Small Town New Zealand: Te Anau

fiordland new zealandLocated in wild, remote Fiordland, in the south-west corner of the South Island, Te Anau is often skipped through by travellers en route to the dramatic splendour of Milford Sound. But this little town, known as the wilderness capital of New Zealand, is well worth a linger.

Head underground: Te Anau means “cave with a current of swirling water” and that cave just happens to be a vast underground network of whirlpools and waterfalls twinkling with the light from thousands of glow-worms. You can take a boat tour though the Te Anau Gloworm Caves with Real Journeys – your trip includes a cruise across Lake Te Anau before you drift through this silent, sparkling underworld.

Cycle: From Queenstown, a fantastic cycling adventure is to hop aboard the TSS Earnslaw for a cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station. From there, saddle up and ride the Mavora Lakes backcountry road to Te Anau. Parts of this area were used to film the closing scenes of Lord of the Rings – so expect some very big vistas.

Walk: Trampers are spoilt for choice in this region and numerous short and multi-day walks can be accessed from Te Anau. These include:

Milford Track: 53.5km of dramatic scenery and varied terrain. This is a four-day trek that starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at Sandfly Point with a boat ride to Milford Sound.
Hollyford Track: A three-day, 37km walk that’s a good option for families.
Kepler: A 60km track that winds its way up and down the mountains surrounding Te Anau. It’s usually walked over three or four days.
Routeburn: 32km of exquisite scenery.

For day walks, pick up a brochure from the local DOC office.

Kayak: Don’t just gaze in awe at the pristine waters of this area – paddle them! Numerous operators offer single and multi-day kayaking experiences on both Milford and Doubtful Sound.

Jet-boat: Humpbridge Jet offers jet boat adventures along the wild Wairaurahiri River and Lake Hauroko, to the south of Te Anau. They have a variety of different packages available.

Fish: Not surprisingly, the rivers and lakes of this area are teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. Fish Jet offer a variety of guided trips.

Drive: The Te Anau to Milford Highway is a dramatic journey through the upper corner of the Fiordland National Park, which culminates in the stunningly beautiful Milford Sound. Keep a close eye on the weather if you’re visiting between May and November – conditions can (and do) change rapidly.

Java-hit: Sandfly Café. Tasty food for the hiking pack, too.

Take flight: If there was ever a location to fork out for a helicopter ride, this is it. Fiordland’s impressive grandeur is even more breathtaking from the air and numerous operators are ready and waiting to give you a bird’s eye view.

After-hours: Hard to believe, but Te Anau does actually have a cinema. It was purpose-built by helicopter pilot and movie-maker Kim Hollows to screen Ata Whenua – Shadowland, a movie Kim filmed to showcase the majesty and beauty of Fiordland.

Quench a thirst: Black Dog bar is located at the Fiordland Cinema. It serves locally-brewed Fiordland lager and Black Dog wines, plus bar snacks. You can also take your drinks into the cinema.

Stay: Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park is located right on the lake’s edge. Henry Creek Campsite is the closest DOC site to the town – it’s 25km from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound.

Image: Jocelyn Kinghorn