Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and the second largest in New Zealand. It has three beautiful natural inland fiords, providing fantastic opportunities for photography and environmental tourism. Towering mountains soar up from the lake to the sky, cascading waterfalls drop hundreds of metres into the blue-green glacial waters, and beech forests cover the surrounding hills and plains.
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and accommodation to suit all travellers and ensure an unforgettable visit, and there are plenty of activities available. Nature cruises and kayaking allow you to view the area from the water, taking in the many coves and valleys, while serious trampers and day walkers alike often stay in Te Anau before setting out on the local walks, which include the famous Milford and Kepler Tracks.
The western shore of Lake Te Anau is home to Te Anau Glow Worm caves. Te Anau was discovered by Europeans in the mid-1900s, after hearing Maori legends of a cave filled with glowing light. Take a cruise across the lake for a guided tour of the caves. Glow worms sparkle like stars on the pale limestone roof and walls of the caves, which are still being formed, as you follow the caves on foot and by boat.
Punanga Manu o Te Anau/Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, an easy walk from the township on a lakeside track, is open from dawn to dusk. Entry is by gold-coin donation. The sanctuary is home to many rare and endangered native birds including:
· Takahe, a large, flightless bird with rich blue and green plumage, which was thought to have been hunted to extinction until it was rediscovered in 1948. There are only around 300 living Takahe today, and most of these are in wildlife reserves or captive breeding programmes in the hope of rebuilding the population.
· Kaka, a large olive-green native parrot with a great sense of humour – Kaka are known for their playful and hilarious antics.
· Kereru, or native pigeons, are large, heavy birds with beautiful iridescent bronze and green feathers and white bellies.
· Tui, with shining blue and green plumage and a distinctive white tuft at their throat.
There is an abundance of wild birds in and around the sanctuary including fantails, grey warblers, bellbirds, silvereyes, finches and water birds. The caged birds in the sanctuary are unable to survive in the wild due to injury, or have been raised in breeding programs. Wherever possible, they will be returned to their natural habitat.
Some scenes from the Lord of the Rings were filmed at Te Anau and the nearby mountain ranges. The Shire, the gardens of Isengard, Helm’s Deep, Pelennor and the River Anduin were created in the area. The international acclaim and multiple awards received by the movie heralded a new age of film making utilising new Zealand’s spectacular landscape.
After visiting Te Anau, follow the road through the Homer tunnel to Milford Sound. You’ll be glad you took the time.