Unless you are staying within the boundaries of Fiordland National Park at a campsite, hut, or the Milford Sound Lodge, you will likely be staying in either Te Anau or Manapouri when visiting Fiordland National Park.
Te Anau and Manapouri are both lakeside towns and gateway towns to Fiordland National Park and the famous fjords of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
We certainly recommend visiting Fiordland National Park but here we wish to emphasize that Te Anau and Manapouri are both towns worth exploring in their own right.
Introduction to Te Anau
Te Anau lies on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. It is 117km south of Milford Sound, 171km southwest of Queenstown, and 155km north of Invercargill.
FUN FACT: Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and the second largest lake in all of New Zealand. (Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand.)
Te Anau is the typical starting point for those embarking on a visit to Milford Sound or undertaking the Milford or Kepler Tracks. A wide range of outdoor activities (tours, rentals, or self-guided) are also available. These include kayaking, fishing, cycling, hunting, and more.
Highlights of Te Anau
Fiordland National Park Visitor Center
The Fiordland National Park Visitor Center is staffed with knowledgeable Department of Conservation staff who can provide information on the Great Walks and other nearby tracks. You can also learn more about Fiordland National Park including the history and conservation efforts.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
The Punanga Manu o Te Anau / Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is located adjacent to the Fiordland National Park Visitor Center. The birds are housed in aviaries and reside at the sanctuary either as part of a captive breeding program or are injured and unable to survive in the wild.
TIP: There is a small daily guided tour at 10:30am that includes feeding. Ticket purchase is mandatory.
The star of the sanctuary is the takahē. These flightless birds look a bit like a fat pūkeko but are larger, more colorful, and IMHO more prehistoric looking.
FUN FACT: Takahē were believed to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains in 1948. Today, after significant conservation and recovery efforts, there is now a population of almost 500 takahē in New Zealand.
You will likely also see kākā, parakeets, morepork, fantails, shags, and other native birds.
The Fiordland Cinema shows new releases but we recommend viewing Ata Whenua – Shadowland. There are daily screenings of the ~30 minute film. Viewing Ata Whenua – Shadowland on a big screen is the closest you can get to the very amazing experience of viewing Fiordland from a helicopter.
Te Anau-au Caves
Although we did not visit the Te Anau-au Caves, a tour of the caves is quite popular. The Te Anau-au Caves are located across Lake Te Anau from the town and are home to a glowworm grotto.
TIP: We suggest exploring Clifden Caves as a free DOC alternative if you are comfortable with a more active glowworm experience. Clifden Caves is located 1 hour south of Te Anau towards Invercargill.
Miles Better Pies
Stop and grab a pie to eat from Miles Better Pies.
Introduction to Manapouri
Much smaller than Te Anau and 20 minutes south, Manapouri is often overlooked. Manapouri lies on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri in Fiordland and is closer to Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound than Te Anau.
TIP: Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound are often overlooked in favor of Milford Sound. We’d recommend visiting Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound in addition (or instead of) Milford Sound any day.
Additionally, much like Te Anau, Manapouri offers a wide range of outdoor activities (tours, rentals, or self-guided).
FUN FACT: Workers at the Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Station are ferried by boat as there is no road access to the power station. This hydroelectric power station is the largest in New Zealand and generates electricity for the Tiwai Point Aluminum Smelter which is slated to close in August 2021. UPDATE: the smelter is now slated for closure in December 2024.
Highlights of Manapouri
Manapouri Circle Track
6.9 km return // 3.5 hrs return
The Manapouri Circle Track is a fun half-day adventure.
To access the Circle Track it is first necessary to cross the Waiau River via water taxi. We called Mike Molineux using the contact information here and showed up at the harbour at 11 a.m. for our quick motorized boat trip across the river. This cost 20 NZD p.p. return.
Once across the Waiau River, the Manapouri Circle Track is a loop tramp with some steep sections in a forested landscape. There are fantastic lake views, especially at the summit. We recommend stopping at the summit for lunch. But, beware, don’t stop for too long as there will be an additional 5 NZD p.p. cost if you miss the scheduled 3p.m. return boat and need to phone Mike for a special pick-up. You’ll need to maintain a decent pace but you’ll have time for lunch as well.
TIP: The Manapouri Circle Track can be extended to encompass Hope Arm for a 5-6 hr return journey.
Fraser Beach is located near downtown Manapouri. Enjoy a picnic, walk along the beach, or walk the track that runs parallel to the beach. The views are astounding and, during the summer, a quick dip in the water is enjoyable.
Kepler Mountain View Alpacas
We had the pleasure of staying at the Kepler Mountain View Alpaca Cottage in July 2020 for five nights. At the time, we believed these nights would be some of our last in New Zealand after a wonderful seven months. However, we just couldn’t bear to leave and ended up extending our stay in paradise once again. Undoubtedly, our experience in the Manapouri area and at Kepler Mountain View Alpacas contributed to that decision.
Even if you don’t overnight at the cottage, we recommend stopping at Kepler Mountain View Alpacas for a tour of the 12 acre alpaca farm. At the time of our stay, there were 64 alpacas of varying ages. Alpacas are fascinating and you’ll learn quite a bit about alpaca behavior, alpaca diet, and fiber production. Moreover, the owners, Jessie and Ray, are lovely and very willing to share their story and their wealth of knowledge about alpacas and the local area.
FUN FACT: After alpacas ‘spit’ they can get a ‘sour-mouth’ whereby their lower lip droops and their mouth hangs open. It will be a few minutes before they’ll be able to close their mouths again.
TIP: Be sure to also visit the on-site gallery and gift shop – Wild Wool Gallery. After first-hand experience of the warmth of an alpaca blanket, we purchased one for our own home!
Built in 1885 as a Presbretyrian church, The Church is the place to go in Manapouri for a good bite to eat or a beer.
Accommodation in Te Anau and Manapouri
Te Anau and Manapouri offer hotel accommodation and holiday parks. Te Anau has a wider range of options. We recommend the Kepler Mountain View Alpaca Cottage if you opt to stay in Manapouri.
The closest freedom camping is located at the Clifden Suspension Bridge, 45 minutes south of Manapouri. Freedom camping is also available on Lake Wakatipu in Kingston, about 1 hr 30 minutes beyond Te Anau towards Queenstown.
New Zealand Planning and Resources
If you’re planning for your vacation or holiday in New Zealand, more resources – including our trip map with points of interest and camping spots – can be found in our New Zealand planning and resources post.
Our travelogue and the details of our day-to-day activities can be found in our New Zealand itinerary and travelogue post.
travel dates: February 14, 2020 & July 15 – 20, 2020
last updated: 23-Jul-2021