7 Stunning Lakes of the South Island of New Zealand

Think of New Zealand, and the first thing that comes to mind is the magnificent scenery that this country is known for. If not for the scenery, the country is also known as Middle Earth, thanks to the movie trilogy “Lord Of The Rings, which was shot in various gorgeous locations around New Zealand.

The South Island of New Zealand, in particular, offers awe-inspiring vistas of snow-capped mountains and turquoise blue lakes, which are truly sights to behold.

Of the many beautiful lakes in the South Island, here are 7 of the most stunning:

Lake Wakatipu

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It’s perhaps the most photographed lake in the South Island. Lake Wakatipu is situated right on one of the most popular towns in New Zealand: Queenstown. The lake is huge, and covers 291 square kilometres in area, and is 80 kilometres in length. It is the longest lake in New Zealand, and one of the most picturesque.

The Remarkables Mountain Range towers above the lake at the southern end, facing Queenstown itself. Lake Wakatipu has 3 towns on its banks: Queenstown, Glenorchy and Kingston. Lake Wakatipu offers an awe-inspiring view, and it is no wonder that people from all over the world would flock to Queenstown.

Lake Tekapo

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Sitting in the heart of the MacKenzie Country is a turquoise-blue lake called Lake Tekapo. This lake can be found along the way if you’re driving from Christchurch to Queenstown. The lake is glacial-fed, and its turquoise blue colour is attributed by the minerals that come from the mountains where the glacier is situated.

On the southern end of Lake Tekapo is the township of Lake Tekapo. It’s a popular tourist destination, as the lake is truly worth seeing. In the township proper is an old stone church called Church of the Good Shepherd, which offers a fantastic view of the lake, and has become a favourite place for weddings and photo shoots.

Lake Tekapo is also where you will find the Mount Johns Observatory. This scientific institution offers star gazing activities at night, and is also a great place to see Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) on a nice clear evening during the winter time.

Lake Wanaka

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Lake Wanaka is situated in the Otago region, and is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake. This one is surrounded by high mountains, and is in the vicinity of the Mount Aspiring National Park. Lake Wanaka gained some fame when Tom Cruise mentioned the lake a few times on the movie “Mission Impossible 3.”

On the southern edge of the lake is the town of Wanaka, which is fast becoming the next Queenstown, with more people opting for a quieter and more laid-back atmosphere than its neighbor. Those who find Queenstown too touristy generally make the 2-hour drive to enjoy what looks like a mirror image of Queenstown, sans the crowds.

Lake Matheson

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In the heart of the wild West Coast of the South Island is where you will find Lake Matheson. You may recognise this lake in many photos of New Zealand where they show a lake with a nice clear reflection of Mount Cook, Australasia’s highest mountain. That lake is Lake Matheson.

The lake itself is accessible from the township of Fox Glacier on the West Coast, and is a 15 minute drive from the town proper. Though the lake can offer that great stunning postcard-perfect view, it can be very tricky to get that particular setup. The rainy West Coast weather makes it challenging to enjoy this grand view at just any day. However, if you can wait for it, it is absolutely breathtaking.

Lake Pukaki

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A smaller version of Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki is one of the three nearly parallel lakes in the MacKenzie Country, namely Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau. Lake Pukaki is also another glacial-fed lake with has very similar qualities to Lake Tekapo.

The turquoise blue water is attributed to a type of glacial sediment and gives the lake its very distinctive feature. The unique thing about this lake is that it offers a good viewpoint of Mount Cook on a nice clear day, and has that postcard-perfect photo of the mountain and the lake. Lake Pukaki doesn’t have any towns on its banks, but can be found on the inland route between Christchurch and Queenstown, and to Mount Cook village itself.

Lake Te Anau

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Lake Te Anau is the second largest lake in New Zealand, covering 344 square kilometres. It is situated near Fiordland National Park, which is famous for Milford Sound and the Milford Track. The lake is surrounded by the huge mountains of the Fiordland National Park, with some portions of rolling hill country.

The town of Te Anau, along with the small settlement of Te Anau Downs, are the only inhabited areas around the lake. The maximum depth of the lake is 417 metres, and you can tell how deep it is by the dark colour of the water in the middle. The enormity of the lake and its location being surrounded by almost-perennially snow-capped mountains makes it stunning.

Lake Hawea

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Mostly overshadowed by its next-door neighbour Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea is another jaw-dropping lake located in the Otago region of the South Island. The lake itself has some great views of the mountains and rolling hills surrounding it. A great vantage point can be found along State Highway 6 between the towns of Makarora and Wanaka. This lake is popular for fishing, jet boating, waterskiing and other water sports.

Photo credits: Lake Wakatipu by Kelvin Lim, Lake Tekapo by joka2000(busy) on Flickr, Lake Wanaka by setev on Flickr, Lake Matheson by ogwen on Flickr, Lake Pukaki by Kelvin Lim, Lake Te Anau by sbisson on Flickr, Lake Hawea by DarkShadowSpectrum on Flickr

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Older comments on 7 Stunning Lakes of the South Island of New Zealand

Therese Roe
26 August 2009

So many lakes in NZ, I never realized. So picturesque too, I definitely need to put this on my list of travel destinations. Great article.