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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 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 accessibly 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. In it, I explain the 15 best things to do in Te Anau so you can plan your upcoming visit! These are the absolute best activities in Te Anau that you really don’t want to miss out on.
Te Anau, New Zealand FAQs
15 BEST Things to do in Te Anau, New Zealand
1. Visit the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
A tour of the Glow Worm Caves is a must-do in Te Anau. It’s definitely a memorable experience for the whole family and in my opinion, seeing glow worms is one of the best 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, they are truly quite beautiful.
The Te Anau glow worm tour takes just over 2.5 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. It combines both walking through the narrow cave passages to spot these creatures as well as a cruise through the caves in the dark on a small boat.
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 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit.)
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. For many years, these caves were but a local legend. Hinted at only by the Maori name for the area “Te Ana-au” which translated to English means ‘caves with a current of swirling water’. In fact, the glow worm caves were only discovered in 1948 by an explorer named Lawson Burrow.
Important to note is that photography and filming is not permitted inside the caves. This is because flash photography will affect the glow worms.
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
One of my absolute favorite hikes in New Zealand starts just minutes from Te Anau – the Kepler Track. Without a doubt, hiking even just a portion of the Kepler Track is one of the best things to do in Te Anau.
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. Scenery 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. This part of the track follows 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. From the hut you can explore the very cool Luxmore Caves, just a 10 minute walk away.
You can even shorten the trail more by taking a ferry from Te Anau to Brod Bay. 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 will 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, continue along the ridges to Iris Burn Hut. After spending the night at Iris Burn Hut follow the track over a low saddle down to Rocky Point. Then, 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!
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. The track continues onto another forested area that follows the Waiua River. After crossing the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach you may choose 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. The best time to hike the Kepler Track is during the warmer months (from late October to April). During the winter months, it’s not advised to hike the trail due to avalanche risk. As a general rule, if you’re into hiking, then the best time of year to visit New Zealand is the summer season.
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. 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 book a guided tour at 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 effort of both the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary and the Department of Conservation.
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 long journey (one way) takes around 1.5 hours. But, I recommend allowing at least 4 hours on the drive 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 then you can take a coach tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound. These tours depart at various times throughout the morning and include stops at a few of the key points of interest along the road.
Here are the stops 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 walk is located on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park. It’s an easy 45-minute walk that winds through native forest to gorgeous Lake Mistletoe. The lake is home to native ducks, frogs, and other fascinating lake life.
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. A high level of fitness is advised as well as experience with river crossings. The track takes 2 hours to the fork of the Eglinton River.
Just under 56 kilometers (37.8 miles) from Te Anau is the very popular Mirror Lakes walking track. A quick 400-meter walk on flat ground takes you into the aptly named Mirror Lakes – named so because of its reflective surface. On a calm day see the Earl Mountains reflect on the surface of the lake.
Lake Gunn Nature Walk
A short 45-minute walk that offers a true taste of the wilderness of Fiordland National Park (also one of the best hikes in Milford.) Spot mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife. The lake itself is located at 480 meters above sea level. Similar to Mirror Lakes – the surrounding mountains seemingly disappear into the flat surface of the lake. You can also spot paradise ducks here.
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 as there are definitely no monkeys in Fiordland. 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.
Rare Whio (blue duck) live in the creek and the car park is a good place to see the cheeky kea again.
Possibly one of the most recognizable stops on the road to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel – a 1.2-kilometer 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. Visiting the Homer Tunnel is most spectacular on 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 lights 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.
5. Explore Milford Sound
The unofficial 8th wonder of the world is an absolute 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. The most popular is a cruise along the inky waters of the sound – or should I say “fiord”. Thats 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 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. If you’re truly lucky, you can also spot the Fiordland Crested Penguin which is one of the rarest in the world!
A cruise in Milford Sound lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During the busy Summer months you MUST book in advance!
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 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. The swing has a stunning view of the Milford Sound and the easy-to-spot Mitre Peak. You will 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. I highly recommend the sunrise tour to see the sound in complete stillness, but due to the early start of this tour, you will need to spend the night in Milford Sound Lodge.
The kayaking tours range from an easy one-hour tour to the more advanced three-hour tour. For convenience, you can book this cruise and kayak tour.
Lady Bowen Falls
To get up close and personal with the very majestic Lady Falls – 162 meters 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.
6. Visit Doubtful Sound
The second-largest fiord in Fiordland National Park is nicknamed “the sound of silence.” That’s because it doesn’t receive the same level of tourism as neighboring Milford Sound. Its lesser popularity 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 direct road access into Doubtful Sound, you will start your journey with a cruise from Manapouri across Lake Manapouri and then a very bumpy coach ride down the Wilmot Pass.
The cruise through Doubtful Sound is 3 hours in total and takes you to where the fiord and the sea meet. A major drawcard is that you are unlikely to spot any other cruise boats.
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 have a high chance of seeing a rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
Drive from Te Anau to Manapouri (a short 30-minute drive) but be sure to book your cruise in advance. Also worth noting is you can actually do an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound for an even more memorable experience.
7. Go on a heli-hike
This is an epic full-day 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. A scenic helicopter flight will take you from Te Anau to the Luxmore Hut. On this bucket-list-worthy excursion, you will get to fly over Lake Te Anau, 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 native beech forest. This will take a few hours. You will also spot limestone bluffs on your route before ending on the shores of Lake Te Anau. From here 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. An uphill hike at that. This trip is right up my alley! This tour isn’t cheap though and costs upwards of $600 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.
8. Cycle the Lake 2 Lake Trail
This gorgeous 19 kilometer (11.8 mile) bike trail takes you from Lake Te Anau towards Lake Manapouri. This track is brand new and is not yet fully completed, there’s still a small 3.5-kilometer section that bypasses the incomplete part of the trail.
Despite its incompletion, it’s still an exceptional biking experience that runs along Lake Te Anau in the beginning and then along the Waiua 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 when using the trail.
9. Jet boating
Jet boat down the Waiua River to Lake Manapouri, ideal for thrill-seekers as the boats can reach a speed of up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. The Waiua 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!
Your driver will stun with 180-degree high-speed spins. The journey also includes some scenic stops along the river to take in the scenery of the remote Fiordland area. The tour also brings you across stunning Lake Manapouri, where you will hop off for a guided walk. The whole trip will take 3 hours.
10. 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 was built all the way back in 1935!
After 40 minutes cruising on the lake, hop off the yacht and enjoy a guided walking tour through the less-explored Hidden Lakes. Enjoy a 45-minute walk with your guide as you learn about the history of the boat as well as the native flora and fauna in the area.
Depending on which option you choose (morning or afternoon cruises are available) a delicious morning or afternoon tea will be served as well as drinks along the way. Personally, I prefer the afternoon cruise as the sun begins to set after a day of exploring. You can visit the engine room on your cruise back to Te Anau – a great experience if you have kids with you.
11. Ride in a floatplane
Take a unique ride in Fiordland’s only seaplane. An hour tour will take you to Milford Sound – much quicker than the typical bus and boat combination I described earlier.
Or you may choose to explore lesser-visited Dusky Sound by seaplane. This trip is 1 hour and 15 minutes total and actually combines both Dusky and Doubtful Sounds.
Another popular option is, of course, an excursion to Milford Sound. Fly over the Milford Track and then spot Sutherland Falls before emerging into the dramatic Milford Sound.
12. Visit Rainbow Reach swing bridge
Rainbow Reach swing bridge is often visited by tourists because of its proximity to the Waiua River which is a popular Lord of the Rings filming spot. The River Waiau is the Anduin river in the Fellowship of the Ring and is featured in the opening shot of that movie.
Also, 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.
13. 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!
Try the famous pies at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau town center which according to them “has been here since forever”. 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. It’s easily one of the best restaurants in Te Anau.
14. Visit Ivon Wilson Park
Ivon Wilson Park on Lakefront Drive is an open 35-hectare park with exotic and native trees, as well as stunning views of the surrounding Fiordland National Park.
Walk one of the short 15-minute trails leading to the picturesque Lake Henry which is also great for fishing. Rainbow and brown trout can be found here. There’s even a children’s fishery to keep the little ones busy.
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.
15. 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 especially in the summer months are epic. So, make sure you have your camera with you. My top suggestion would be to grab a takeaway pizza from Paradiso Pizza or some Vietnamese goodness from Bao Now and find a spot close to the jetty for you to watch the sun sink into Lake Te Anau.
Worth noting is that sunset in the summer months falls at around 9:30 pm.
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 to 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!)
For budget travelers, you can’t beat staying at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels. It’s perfect for those on a road trip in a campervan or motorhome and they also have budget rooms available also. If you’re a social traveler, the YHA Te Anau is another good budget option and they have dorm beds and private rooms.
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. For the price, it’s the best value place in town. Of course, if you have a larger budget then check out the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments. They also specialize in apartments but some of their rooms have magnificent views of the lake.
If you’re traveling in a larger group or just want a more local experience consider booking a holiday home in Te Anau. There are lots to choose from all the way from large houses to smaller apartments. The best part is they work out cheaper for the luxuries you get!
Thanks for reading!
The little town if Te Anau truly has no shortage of amazing things to do. Those were 15 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 for your upcoming visit. If you did love this blog, be sure to browse around some more, I have far to many guides on beautiful attractions and places around New Zealand!