Tales from New Zealand's Te Anau
is often overshadowed by two of the South Island’s biggest destinations, but this delightful NZ town is absolutely worth the detour, writes Gary Walsh
The town of Te Anau lies about halfway between Queenstown
and Milford Sound
, the two big-ticket items in New Zealand’s south, and might be politely dismissed as a staging post – a pleasant spot for a night’s sleep in between the showcase destinations. But that would be doing it a great disservice.
The adrenaline rush is provided by a jetboat trip along the Waiau River – which did duty as Middle-earth’s River Anduin in The Lord of the Rings films – pulling heart-stopping 360-degree turns and weaving from bank to bank through dense stands of beech forest as far as Lake Manapouri. There are also sedate moments when the boat pauses to allow passengers to search for rainbow and brown trout in deep, clear and bracingly cold pools.
Lake Manapouri, less than half-an-hour from Te Anau, is the gateway to Doubtful Sound, which receives a tiny fraction of the visitors that Milford Sound does, but deserves greater recognition. Getting to Doubtful Sound means a leisurely cruise across Lake Manapouri into its West Arm – no hardship as the lake, the second deepest body of water in the country, is frequently described as New Zealand’s loveliest – before stepping aboard a coach to cross Wilmot Pass. The views of the sound from the 670-metre-high pass are sublime.
Captain Cook originally called the sound Doubtful Harbour when he sailed past in 1770, uncertain whether it was navigable. It was later renamed Doubtful Sound by whalers and sealers, which tells you something about what you can expect to see here – fur seals, southern right and humpback whales, Fiordland penguins and bottlenose dolphins.
As with Milford Sound, the environment is glorious, with thick rainforest touching the water’s surface, towering waterfalls, cliffs, swathes of rock on which seals bask when the sun shines, and a dozen or so islands. Unlike Milford, there are few vessels cruising the area, which leads to Doubtful Sound’s signature moment, when the captain cuts the engine and the boat is enveloped in the fathomless sound of silence.
Visit Te Anau and explore its stunning surrounds on our 17 Day New Zealand Wonderland tour. Cruise spectacular Milford Sound, sit down to a delicious Taste of Fiordland Dinner and spend a night in the picture-perfect lakeside town of Te Anau.