New Zealand is a country of great natural diversity, and that includes its lakes. Bright blue glacial lakes, lakes with the clearest water in the world, lakes with white-sand beaches that rival a tropical island beach, alpine lakes that meet the rainforest...New Zealand has them all. Here are some of the most beautiful lakes in the country, from the Far North to the Deep South.
Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland
North-west of Dargaville, in western Northland, the Kai Iwi Lakes are three dune lakes created almost 2 million years ago. Lake Taharoa is the largest, with Lake Kaiiwi and Lake Waikere on either side. The pure white sand and freshwater mean the water appears turquoise blue in places, much like a tropical island. The shallow waters near the shore are ideal for kids to play in.
The Kai Iwi Lakes are very popular with locals and travelers from around Northland and Auckland in the summer, so to camp at either of the two nearby campgrounds, it's a good idea to book ahead. There are also good hiking trails around the lakes, and the Tasman Sea is about 1.5 miles to the west; a walking track connects the lake area to the sea.
Lake Waikaremoana is located in the remote Te Urewera region of the far-eastern North Island, around 37 miles from Wairoa and 50 miles from Gisborne. Te Urewera is the ancestral homeland of the Tuhoe people, and Lake Waikaremoana is the first (but not last) natural feature to have been recognized by New Zealand law as a legal entity.
Most people visit the lake on one of the Department of Conservation's (DOC's) Great Walks, the Lake Waikaremoana Track. This 27-mile hike follows the southern and western shores of the lake and takes three to four days to complete.
The enormous Lake Taupo in the central North Island is, essentially, an inland sea. The lake sits in a massive caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption around 26,500 years ago in what is believed to be the biggest volcanic eruption in the world during the last 70,000 years. New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato, drains from it. The town of Taupo is located on the northeastern shore of the lake, and is an adventure hub, with lake-based activities as well as skydiving offered there.
Lake Rotoiti is the most accessible of the 16 lakes in the Nelson Lakes National Park, in the north of the South Island. Adjoined by the small village of St. Arnaud, which sits at an altitude of 2,132 feet, Lake Rotoiti is an ideal day trip from Nelson city. In the summer, water taxis shuttle visitors across the lake to begin or end multi-day hikes, and kayaks are also available to rent. Lakeside walking tracks pass through native bush and offer tranquil lake views from breaks in the forest.
Nearby Lake Rotoroa, about 45 minutes' drive from St. Arnaud, is equally beautiful but a longer drive from Nelson.
Lake Rotomairewhenua (Blue Lake)
Deeper within the Nelson Lakes National Park is Lake Rotomairewhenua, renowned for having some of the clearest waters of any lake in the world. The lake water is as clear as distilled water, and visibility is up to 262 feet. As the lake is sacred to the Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō people, so do not bathe or wash items in it. Lake Rotomairewhenua is deep within the park and can only be hiked to on a minimum two-day trek.
Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora, Christchurch
Shallow, brackish, coastal Lake Ellesmere lies south of Christchurch city and west of the Banks Peninsula. It's technically a lagoon rather than a lake as there's a small opening into the Pacific Ocean on it's southwestern end. Lake Ellesmere is an important wildlife area, particularly for birds, so bird enthusiasts shouldn't miss this place. The wetlands provide a habitat for 133 native New Zealand birds specie, which amounts to around 98,000 birds at some times of year. Lake Ellesmere is easy to reach from Christchurch.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
The South Island's adventure capital, Queenstown, is located on the eastern shores of this long, skinny lake with a dogleg bend. Surrounded by the Remarkables range of the Southern Alps mountains, Lake Wakatipu fills a deep glacial valley, hence its irregular shape. From Queenstown, visitors can take a cruise on the lake or walk, cycle, or kayak around it. Longer hikes can also be done away from Queenstown, around other parts of the lake.
Lake Pukaki, in the central South Island, is the largest of three parallel alpine lakes in the Mackenzie Basin (the other two are Tekapo and Ohau). As a glacial lake containing glacial flour, the waters of the lake are a dramatic turquoise color. With good views of New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook, on a clear day, Lake Pukaki certainly offers some of the finest lake and mountain scenery in New Zealand.
State Highway 8 runs along the southern part of Lake Pukaki, and the nearest village is Twizel.
Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau, in the south-west of the South Island, is New Zealand's second-largest lake, after Taupo. The town of Te Anau is a convenient base for exploring nearby Fiordland National Park, including a number of famous multi-day hikes, but the lake itself is a drawcard, with the picturesque Mount Luxmore and Murchison mountains as a backdrop. Favorite activities include kayaking on the lake, walks around its perimeter, and taking a boat tour from the town to the glowworm caves on the other side of the lake.
Although just south-west of Te Anau, Lake Manapouri offers an altogether different experience. It's dotted with 33 small islands and surrounded by the towering Cathedral Mountains. A dam proposed in the 1950s threatened to drown the lake, but it ultimately was saved in one of New Zealand's first environmental campaigns. An underground power station at the west arm does operate now, but fortunately the lake wasn't destroyed.
Many people visit Lake Manapouri on day trips to Doubtful Sound, as getting to the lesser-visited neighbor of Milford Sound requires a boat trip across the lake.