The Canterbury region is home to New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch, and is known for its distinctive landscape made up of sparkling clear lakes, grassy plains and snowy peaks. Many of the South Island’s lakes are formed by nearby glaciers and rivers; here is a list of the best ones near Christchurch.
Within the city of Christchurch is Lake Roto Kohatu, a popular place for picnics, dragon-boat races, swimming and kayaking. Only 16km (10mi) from the city centre, this reserve comprises two freshwater lakes, Tahi and Rua. Lake Tahi is for Canterbury Jet Club members only, but Lake Rua is managed by the Christchurch City Council and is open to the public. Walk around both bodies of water along the Lake Circuit Walk, which is about 2km (1.2mi) long.
Approximately 58km (36mi) south of Christchurch and located next to Banks Peninsula is Lake Ellesmere, also known as Te Waihora. This salty and shallow coastal lagoon covers 20,000ha (49,421 acres) and has an average depth of 1.4m (4.6ft). It is an important wetland habitat for birds, plant life and invertebrate species. According to the Department of Conservation, the lake “represents a major gathering place for food and natural materials”.
Located in the Waimakariri Basin, about 114km (71mi) northwest of Christchurch, is Lake Pearson, a wildlife refuge where boats are not allowed. This high-altitude lake has a campsite that is a great overnight option for visitors who want to visit the nearby limestone boulders on Castle Hill or the dramatic views of Arthur’s Pass. Situated off Highway 73, Lake Pearson is shaped like an hourglass and features willow trees on some of its borders.
Located in the Mackenzie Basin about 225km (140mi) southwest of Christchurch, Lake Tekapo is a large milky turquoise lake surrounded by the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps. According to the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Lake Tekapo’s distinctive blue-green colour is caused by tiny suspended particles (rock flour) that have been “ground off the underlying rock by glaciers.” It is home to the Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935 by pioneer families, and is one of the best places to view the Southern Lights. This dazzling display of colours in the night sky is best viewed from the Mount John Observatory between April and September.
Also in the Mackenzie Basin is Lake Pukaki, about 290km (180mi) southwest of Christchurch. This spectacular lake is fed by the Tasman Glacier, and the bright-blue water shimmers against the snow-capped backdrop of Aoraki (Mt Cook), New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Peter Jackson used Lake Pukaki as the primary setting for Lake Town in the Hobbit film series.
Long and thin, Lake Coleridge is 105km (65mi) west of Christchurch and is home to New Zealand’s first hydroelectric power station, commissioned in 1914. For early Māori people crossing the Southern Alps from the West Coast, the lake was an important food-gathering place. Several mountains, including Castle Hill Peak, Mt Enys, Mt Cotton and Mt Oakden, surround Lake Coleridge, adding to its beauty.
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