Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland. Most visitors to Te Anau base themselves here as they explore Fiordland National Park. This region is not only renowned for its awe-inspiring natural beauty but also holds a rich history that stretches back thousands of years.
The Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, have deep connections to Fiordland and Te Anau. They were the first to explore and inhabit this rugged terrain. Te Anau itself takes its name from Lake Te Anau, derived from the Maori words “Te Ana-au,” meaning “the cave of swirling water.” This name is fitting, as the lake is known for its tranquil waters and underground caves, which are now a popular attraction in the area.
Fiordland National Park is the largest National Park in New Zealand and covers over 1.2 million hectares. In 1952 it was officially constituted and in 1986 it was declared a World Heritage Area.
It is said that the demigod Tuterakiwhanoa carved the rugged landscape from formless rock. While very few Māori resided in Fiordland, they visited frequently collecting food and takiwai, translucent greenstone.
The first Europeans arrived in 1773, Captain James Cook and his crew set up camp in Tamatea/Dusky Sound for five weeks to explore the area. They made friends with Māori families and learned how to live off the land. It wasn’t long before more Europeans came to explore Fiordland and Te Anau. In the early 19th century sealers and whalers arrived on New Zealand’s shores. The region’s remote and rugged nature, however, made settlement challenging. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that European settlers started to establish a more permanent presence in Te Anau and its surroundings. In the 1890’s, gold was found in Preservation inlet and the area briefly boomed. However efforts to establish mines, timber mills and farms were not successful due to the harsh climate in Fiordland.
During this time, Te Anau became a hub for pastoral farming and sawmill operations. The lush grasslands around the lake provided fertile ground for grazing cattle and sheep. Timber from the nearby beech forests was also harvested for construction and export, contributing to the economic development of the area.
In 1888 Fiordland, particularly Milford Sound, became popular for tourists. The Mackinnon Pass had been discovered and was a popular route for trampers. The number of visitors to Milford increased significantly as word got out about how amazing this untouched beauty really was. Donald Sutherland, the first European settler in Milford Sound decided to capitalise on this and with his wife built a hotel.The construction of the Milford Road, which began in the early 20th century, was a significant milestone in the history of Fiordland and Te Anau. This engineering marvel provided access to the remote Milford Sound and opened up the region to tourism. It was a testament to human determination in the face of the region’s challenging terrain.
The real turning point in the history of Fiordland and Te Anau as a tourist destination came with the designation of Fiordland National Park in 1952. This protected status preserved the region’s pristine natural beauty and encouraged sustainable tourism. Today, Fiordland National Park is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also one of New Zealand’s most iconic natural treasures.
Tourism in Te Anau and Fiordland has since flourished, with visitors coming from around the world to explore the area’s fjords, lakes, and wilderness. The development of hiking trails, such as the famous Kepler Track, and the availability of guided tours have made it easier for travelers to immerse themselves in the stunning landscapes.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to protect the fragile ecosystems of Fiordland and Te Anau. Conservation efforts and strict regulations have been put in place to preserve the natural wonders of the region for future generations.
Fiordland National Park is renowned for its dramatic fiord, lush rainforests, and pristine lakes, with the Fiordland Lakes being a defining feature of this wilderness paradise. These lakes formed, by glaciation mark Fiordland’s eastern boundary. The lakes are effectively freshwater fiords. From north to south they are Te Anau, Manapōuri, Monowai, Hauroko and Poteriteri.
As the largest lake on the South Island and the second largest in New Zealand, Lake Te Anau is a jewel in the crown of Fiordland. Its vast, tranquil waters stretch across 348 square kilometres, reflecting the surrounding snow-capped peaks like a mirror. It is 212m above sea level, 61 km long and 276 m at its deepest point. Its three fiords – South, Middle and North – separate the Kepler, Murchison, Stuart and Franklin mountains. Lake Te Anau serves as the gateway to Fiordland and is the perfect starting point for exploring the region’s natural wonders. It offers various activities, including boat cruises, kayaking, and fishing, all against the backdrop of awe-inspiring mountain vistas.
Located just a short distance from Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri is equally stunning. Often referred to as the “Lake of Many Islands,” it is adorned with numerous small islands covered in lush vegetation with its horizon dominated by the Kepler Mountains. It is 143 sq km and is often regarded as New Zealand’s most beautiful lake. It was known to Māori as Moturau, and its present-day name appears to have been the result of a surveyor’s error. The lake’s pristine waters make it a haven for fishing, boating, and kayaking. One of its notable features is the West Arm Power Station, an underground hydroelectric power station. It is New Zealand’s largest and was built between 1963 and 1971. To generate power, water is diverted down vertical penstocks at the west arm of the lake into a cathedral-like powerhouse 213 m below ground. Here, seven huge turbines each drive a 100,000-kW generator. The water is discharged along a 10-km tailrace tunnel into Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound.The township of Manapōuri is at the south-east corner of the lake. A popular excursion involves a boat trip to the west arm of the lake, a descent to the powerhouse, a bus ride over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove and a boat trip up Doubtful Sound to the open sea.
Further south in Fiordland lies the lesser-known Lake Monowai. While smaller in size compared to its counterparts. It is boomerang in shape and was raised 2 metres in 1925 to provide more water flow for a power station, which today supplies about 5% of Southland’s electricity.Lake Monowai boasts an untouched wilderness setting that appeals to those seeking solitude and a deeper connection with nature. Surrounded by native beech forests and teeming with birdlife, it offers an immersive wilderness experience. Tramping (hiking) and camping are popular activities here, allowing visitors to fully appreciate the tranquility and serenity of the Fiordland wilderness.
South-west of Lake Monowai lies Lake Hauroko, which at 462 m is the deepest lake in New Zealand and the 16th deepest in the world. A Māori burial cave, with remains dating from around 350 years ago, is on Mary Island. The lake is the starting point for a 10-day tramp to Doubtful Sound. Surrounded by lush native forest, it’s a remote and pristine wilderness gem, ideal for kayaking, fishing, and hiking. The lake’s tranquility and stunning vistas are truly captivating.
Situated in the remote reaches of Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, Lake Poteriteri is a hidden gem cherished by nature enthusiasts. It’s the third-largest lake in the region and offers a serene wilderness experience. With its pristine waters, lush rainforest surroundings, and opportunities for fishing and hiking, Lake Poteriteri provides a tranquil escape into the heart of Fiordland’s unspoiled beauty, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a deeper connection with nature.
Most of Fiordland (nearly 1 million hectares) was made a scenic reserve in 1904 and a national park in 1952. Much of Fiordland consists of crystalline rocks, including granite. Some of New Zealand’s oldest rocks are found there. Hard and resistant, they retain their form in the face of high rainfall. The area’s high-sided valleys, waterfalls and fiords were formed by glaciers between 75,000 and 15,000 years ago. Fiordland is most famous for its fiords, it is home to 12 fiords, from north to south they are; Milford, Sutherland, Bligh, George, Caswell, Charles, Nancy, Thompson, Doubtful, Dagg, Breaksea and Dusky. And two inlets Chalky and Preservation. These fiords and inlets, each with its unique characteristics, contribute to Fiordland’s diverse and stunning natural landscapes. Here’s a brief overview of each of them:
Each of these fjords and inlets in Fiordland contributes to the region’s diverse and stunning natural landscapes. They provide opportunities for outdoor adventures, wildlife encounters, and the chance to immerse oneself in the pristine wilderness of New Zealand’s South Island.