Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park and the closest town to Milford Sound. Located on the shores of Lake Te Anau and bordering Fiordland National Park, Te Anau township is an attractive town that is a destination in its own right as well as a base for trampers and visitors to the fiords. Two and a half hours drive from Queenstown, the Milford Road begins in the centre of Te Anau.
Aerial View of Lake Te Anau
In Te Anau, you can visit the amazing Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “one of the most unusual limestone cave experiences on the planet”, a visit to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves should be part of any visit to this wonderful region.
For a taste of one of the world’s greatest walks, the Milford Track, spend a day with us on a guided day walk.
Created by the gouging of a massive glacier, Lake Te Anau is New Zealand’s second largest lake, and the largest in the South Island by area. By fresh water volume, it is the largest in Australasia.
The town of Te Anau located on the lake’s eastern shores has a small resident population which swells 10 times or more during the height of the summer season when people come to visit the fiords but also to holiday in the town itself. It’s a popular tourism destination throughout the year with a wide range of things to do and places to eat and stay.
If you’re here to explore Fiordland, it’s a great place to be based, but be sure to not miss the town’s own attractions such as the Te Anau Glowworm Caves – a rare example of a living, still forming cave system.
Te Anau is about a 2.5 hour drive from Queenstown and around 5 hours from Dunedin. If self-driving to Milford Sound, most people prefer to overnight in Te Anau. This break makes the drive into/out of Milford easier and more enjoyable.
The eastern shoreline of Lake Te Anau, where the town is located is in the rain shadow of the great mountains of Fiordland receiving around 75cms annual rainfall. Across the lake on the western side, the densely forested mountains are fed by more than 250cms of rain each year.
Prior to European settlement, Maori would travel and stay in this area in search of Pounamu (Greenstone) and food. The Milford Track of today (which begins at the northern end of Lake Te Anau) is an old Maori Pounamu trail rediscovered in 1888 by Quinton McKinnon.
Early European settlers came for the vast tracts of land to run sheep and there are many tales of pioneers who arrived for gold prospecting and other ventures. Since then, people have come to establish businesses in deer recovery, farming and most importantly for the town’s development, tourism.
Originally named Te Ana-au, Maori for 'The cave of swirling water’, the region’s name provided a clue for caver Lawson Burrows who discovered the underground network of caves in 1948 after a 3 year search. After squeezing through a place where a stream emerged from under rocks on Lake Te Anau’s western shores, he surfaced into a cavern shimmering with glowworms.
The settlement at Te Anau was first surveyed in 1893 shortly after the Milford Track opened. The opening of the Homer Tunnel in 1953 completed road access to Milford Sound leading to the development of Te Anau as a town and a tourism boom. In 1954, RealNZ was established by local couple Les and Olive Hutchins.