tour is probably the route for you! Keep in mind they can be pretty pricey, but they do include guidance from a local expert, transportation, and bonus activities like in the two tours I will mention below.
The first tour is my personal pick when it comes to seeing the best of the best sights that the Kepler Track has to offer. This full-day heli-hike tour begins with a scenic flight to Luxmore Hut where, upon landing, you’ll get to take in the expansive and iconic mountain views – I just hope your camera has enough space!
After this, you’ll descend down the mountain to the waterfront shoreline, where you’ll hop on a water taxi back into Te Anau. I love that this tour has a maximum of just 12 people, giving you plenty of time to ask questions and enjoy a personalized tour.
Tickets cost $655 NZD which includes all transport from the moment you leave your hotel to the moment you arrive back at the end of the day, assistance from your guide, as well as walking poles and jackets if you need them. You can check dates and reserve your spot on this tour online here.
If a full-day tour sounds a little bit too much, then this 5-hour boat and hike tour is a great alternative. It begins on the water with an incredibly scenic and thrilling jet boating tour across Lake Manapouri, which is actually home to several Lord of the Rings filming locations that will be pointed out to you by your driver!
Once you reach the starting point of the hike, you’ll begin hiking a portion of the Kepler Track, learning about the plants and area as you go. It ends at a suspension bridge, where your transport back into town will be waiting. This is a more affordable experience at just $490 NZD per person and can be booked online here.
3. Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
Right next to Lake Te Anau and just a 15-minute walk from Te Anau town is the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. Here you can see some of New Zealand’s rarest and most famous species of birds. It’s an open-air sanctuary and should take you about an hour to walk around.
Some of the bird species you will spot here include takahe (pictured above), kaka, kereru, tui, and morepork owls. As well as silvereyes, grey warblers, tomtits, bellbirds, and fantails which are often seen feeding in the bush.
You may also see that some birds here are held in aviaries. That is because they have been injured in the wild and are being rehabilitated to be eventually released back into the wild.
Entry here is free, but a donation is encouraged to help with the upkeep of the sanctuary. It’s definitely one of the cheaper things to do in Te Anau. If you want, you can also book a guided tour at the Fiordland Visitor Center. This costs $10 NZD per adult & children under 17 are free.
If you have time, I highly suggest the guided tour! It’ll teach you about all of the birds as well as the conservation efforts of both the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary and the Department of Conservation. It’s lots of fun and also a great activity to do with the family.
4. Drive the scenic road to Milford Sound
No visit to Te Anau can be considered complete without a road trip to Milford Sound. In fact, this is the most popular thing to do in Te Anau! This route is considered one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand and is often called by its Maori name – Piopiotahi Highway.
Without stopping, the 118-kilometer (73.3-mile) long journey (one way) takes around 1.5 hours. But, I recommend allowing at least 4 hours to get to Milford as there is just so much to see along this route.
If you can’t drive or don’t feel comfortable doing so, there are a few different tours available, including this full-day coach tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound! This tour would be my personal pick out of the ones available, as not only does it stop at the most scenic points along the way (great photo opps!), but it also includes a scenic cruise once you get to Milford Sound with a buffet lunch.
Fancy putting together your own Milford Sound itinerary? Here are the stops that I think are worth seeing on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound:
Lake Mistletoe Walking Track
First up is the Lake Mistletoe Walking Track, just a 27-kilometer drive (16.8 miles) from Te Anau. This easy 45-minute walk is located on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park, and winds through native forest to gorgeous Lake Mistletoe. The lake is home to native ducks, frogs, and other fascinating lake life and my tip would be to go early to before it gets busy!
The Eglinton Valley is famous not only for its stunning golden tussock-covered valleys, but because it was the location of the Misty Mountains in the Fellowship of the Ring. If you want to stretch your legs, I recommend the East Eglinton Track, but do be warned, it’s a challenging track.
You do need to be pretty fit to attempt this track, and I’d recommend you have some experience with river crossings. Seriously, you’ll feel like you’re making your own epic journey with this track! All-in-all, it takes 2 hours to the final point at the fork of the Eglinton River.
Just under 56 kilometers (37.8 miles) from Te Anau is the very popular Mirror Lakes walking track. This one is pretty quick and easy; a 400-meter (1,312 feet) walk on flat ground will guide you to the aptly named Mirror Lakes, named so because of their reflective surfaces. On a calm day, you can even see the Earl Mountains reflected on the surface of the lake!
Lake Gunn Nature Walk
The Lake Gunn Nature Walk is a short 45-minute route that offers a true taste of the wilderness of Fiordland National Park (also one of the best hikes in Milford). The mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife make for some great photos, I even snapped a shot of some paradise ducks!
The lake itself is located at 480 meters (1,575 feet) above sea level. Similar to Mirror Lakes – the surrounding mountains seemingly disappear into the flat surface of the lake.
Right in the Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek is a glacier-fed spring and is a popular stop on Milford Road. The water here is so pure you can drink it straight from the source! The name is deceiving though, as there are definitely no monkeys in Fiordland (at least the last time I checked!).
The tale goes that this creek got its name from a European settler who lived in the area over 200 years ago. He had a pet dog named Monkey, and so decided to name this creek in his honor.
If you’ve got a keen eye, you can also spot rare whio (blue duck) that live in the creek and the car park is a good place to see the cheeky keas again.
Possibly one of the most recognizable stops on the road to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel – a 1.2-kilometer (0.7-mile) long narrow tunnel that goes through a rocky cliff. Built in 1953, the construction of the tunnel took almost 20 years due to the dangerous nature of its location!
This is also a great place to visit if it’s a rainy day, when the valley surrounding it has hundreds of skinny waterfalls gushing down its rocky face.
During the busy summer months, entry to the tunnel operates on a traffic light system – so you won’t pass oncoming traffic inside the tunnel. In the winter months, these traffic lights aren’t in operation, so be careful and drive slower inside the narrow tunnel.
Other worthy stops on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound include The Divide, Key Summit Hike, Hollyford Lookout, Lake Marian, Gertrude Valley Lookout, and Hundred Falls. Who knows, if you have enough time, maybe you can explore them all!
5. Explore Milford Sound
The unofficial 8th wonder of the world, Milford Sound is a must-see when staying in nearby Te Anau. It is, of course, picture-postcard beautiful, but there are surprisingly lots of things to do in Milford Sound too. The most popular is a cruise along the inky waters of the sound – or should I say “fiord”. That’s right, despite Milford being called a “sound” it’s actually a fiord because it was carved by a glacier, not a river.
A Cruise on Milford Sound
There are several cruise options to choose from in Milford Sound. You may opt for a larger boat for more onboard space, or a smaller vessel that can really get up close to the waterfalls along Milford Sound. Some boat drivers will take you so close that you will get what they call a ‘free glacial facial’ – the freezing cold droplets from the waterfall will definitely give you a kick in your step.
Personally, I recommend doing this full-day nature cruise. It’s on a smaller vessel and gets you as close to the action as possible with the best chance of spotting wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may even spot dolphins and seals from your boat. And if you’re really lucky, you can also spot the Fiordland crested penguin, which is one of the rarest in the world!
This cruise takes around two hours in total; however, the tour does include pickup from and drop-off in Te Anau as well, so if you don’t already have transport, this can be a fantastic way to experience Milford Sound for the day. At just $205 NZD per person, it’s also pretty affordable when you consider the cost of transport! You can check availability and book your spot online here.
Generally speaking, a cruise in Milford Sound usually lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During the busy summer months, it’s super important that you book in advance – it’s a popular tourist spot, after all!
If you have champagne taste and the budget to match, then why not take your experience up a notch and do an overnight cruise on this luxury ship! This is definitely up there for bucket list-level experiences I’ve done in New Zealand, and I can easily see this as being the highlight of any honeymoon or special occasion.
As well as enjoying two cruises through Milford Sound (one if the late afternoon and one in the morning), this experience also includes a delicious three-course evening meal, a cooked breakfast, as well as plenty of fun activities like kayaking and hanging out in the onboard hot tub!
I’ve written a complete guide on taking an overnight cruise on Milford Sound, and believe me, it’s even better than you can imagine! You can expect to pay $1,000+ NZD for an experience like this. It is often fully booked, so you need to check availability and book well in advance online here.
Note: This tour departs straight from Milford, so you would need to drive or arrange another form of transport.
Walk the Foreshore Walk and visit the Milford Swing
If you need to stretch your legs after the boat cruise, then I highly recommend walking the short Milford Foreshore Loop Track. This track is very easy and is just 400 meters (1,312 feet) long. You will see some stunning scenery along the way and learn a lot about the area from the many information boards dotted along the track.
The Foreshore Track is also home to the very photogenic Milford Swing. A local worker constructed this a few years ago for his sweetheart, and it’s become a bit of a hit with tourists! The swing has a stunning view of the Milford Sound and the easy-to-spot Mitre Peak – definitely grab a photo here if you can.
You’ll spot the swing a little over halfway through the track on your right side, it is located on a sandy patch jutting out towards Mitre Peak. For more info, check out this Milford Sound Swing guide.
Kayak tour through Milford Sound
For a truly bucket-list-worthy experience, why not book yourself on a kayaking tour through Milford Sound? It’s the perfect way to get up close to the many waterfalls and sea life in the area. The kayaking tours range from an easy one-hour tour to a more advanced three-hour tour, and my personal choice would be this 2-hour cruise and kayak tour.
The tour includes a guided experience aboard a small cruise boat, where you’ll learn some fun facts and stories about Milford Sound from your onboard guides. I learned a lot about the local wildlife here, and really enjoyed the included lunch too! You can upgrade this cruise to include a kayak excursion too, which I highly recommend!
Tickets for this tour cost $295 NZD per person, but this is a popular tour that sells out quickly, so don’t forget to check your dates and reserve your spot online in advance.
Lady Bowen Falls
To get up close and personal with the very majestic Lady Falls – 162 meters (531 feet) in height, why not consider hiking the uphill track to the viewing platform? This track is accessible only via a short boat ride from the wharf at Milford to the starting point. All in (including the boat ride), this track will take you just over 30 minutes to complete and costs only $10 NZD for the return trip.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
6. Visit Doubtful Sound
The second-largest fiord in Fiordland National Park is Doubtful Sound. This fiord is nicknamed “the sound of silence” because it doesn’t receive the same level of tourism as neighboring Milford Sound, but the fact that it’s not as popular has nothing to do with the scenery of the fiord (that’s epic) and more to do with how difficult it is to reach!
With no road access, my journey to Doubtful Sound started on a cruise from Manapouri across Lake Manapouri. Then it was a very bumpy coach ride down the Wilmot Pass – a pretty adventurous (but fun!) start to the trip if you ask me.
The only way to explore Doubtful Sound is on a cruise. Typically, a cruise through Doubtful Sound is around 3 hours in total (unless you opt for an overnight cruise) and takes you to where the fiord and the sea meet. One of the major drawcards is that you’re unlikely to spot any other cruise boats, giving you that feeling of natural solitude that’s so rare nowadays!
With its rugged peaks, lush green rainforest, and many hidden coves and caves – Doubtful Sound will leave you speechless. Dare I say, I prefer Doubtful Sound to Milford Sound! Not only are you very likely to spot dolphins and seals on your cruise, but you also have a much higher chance of seeing a rare Fiordland crested penguin.
If you want to see Doubtful Sound for yourself, you’ll need to book a cruise of some sort. There are two different cruises you can choose from that I’ve outlined below.
Transport and Cruise from Te Anau
If you’re staying in Te Anau, this particular full-day tour is likely your best choice for exploring Doubtful Sound. It starts by picking you up from your hotel in Te Anau before driving to Lake Manapouri. From there, it’s a catamaran ride across the lake, and then another drive through Wilmot Pass before reaching the shore of Doubtful Sound, where you’ll jump onboard your Doubtful Sound cruise.
The cruise lasts for about 3 hours and includes commentary. You’ll likely see dolphins and enjoy a peaceful ride without any other boats around!
The entire tour lasts for about 9 hours and costs $349 NZD. It is a very popular tour, so be sure to secure your spot online in advance here, so it doesn’t get fully booked on your chosen tour date.
Cruise starting from Manapouri
If you have your own car, then you can drive yourself from Te Anau to Manapouri (a short 30-minute drive) and get on a boat from there. This will save you about $20 NZD per person instead of choosing the option above with transport from Te Anau included.
But be sure to book your cruise in advance here because if you just show up, you’ll likely not get onboard.
The tour has a few different starting times, including 7:30 am, 10:00 am, and 10:30 am, so you can pick the times that suit you best. I also found their commentary on the boat super helpful and also really funny, the guides working on this tour really do have a great sense of humor.
This experience from Manapouri costs $329 NZD and you can check availability and book online here.
7. Go on a heli-hike
This epic full-day heli hike tour from Te Anau that includes a helicopter ride, a downhill hike on the Kepler Track (one of the Great Walks in New Zealand), and a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau. It all begins with a scenic helicopter flight that will take you from Te Anau to the Luxmore Hut – the perfect time to grab some photos!
On this bucket-list-worthy excursion, you’ll get to fly over Lake Te Anau (my favorite part!), the stunning Te Anau basin, and Mount Luxmore before landing high up at Luxmore Hut. Enjoy a wilderness tea break here (fancy!) whilst taking in the unbelievable scenery.
After your tea, your guide will take you on a downhill hike through the native beech forest. This takes a few hours and is the perfect way to immerse yourself in nature after soaring high up in the sky! You’ll also spot limestone bluffs on your route before ending on the shores of Lake Te Anau, where a water taxi will take you across the lake back to Te Anau.
This is a fantastic option for those who want to see the epic views from Luxmore Hut, but don’t fancy spending a full-day hike to get there. And an uphill hike at that! This trip is right up my alley, but it isn’t exactly cheap though, costing upwards of $655 NZD per person. With that said, it is a full-day guided experience (with a helicopter ride) that is easily one of the best activities you can do in Te Anau.
You can check availability and book your spot on this heli hike experience online here.
8. Explore on a bicycle
Hiking isn’t the only way to explore Te Anau, there are also some fantastic trails to explore on two wheels too!
The gorgeous Lake2Lake bike trail is close to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) long and takes you from Lake Te Anau towards Lake Manapouri. This track is brand-new and is not yet fully completed, so there’s still a small 3.5-kilometer (2.2 miles) section that currently bypasses the incomplete part of the trail.
Despite its incompletion, it’s still an exceptional biking experience that runs along Lake Te Anau at the beginning and then along the Waiau River before ending at Balloon Loop – about halfway down the river. This trail will eventually lead all the way to Lake Manapouri.
It is rated a grade 2 easy, and it is also used by walkers and runners, so keep an eye out for them when using the trail!
If you haven’t brought your bikes with you, you can rent them out at Bike Fjordland or Outside Sports in the town center. Rentals cost around $30 – $60 NZD for a day’s use, although make sure to grab a helmet too while you’re there!
You can also combine a biking day out with a little high-octane fun on this half-day jet boat and bike riding experience starting from Te Anau. This combo tour is such a great way to get to know some famous locations close to town, including the Upper Waiau River, Lake Manapouri, and more inside the national park. If you have a taste for adventure, this experience is for you!
After your jet boat ride, you’ll head out onto a 10 km (7 mile) bike ride along the river’s edge back to Te Anau town center, and don’t let the distance fool you, this is a pretty straightforward ride that’s suitable for most fitness levels.
Tickets for this tour cost $225 NZD per person and include all safety gear as well as bike rental for the duration of the tour. You can check availability and book your spot online here.
9. Enjoy brunch at the Sandfly Café
There are no itchy bites at the Sandfly Café, just tasty ones!
You can’t come to Te Anau without enjoying a delicious brunch at Sandfly Café! It’s home to superb coffee, a great all-day menu that features mostly breakfast items, as well as a large sunny outdoor seating area. Sandfly is a great place to meet Te Anau locals too.
The all-day menu serves mostly breakfast items like buttermilk pancakes, a big breakfast, and a hash brown stack (served with bacon, tomato, eggs, and hollandaise sauce). There are lighter options like the bacon roll too.
For vegetarians, there’s a vegetarian breakfast with tomato, spinach, hash browns, and fried eggs, or the vegetarian hash brown stack. For vegans, there’s a vegan breakfast specials menu that rotates.
After a quick bite, check out the freshly baked goods at the counter. Their cinnamon rolls are especially delicious!
The Sandfly Café is open from 7 am – 4:30 pm daily – it’s my go-to breakfast and brunch stop in Te Anau.
10. Jet boating
Jet boating down the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri is ideal for thrill-seekers, as the boats can reach a speed of up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. The Waiau River is featured in The Lord of the Rings as the Anduin River. If you’re an adrenalin-seeker, this is easily one of the best things to do in Te Anau for you!
This 2-hour jet boat journey took me on a whirlwind adventure through Fiordland National Park, and when I say whirlwind, I mean it! From 180 to 360-degree spins, it felt like a rollercoaster on the water, so I was glad to find out that we would stop a few times to check out some scenic stops along the river!
That said, the tour also took us across stunning Lake Manapouri, where we hopped off for a guided walk with not so many spins! The entire trip lasted around 2 hours, which I think was just about the right amount of time to enjoy all the action, and I was genuinely impressed by just how much we all learned about the local area along the way.
Tickets for this experience cost $185 NZD per person, and you can reserve your spot on this tour online here.
11. Scenic lake cruise
A 3-hour cruise on a historic motorized yacht is a great way to spend a sunny day in Te Anau. In fact, this yacht, named Faith, was built all the way back in 1935!
This afternoon Te Anau cruise begins with a scenic cruise over the lake, with plenty of tea and coffee served throughout the experience. You’ll stop at several scenic spots along the way, and even dock at the Hidden Lakes wharf for a 15-minute guided nature walk, perfect for snapping some more photos!
My favorite part about this tour is that you can see the sun beginning to set after a day of exploring, and you can even visit the engine room on the back of the cruise, a great experience for families with kids who love to explore. Plus, this experience even includes delicious afternoon tea and refreshments to keep you going through the afternoon – nice!
With tickets at $145 NZD per person, I didn’t expect to have as much fun on this experience as I did, and now I can easily see why the experience has over 100 5-star ratings. You can check available dates and book your tickets online here.
12. Ride in a floatplane
Is adventure calling your name? Then why not explore in your very own seaplane! Okay, you might not actually own this plane, but going on this hour-long tour to Milford Sound is muuuch quicker than the typical bus and boat combination I described earlier. If you’re short on time but want to squeeze in an activity you won’t forget, then this is it.
Flying over the Milford Track and spotting Sutherland Falls, you’ll emerge into the dramatic Milford Sound, with views that make you wish you could stay up there forever. I’ve heard really good things about Wings and Water, who run this experience – I’m just working up the courage to give it a go myself!
Like heli tours, seaplane tours aren’t the cheapest, with this tour costing around $585 NZD per person. That said, if you’re looking for some of the very best experiences to try, then this seaplane tour really is worth considering.
Wings and Water also offer other seaplane tours, including one to the less-visited Dusky Sound! This trip is 1 hour and 15 minutes total and actually combines both Dusky and Doubtful Sounds into one package.
13. Visit Rainbow Reach swing bridge
The Rainbow Reach swing bridge is often visited by tourists because of its proximity to the Waiau River, which was a popular Lord of the Rings filming spot! For fans of the films, the River Waiau is the Anduin River in the Fellowship of the Ring and is featured in the opening shot of that movie.
A nice 3-hour walk will take you from Rainbow Reach to either the Shallow Bay Hut or the beachside Moturau Hut. The track is 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) long and returns via the same track. There are gorgeous views of Lake Manapouri from the huts.
If you want an overnight hiking adventure, consider booking Moturau Hut to spend the night. This way, you’ll hike the easier portion of the Kepler Track while enjoying a night in nature in one of NZ’s nicest backcountry huts. Take a look at the section on the Kepler Track for more details, including pricing!
If you don’t have your own car, you can visit this beautiful spot on this Lord of the Rings tour from Te Anau. The tour not only includes a visit to Rainbow Reach Swing Bridge, but it also visits some other Lord of the Rings film location around Te Anau including some of the most beautiful spots.
The tour includes transport, a fun and knowledgeable guide, and lasts for about 7 hours in total. The tour costs $199 NZD per person and you can check availability and book online here.
14. Eat at Miles Better Pies
New Zealand is famous for its pies! In fact, they’re such a staple of the New Zealanders’ diet that it’s said that 66 million pies are consumed here every year.
Whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a delicious meal, you can’t miss out on trying the famous pies at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau town center, which, according to them, “has been here since forever.” Don’t forget to grab a photo with the famous Pie Man outside! My personal favorite pies from here are the Lamb & Pince Pie or the Thai Chicken Curry Pie – yummy!
If you’re not a pie fan – then may I suggest their homemade scones, muffins, biscuits, slices, and sandwiches. Open daily from 8 am to 3 pm, it’s easily one of the best restaurants in Te Anau.
15. Visit Ivon Wilson Park
Ivon Wilson Park on Lakefront Drive is an open 35-hectare (86.5-acre) park with exotic and native trees, as well as stunning views of the surrounding Fiordland National Park.
There are a few short 15-minute trails which lead to the picturesque Lake Henry, one of the best spots in the area for fishing! Rainbow and brown trout can be found here, and there’s even a children’s fishery to keep the little ones busy if you’re traveling as a family.
You could easily spend half a day here when the weather is good as there’s plenty of play equipment, including flying foxes as well as a disc golf course. There’s a decent mountain bike track here too, so if you’re looking for something to do where the little ones can let off a bit of steam, this is well worth it.
16. Enjoy a lakefront sunset
I’ve been lucky enough to witness some pretty epic sunsets over Lake Te Anau, and believe me when I say the sunsets on Lake Te Anau are nothing short of epic (especially in the summer months). So, make sure you have your camera with you while you’re here!
In the summer months, the sun sets at around 9:30 pm, so arrive a little earlier for some front-row seats to the best show in the house!
17. Check out Lake Te Anau Viewpoint
Only a 5-minute detour from the main road out of Te Anau is a beautiful lookout called Lake Te Anau Lions Lookout. On a clear day, this viewpoint offers a great 360-degree vantage point over the town of Te Anau, Lake Te Anau, as well as the Southern Alps. It’s a quick stop that’s sure to impress and is considered one of the best things to do in Te Anau.
The viewpoint is located on Ramparts Road and there is a small car park and a grassy area to have a picnic. A good idea is to visit for sunrise, the views will be amazing, and it’ll start your day early for a full day of exploring.
Where to Stay in Te Anau
Although only a small town, Te Anau boasts lots of amazing places to stay. I almost always stay here when exploring Milford Sound. The reason? Well, I like to take my time on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, stopping along the way to enjoy hikes and viewpoints. The only way to do this is to stay in Te Anau or Milford Sound itself (which is much more expensive).
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels – $
For budget travelers, you can’t beat staying at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels. It’s perfect for those on a road trip in a campervan or motorhome and has budget rooms available. For those traveling with families, you’ll also be happy to know that there’s an on-site children’s playground, as well as a hot tub where you can relax after a busy day!
A basic non-powered campsite starts at around $61 NZD per night, or you can opt for your own room starting from $103 NZD per night. You can check availability and book here on Booking.com.
Lakefront Backpackers – $
Another fantastic budget choice is Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers, which offers super affordable dorm rooms, private rooms, and even glamping tents! There’s free Wi-Fi throughout the property, as well as a movie room and indoor/outdoor cooking facilities – perfect for rustling up some packed meals to take with you on your adventures.
A bed in a dorm here at Lakefront Backpackers starts at around $42 NZD per night, and I’ve got nothing but praise for their super-friendly staff! You can book your stay here on Booking.com.
Aden Motel – $$
If you can spend a little more, I love staying at the Aden Motel. They have studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom apartments that are absolutely beautiful. It’s just a 2-minute walk from the lake, and all apartments come with a kitchenette or kitchen as standard.
Just a 15-minute walk from the town center, you’re far enough away to enjoy the quiet, while also close enough to the action for whenever you’d like to venture into town. Plus, you really can’t beat the price when it comes to the value you get here! Rooms at the Aden Motel start at around $222 NZD and can be booked here on Booking.com.
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments – $$$
Last, but certainly not least, Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments offers stunning accommodation right on the shores of Lake Te Anau, just a 10-minute walk from the town center. The property also received an extensive renovation in 2019, with their deluxe studio rooms coming equipped with state-of-the-art amenities – think 55-inch TV screens, electric fires, coffee machines – you name it.
Honestly, the only downside to this hotel is that once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave! Rooms here range anywhere from $275 to $600 NZD, although you can find some great deals if you book your room online in advance.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
The little town of Te Anau truly has no shortage of amazing things to do. Those were 17 of the best things to do in Te Anau, and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s more than to Te Anau than simply Milford Sound. To me, Te Anau is easily one of the best places to visit on the South Island!
I really hope you found this blog helpful and now are even more excited about your upcoming visit. If you did love this blog, be sure to browse around some more, I have far too many guides on beautiful attractions and places around New Zealand! Below are a few to get you started: