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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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The largest of the southern glacial lakes, Lake Te Anau is 38 miles long, 6 miles across at its widest point, and covers an area of 136 sq. miles. Three large fiords extend westward into the glaciated mountains of Central Fiordland; both the north and south fiords comprise a single channel but the middle fiord has two branches. The total drainage area of the tributary stream system is 1,275 sq. miles, and the average discharge into the Waiau River at the south end of the lake is 9,730 cusecs. The largest river draining into the lake is the Eglinton River.

The lake is bordered on the east by sparsely forested, partly developed farmlands, and on the west by the heavily forested mountains of Fiordland. The rainfall, although unknown, is probably very much greater on the west side than on the east. Lake Te Anau offers a wide variety of attractions to tourists such as fishing, hunting (deer and wapiti), water sports, and sightseeing. The world-famous walk on the Milford Track commences at the head of the lake. A number of tracks permit access into the country to the west, which is administered by the Fiordland National Park Board.

Various sites around the shores were formerly occupied by Maoris at different times, and the first recorded visit by Europeans is that by C. J. Nairn and W. J. Stephen on 26 January 1852. The lake was surveyed in 1863 by James McKerrow whose work has required little alteration up to the present day. The lake is 679 ft above sea level and, although not completely surveyed, was found to be 906 ft deep at one point.

The meaning of this name is much disputed. It is supposed by many that the name is a personal one, possibly that of a Waitaha chieftainess. It is also suggested that Te Anau is a shortened form of “Te Ana-au” which means “the cave of the swirling water current”. (There are caves so named on the western shore.)

A small valley which lies between the Middle and South Fiords of Lake Te Anau is the home of the takahe, commonly called notornis. This bird was thought to be extinct but in November 1948 a colony was discovered there by G. B. Orbell, of Invercargill.

by Bryce Leslie Wood, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.


Bryce Leslie Wood, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.