New Zealand’s largest lake is located right at the centre of the North Island. The majestic Lake Taupo is drained by the Waikato River — the country’s largest river — as a result of past volcanic activity. You’ll likely get to see it if you’re venturing onto the popular Tongariro Crossing hike, or if you’re readying yourself to shred some powder at the Whakapapa Ski Resort. Lake Taupo is also a place of Maori significance, so it’s worth a trip not just for its compelling rock formations but also to get familiar with the local culture.
The Mirror Lakes
True to their name, the incredible Mirror Lakes offer a sublime, mirror-like perspective of Fiordland National Park and the Earl Mountains. The beech forest backdrop enhances the picture-perfect landscape, which can be easily accessed through an easy 10 minute walk from Milford Road. From there, you can sit back, relax, and appreciate the passing waterfowl and nearby wetlands.
The small but incredibly charming Emerald Lake is bound to amaze everyone who ventures into the epic Tongariro Crossing. A remarkable emerald hue, emitted by geothermal activity, colours the waters of this lake. To get close to it, you need to climb up the famed rocky terrains known as the Devil’s Steps. It’s a lot of hard work, but the journey will definitely be worth it.
Lake Quill is a real treat to see from up close if you’re heading onto Fiordland National Park. Admittedly, you can only really reach the lake itself via helicopter, though you should be able to get a good glimpse of its from the Milford Track. Crystal clear glacial waters will marvel all the nature enthusiasts who get to bask at Lake Quill’s extraordinary beauty.
An incredibly scenic drive from Queenstown will lead you to Lake Wanaka and its enveloping township. This breathtakingly picturesque lake is surrounded by mountain ranges; in fact, its shores are very much the gateway into Mount Aspiring National Park. Lake Wanaka is one of the country’s largest, with a length of 45 kilometres (28 miles) and a total area of 193 square kilometres (74.5 square miles). The clear waters, which flow through to the Clutha River, are a popular spot for keen kayakers and jet-boaters.
This inland lake is a favourite among South Island bound travellers. Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s longest, stretching across 80 kilometres (50 miles). It flows onto the Dart River in the north, is drained by the Kawarau River east of Queenstown, and is surrounded by the Southern Alps and The Remarkables mountain range. Along with an idyllic backdrop, Lake Wakatipu is also a must-visit for adventurous tourists and chilled out visitors wanting to unwind over a lakeside picnic.
Lake Rotorua is only within a couple of hours’ drive from Auckland, and not too far away from Lake Taupo either. As with many New Zealand lakes, this one was carved out of centuries of volcanic activity; in fact, Rotorua is quite renowned for its geothermal springs. High sulphur concentrations give Lake Rotorua a distinctive yellow-green tinge in some parts — quite compelling for those who haven’t seen anything like it before.
Lake Hawea is quite close to Wanaka, stretching across 20 kilometres’ (12.4 miles’) worth of mountains. It is a definite must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts — people head to Lake Hawea to try their hand at fly fishing, kite surfing, and kayaking. If you feel like going on a lakeside trek, make sure to soak up the wonderful Central Otago mountain ranges and highlands all around you.
If you’re hiking around Fox Glacier, on the West Coast, a detour to Lake Matheson’s forested shorelines will be worth every minute. The reflective waters paint a beautiful picture of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, and you might even spot an eel break at lake’s surface. Lake Matheson was formed some 14,000 years ago, after Fox Glacier’s last major depression.
Nestled right between Queenstown and Christchurch, Lake Ohau is as much of an adventurous stopover as it is an incredibly scenic one. The lake is surrounded by the snow-capped mountains running along Mackenzie Country: making this a prime destination for skiers and snowboarders in the winter, and also a favourite spot to do a bit of mountain biking in the summer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re descending those mountain slopes on skis or bikes, you’ll always have Lake Ohau’s sparkling waters by your side.