172km (107 miles) SW of Queenstown; 116km (72 miles) S of Milford Sound; 157km (97 miles) NW of Invercargill

Te Anau is the hub of Fiordland National Park, a magnificent 1.2-million-hectare (3-million-acre) World Heritage Site filled with scenic wonders, serenity, mystery, and some of the best walking tracks in the world. The little resort township is built around the foreshore of Lake Te Anau, the largest of the South Island lakes. It has a permanent population of about 4,000, which swells to over 10,000 in summer. If you're coming to explore Fiordland's waterfalls, virgin forests, mountains, rivers, and lonely fiords, this is the place to base yourself.

Lake Te Anau is a wonder in itself. Its eastern shoreline, where the township is located, is virtually treeless, with about 76 centimeters (30 in.) of annual rainfall, while its western banks are covered in dense forest nurtured by more than 254 centimeters (100 in.) of rain each year. What attracts visitors to New Zealand's second-largest lake are the opportunity for watersports and the proximity to Milford Sound, 116km (72 miles) away. The sound, which is actually a fiord, reaches 23km (14 miles) in from the Tasman Sea, flanked by sheer granite peaks and traced by playful waterfalls. Its waters and surrounding land have been kept in as nearly a primeval state as humans could possibly manage without leaving them totally untouched. In fine weather or pouring rain, Milford Sound exudes a powerful sense of nature's pristine harmony and beauty.

Milford Sound may be the most famous and accessible of the fiords, but Doubtful Sound is the deepest and, according to some, the most beautiful. Even farther south, Dusky Sound may well qualify as the most remote and mysterious of the famous trio.

Fittingly, as one of the most pristine regions in New Zealand, Destination Fiordland (with Venture Southland) is one of the six regions participating in the government initiative, the Environmentally Sustainable Tourism project. As in the other five participating regions, the Southland/Fiordland project encourages tourism operators to focus on energy efficiency, waste reduction, recycling, water quality, and conservation. You can check charter members at www.southlandnz.com or www.fiordland.org.nz.