New Zealand is blessed with so many extraordinary landscapes, none more stunning than its prolific lakes. Whether you’re seeking somewhere to sit and reflect in nature’s beauty, or to take an incredible mirror-image snap, here are 10 unmissable locations.
Even though it’s man-made (the largest man-made lake in New Zealand, in fact), the mineral blue of Lake Benmore in South Island is a natural wonder. Take a leisurely walk around the Benmore Peninsula track for a stunning overview of the lake’s islands, neighbouring mountains and surrounding forest. There’s also good boating and fishing.
Set by the town of Cromwell, just an hour from the famed ski resort of Queenstown, Lake Dunstan is the perfect place to enjoy the best of Central Otago, including its renowned pinot noir wines. The Cromwell Heritage Precinct, on Lake Dunstan’s edge, is where the town’s history as a gold-mining centre is kept alive with heritage buildings and handcrafted industry.
In Nelson Lakes National Park Lake Rotoiti is surrounded by beech forest and overlooked by Mt Robert. Tramping tracks run around the lake and hikers should keep an eye and ear out for a glimpse or the song of the tūī and bellbird. Nearby Mt Robert Ski Field is a great club ski area for mountain goers in the winter months.
While the New Zealand locals know just how special their lakes are, Lake Tekapo is recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve, which means it’s one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Just three hours from Christchurch on the South Island, it’s also a daytime playground with an ice-skating rink on its turquoise shores from April to September, winter snow tubes, a water slide in summer and hot alpine tubs and pools.
Mount Cook National Park / Sealy Tarns
Not one for the faint-hearted or underprepared, Sealy Tarns Track offers unmatched views of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook, as well as both Hooker and Mueller glaciers and their respective glacial lakes. It’s a tough one-day walk so consider staying at Mueller Hut and giving yourself a couple of days to really appreciate the tarns (small mountain pools) dotting the track.
Set in the wild landscape of Southland’s jagged mountain peaks and tussock grassland slopes, Mavora Lakes are not only recognisable as a location for the Lord of the Rings trilogy but also as a place for boating, mountain-biking, fishing, camping and tramping. Embark on a day walk or, if you’re feeling fit, try the four-day trek along the Mavora-Greenstone Walkway.
The Teviot Valley in the South Island’s Central Otago region is where floods of prospectors came in the 1860s in search of gold. You can still see old mining equipment at Pinders Pond, which is part of the Clutha Gold Trail, a two-day cycle route that snakes along the Clutha Mata-au River. Information panels along the way also allow you to uncover the area’s Māori moa hunting and European farming history.
Pouakai Circuit Tarns
Soaring over the remarkable black-sand beaches of the North Island’s west coast (as well as its impressive surf), Mount Taranaki is a picture-perfect volcanic cone. The two-to-three-day Pouakai Circuit takes you around its foothills, by crystal-clear tarns, over a sphagnum moss swamp and beside precipitous rock outcrops. The Pouakai Crossing is a day-trip section of the track. For something completely different, pop into New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery for a truly fascinating cultural experience (and some reflections of a different kind).
While Milford Sound gets all the attention, the Fiordland National Park has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Just an hour from Te Anau, the Lake Gunn Nature Walk takes in moss-covered beech forests and towering lakeside mountains. There are also short sidetracks to swimming and fishing spots.
Although it’s a short drive from Wanaka in the South Island, Lake Hāwea is often overlooked as a destination. But its accessibility and spectacular backdrops are just a few reasons to put this on the list. The trout-filled, gin-clear waters are a fisherman’s paradise and there’s kayaking, kitesurfing and boating for the adventurous. Not to mention swimming and stand-up paddleboarding, of course.