A stunning little lake-side town (of only 3,000 permanent residents), Te Anau is a breath of fresh air.
It makes the most of its incredible natural features, whilst managing to avoid the hustle and bustle of neighbouring Queenstown.
Te Anau sits right on the border of the Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area, so it’s really no wonder that this region is blessed with some of the most stunning scenery in all of New Zealand.
Whether you’re heading to Fiordland to unwind, get active or simply marvel at Aotearoa’s natural beauty, Te Anau has it all. It is the perfect gateway to all that Fiordland has to offer.
Fiords, waterfalls, native bush, towering mountains, stunning lakes… really, what are you waiting for? Jump into this list of the very best things to do in Te Anau! Having travelled to the region half a dozen times, we’ve experienced the best of the region and are pleased to report back…
This post first featured on Exploring Kiwis.
These are 25 of the Best Things to Do in Te Anau!
Activities Right in the Heart of Te Anau
Conveniently located right in town, these activities are perfect even if you don’t have your own transport.
They’re also great options to squeeze in between more weather-dependent activities.
1. Enjoy Lake Te Anau on a Classic Boat
Lovingly restored, Faith in Fiordland takes passengers back to a bygone era.
This beauty was built in 1935 and having lived through a number of historic events, it now hosts visitors in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Not only will you be welcomed aboard this stunning motor yacht (where you can be as hands-on as you like in sailing her), but you’ll also be treated to delicious canapés, have a good chin-wag with your hosts (Adam and George) and head off on a beautiful little tramp to explore the Hidden Lakes.
A trip out on Faith in Fiordland is the perfect combination of true-blue Kiwi hospitality, incredible scenery and living history.
We loved our time onboard and know you will too!
2. Soak Up Lake Te Anau’s Views
Whatever you choose to do on or near Lake Te Anau, you’ll want to spare yourself a little time to relax and enjoy the town’s beautiful backdrop.
You’ll find the largest lake in the South Island right on the edge of Te Anau so it’s the perfect place to take a picnic lunch (or takeaway pie) and relax in between activities.
3. Check out the Glowworm Caves
Known as one of the best place to see glowworms in New Zealand, the Te Anau glowworm caves should be top of you list when visiting the region.
Boat trips leave from the lake (right in town) multiple times a day. From there, you’ll cross Lake Te Anau and head into the glowworm caves.
Though the caves are relatively young in geological terms, they are well worth seeing!
This trip is widely regarded as one of the best things to do in Te Anau.
Did you know? Although the caves aren’t as weather-dependent as some of the other activities on this list, rain can still be a factor. When we visited, the caves were flooded due to high rain overnight.
4. Zip Around on an Exciting Jet boat Ride
Fiordland Jet is another activity that departs from the lakeside.
Starting on Lake Te Anau, it won’t be long until you’re zipping down the Waiau River (also known as River Anduin for our Lord of the Rings fans), headed for the beautiful Lake Manapouri.
Jet boats were invented in New Zealand and there really is no better place to ride in one than on the rivers of the South Island.
Hold on tight though, this is anything but a relaxing float down the river (in the very best of ways!)
5. Try Your Hand at Trout Fishing
There are a few places in New Zealand that are known for amazing trout fishing – Te Anau is one of them!
With remote rivers and deep trout-filled lakes, there are plenty of opportunities to try your hand at trout fishing.
Should you wish, it’s even possible to combine your fishing experience with an exciting jet boat ride!
Whether you choose to fish Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri or the Waiau River, you’ll find a number of guides and gear rental opportunities in town.
6. See Rare Birds at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
Holidays are expensive so a high-quality free activity is always appreciated, we are right?!
That’s exactly what the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is.
Home to a range of native birds (that are ordinarily difficult to spot in the wild), you’ll have the opportunity to check out a takahē, kea, kaka, ruru and more.
Best of all, the team at the bird sanctuary carry out a structured breeding and rehabilitation programme, allowing them to release these gorgeous birds back into the wild.
A visit to the bird sanctuary is a great addition to your South Island holiday.
7. Go Horse Riding (or Quad Biking) Amongst Some of New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Scenery
If you’re keen to ride through a working farm, you’re in luck!
Westray Adventures shows guests around their slice of paradise, either by horseback or quadbike.
Heading up above the Te Anau basin, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of both Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountain range.
Offering incredible views and a taste of farm life in New Zealand, this is a great way to spend a day in the area.
8. Enjoy Delicious Kai (Food)
Te Anau is home to a surprising number of excellent restaurants, cafes and eateries. You really can’t go wrong in town, but these are our pick of the bunch…
- Bao Now – This Asian fusion food truck delivers big on flavour. We stopped by for dinner whilst we were in town and were suitably impressed!
- Miles Better Pies – If you’re travelling in New Zealand you have to try a good ol’ Kiwi pie (made by Kiwis, not from kiwis) and few places do it better. From classic flavour combos to distinctly kiwi ones (lamb and mint, anyone?), this is the perfect place to swing by on your way to the lake.
- Redcliff Cafe – If you’re a fan of history, this is the spot for you. Redcliff Cafe is housed in a replica settler’s cottage; from there, they serve locally sourced, hearty meals. This spot is romantic and full of old-world charm.
- The Fat Duck – A favourite amongst locals, this gastropub serves up quality meals to suit all tastes. It’s the perfect place to relax as you finish up a busy day of sightseeing.
… because no ‘best things to do in Te Anau’ post would be complete without plenty of delicious kai!
9. Relax at the Movies – Fiordland Cinema
Though a visit to the cinema isn’t often top of the list for travellers, anyone who’s travelled for an extended period of time knows that you need to factor in some down-time too.
Fiordland Cinema is the perfect place for this.
They play all of the movies that you’d expect from any cinema but also have a collection of locally-produced short-films ready to play.
Ata Whenua – Shadowland, for example, screens every hour, on the hour.
Lasting 32 minutes long, it is an incredible collection of Fiordland scenery, and at only $12 for adults (and $6 for children), it’s an affordable way to unwind.
Amazing Things to do in Te Anau: Take to the Air!
As Fiordland gets so much rain (right throughout the year), chancing upon clear weather to get up in the air can be a challenge.
If you’re planning a number of days in the region, we suggest prioritising a flight and then working other activities around it.
Almost everything else on this list can be carried out in the rain but flights require more stable weather.
You’ll notice that we recommend two different flight options too. If time and budget will allow, we wholeheartedly recommend doing both whilst you’re in town. Though both are airborne experiences, you’ll be surprised by how different each of them are!
10. Fly High in a Floatplane
Conveniently located right on the shore of Lake Te Anau, Wings and Water are operated by a friendly husband and wife team, Ivan and Kylie. They are both very accomplished pilots and gladly share their local knowledge and commentary whilst showing off the most incredible scenery around.
Of course, this all happens in the only floatplane found in the South Island!
We joined them on their ‘Lakes Explorer’ flight which included views of the Hidden Lakes, Lake Manapouri (one of the most beautiful likes in all of Fiordland), and of course Lake Te Anau (the South Fiord to be specific).
Lasting approximately 20 minutes, this flight represents excellent value for money and really is a must-do whilst in town!
The feeling of taking off and landing on the water really is unlike any other and is a must-do for plane-loving travellers (and anyone at all, really!)
They also offer flights over the untouched beauty of Doubtful, Dusky and Milford so it’s easy to pick a trip that suits your budget and requirements.
11. Helicopter into the Heart of Fiordland
Fiordland is stunning from the sky and Southern Lakes Helicopters are set to get you there.
With a variety of flight options (taking in both the immediate area and all of the sounds), there are plenty of choices.
The challenge is knowing which flight to land on!
We suggest heading out to Doubtful Sound or the western parts of Fiordland onboard SLH.
These trips take in the stunning scenery in the area, much of which is practically inaccessible otherwise. Travelling by helicopter means you’ll have the opportunity to land and get out and about in these remote locations – how amazing!
Whilst in town, we suggest swinging by the office to chat with the team about the best flight option for you.
Hike One of the Region’s Great Walks – They’ve Got Three of Them!
New Zealand is home to nine Great Walks, all maintained by the Department of Conservation. These hiking trails are considered our premier tracks; they’re well-formed, easy to follow and widely loved.
Five of these tracks are found on the South Island, three on the North and one on Stewart Island.
Incredibly, three of these Great Walks are accessible from Te Anau!
Whether you plan on undertaking full multi-day hikes or just want to head off on a day trip, these trails take trampers right into some of the most incredible scenery New Zealand has to offer.
If you’re an avid hiker, there is no doubt that these are some of the best things to do in Te Anau!
12. Check Out the Kepler Track
This 60 km loop tramp spans 3-4 days, and though it includes some pretty impressive climbs, it’s well worth the effort!
With incredible alpine views and tracks enveloped in forest, this track is often mentioned as a standout amongst the Great Walks.
Quieter and more affordable than the better-known Milford Track, it’s a winning option if you’re looking to complete a multi-day hike whilst in Fiordland.
13. Take on the Milford Track
The most famous tramping track in the country, Milford Track is iconic.
Checking in at 53.5 km one way, this 4-day walk is popular for a reason! Connecting the tip of Lake Te Anau up with Milford Sound, you’ll be treated to incredible views throughout.
All of these hikes need to be booked well in advance, but the Milford Track especially so. If you’re planning on carrying out this tramp, you’ll want to keep an eye on bookings as they open.
14. Hike the Routeburn Track
Spanning both Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park, the Routeburn Track covers 33 km one way and takes between 2 and 4 days to complete.
With beautiful native forest and powerful rivers, this hike is incredibly impressive.
If you’re short on time, you might like to check out the start of the trail.
Known as The Divide, the start of the Routeburn really is beautiful. You’ll find the car park just before the Homer Tunnel as you head towards Milford Sound.
Just so you know – The Milford Track and the Routeburn Track both suffered damage in recent floods and have been somewhat out of action since. They’re both due to reopen in full before the end of the year so be sure to check in with DOC for updates.
Journey into Milford Sound
Without a doubt, Milford Sound is the flagship attraction that brings people to Te Anau.
Having personally visited half a dozen times, I can assure you that it is worth the time and effort to get there.
Whether you strike it lucky with a still day (which will result in incredible photos of the fiords reflecting on the water) or a typical Fiordland rainy day (waterfalls galore), this part of New Zealand is world-renowned for good reason.
With the near-vertical walls of the fiords plunging directly into the water below, Milford Sound is a sight to behold.
Even more incredible is the fact that these towering peaks continue on deep under the surface!
15. Drive the Milford Sound Road
If there is one road that you absolutely have to drive in New Zealand, this is it.
The journey starts off with an easy drive alongside Lake Te Anau, before gradually climbing into the Fiordland National Park.
With towers cliffs and mountains and crystal-clear rivers, the drive into Milford Sound really is remarkable.
The drive itself takes a minimum of 1.5 hours but we suggest allowing 2 just to be safe – especially if you’re facing Fiordland’s classic dodgy weather.
There are countless worthwhile stops to on the way through, including the Chasm, Lake Marian and the Mirror Lakes.
At the end of your drive, you’ll want to ensure you also have time to complete the little loop track near the dock – it doesn’t take long but is the perfect stop for photos.
With countless photo stops, viewpoints and little walks, it’s worth giving yourself even more time to complete this journey.
Pro Tip: Though we found the road to be perfectly fine to self-drive in July, it’s not for everyone. If you’re not confident driving on New Zealand’s roads, find yourself in the region in snowy conditions or just want to sit back and relax (whilst someone else worries about getting you there), we highly recommend booking a trip with Cheeky Kiwi Travel. They offer fantastic small-group tours, complete with plenty of infamous Kiwi hospitality and depart from both Queenstown and Te Anau.
16. Kayak Milford Sound
If you’re keen to get active in the Milford Sound, there’s no better way to do it than by kayak.
A number of companies run guided kayak trips through Milford Sound (and Doubtful too) so you can see the sounds from the water.
Sitting low on the water, the fiords towering above you, the scale of the scenery all around really comes into focus.
What an incredible way to see Milford!
17. Check out the Underwater Observatory
The Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory offer visitors a look below the surface of Milford.
This is the only floating underwater observatory in New Zealand.
Without getting wet, you’ll be able to check out the sea life up close and personal. Just 10 metres below the surface, the variety of fish and coral is incredible.
Did you know? The Underwater Observatory is located in Harrison Cove and is only accessible by boat.
18. Take to the Water and go Scuba Diving
Though the waters of Fiordland are chilly, they offer plenty of rewards to those keen to brave the cold.
Kitted out in a thick wetsuit, you’ll have the opportunity to see a part of Fiordland that most people miss out on. In the process, you’ll be checking out one of the top 10 places to dive in the world (according to Jacques Cousteau).
With unique marine life, diving in this region is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.
They have the largest concentration of black coral trees anywhere in the world. This coral (which is oddly enough white in colour) is normally found 100m or so below the surface but is much closer to sea level in Fiordland due to the large amount of rainfall they receive and the shadowy fiords.
In addition, you’ll also see a selection of other white and red corals along with numerous other soft corals.
If you’re lucky, you might spot some of the resident dolphins and seals in this world heritage marine reserve too.
19. Cruise Milford Sound
No trip to Te Anau is complete without a visit to Milford Sound, and no visit to Milford Sound is complete without a scenic cruise out on the water!
Known as the eighth wonder of the natural world, Milford Sound really does need to be seen from within. With giant mountains cut into Fiords, waterfalls and plenty of native wildlife, it’s a magical spot.
Though a number of companies cruise the Milford Sound, we unreservedly recommend Cruise Milford.
They’ve got a large, comfortable boat that they intentionally under-sell to ensure there’s plenty of room for everyone to move about. The commentary throughout is engaging and there are additional staff on hand to answer any specific question you’ll have.
If there’s only one thing you do in Te Anau, it really does need to be a cruise into the sounds (along with the drive in, of course).
Did you know? Both Milford and Doubtful were misnamed – they’re actually fiords rather than sounds.
Additional Day Trips from Te Anau
20. Visit Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound isn’t as well known as Milford Sound, but it is every bit as beautiful (if not, even more so).
To get to Doubtful Sound, you’ll start with a cruise across Lake Manapouri, before joining a coach trip up and over Wilmot Pass.
After working your way through Fiordland’s rainforest, you’ll find yourself ready to join your Doubtful Sound cruise.
Though the mountains in Doubtful Sound aren’t quite as high as the ones in Milford, the sound itself is significantly larger – three times longer, in fact. The sea surface is approximately ten times more than the neighbouring fiord too!
Doubtful is quieter than Milford and cannot be accessed unless you join a tour – this makes the trip all the more special.
21. Check out Lake Manapouri
A real highlight of the region, Lake Manapouri is an easy drive from Te Anau.
Alternatively, you can bike, walk or run there if you’re feeling energetic!
The lake itself is described as one of the most picturesque in the region.
With its sandy beaches, beautiful native bush, countless small islands and a beautiful mountain range in the background, it’s well worth the journey.
For those that are interested in engineering, the lake is also home to the largest underground power generation station in the Southern Hemisphere.
Did you know? If you decide to head over to Doubtful Sound, you’ll cross Lake Manapouri on your journey.
Likewise, if you jump on the ‘Lakes Explorer’ flight, you might even chance a landing on Lake Manapouri!
If you have the time we suggest you head on over to this beautiful lake.
22. Enjoy the Lake2Lake Cycle Trail
Keen cyclists will want to check out the Lake2Lake Cycle Trail.
The brainchild of the Fiordland Trails Trust and the local community, this track connects Lake Manapouri up with Lake Te Anau.
At 19km one way, this easy cycle trail takes in plenty of beautiful scenery along the way.
If you’d prefer, it’s also possible to walk and run the trail too!
Where to Stay In and Around Te Anau
23. Sleep in Luxury Deep in Milford Sound
Whilst we’re talking bucket-list experiences, a night at Milford Sound Lodge really does top the list!
Everyone, right from campervans through to luxe travellers are catered for there, but there’s one room type in particular that leaves guests breathless.
The Premium Riverside Chalets are perfectly positioned for privacy, right on the edge of the Cleddau River. With mountain ranges and the flowing river to the front of you and a blanket of stars above, a night at the lodge really is one to remember!
I don’t think we’ve stayed anywhere else in New Zealand that has been quite as awe-inspiring.
24. Stay Overnight on a Boat in the Sounds
As magical a Milford and Doubtful are during the day, they’re even more incredible at night when all of the visitors have left.
To make the most of your time in the area, we really recommend spending a night onboard if possible.
Not only will you be given the opportunity to kayak, go out on a tender, swim in the sounds (if you’re brave) and eat the most incredible food, but you’ll fall asleep and wake up surrounded by some of the best scenery in the world.
It really is a bucket-list experience in New Zealand.
25. Combine Modern-Day Luxe with Kiwi Hospitality
Though we recommend spending a night or two in the sounds, there is no doubt that you’ll also want a base whilst in Te Anau.
Fortunately, we know just the place – Dunluce!
Hannah runs this gorgeous boutique accommodation which provides the perfect spot from which to discover Fiordland.
From the generous (and delicious) breakfast to her restaurant recommendations, every detail has been considered. That’s not to mention the beds which are out-of-this-world comfortable!
Spending a night at Dunluce is like staying with a long-lost-friend – if your friends treated you like royalty and lived in a gorgeous home of course!
Te Anau really is a standout part of New Zealand and with so much to do there, you’d really be doing yourself a disservice by just racing in and out of Milford Sound.
Give yourself plenty of time to really discover everything that the heart of Fiordland has to offer.
And whatever you choose to do, have your camera fully charged and prepare to be impressed!