Lake Pukaki in New Zealand is often considered among one of the most beautiful lakes in the world! Located in the Mackenzie District in Canterbury Region on South Island, the lake covers 179 square kilometres with its glacial blue waters!
Pukaki is the largest of the three alpine lakes in the Mackenzie Basin on the South Island of New Zealand (Lake Tekapo is the second-largest). And, in my opinion, it is the most breathtaking lake in all of New Zealand (alright, Lake Tekapo is equally stunning)!
If you think Lake Pukaki looks unreal in photos, trust me it looks equally unreal in real life too! And your trip to the South Island would be incomplete if you didn’t visit Lake Pukaki, and by extension, Lake Tekapo too!
- 1 How to get to Lake Pukaki?
- 2 Queenstown to Lake Pukaki Drive
- 3 Why Is Lake Pukaki So Blue?
- 4 The Importance Of Good Weather At Lake Pukaki
- 5 Lake Pukaki Lookout Points
- 6 Accommodation
- 7 Pukaki to Tekapo drive
- 8 More information on the South Island
How to get to Lake Pukaki?
The closest town to Lake Pukaki is Twizel, which is located 7 km south, and Tekapo, which is located 48 km to the northeast.
However, most people (and by that I mean tourists), visit the lake from Queenstown, which is probably the most popular and touristy town on South Island.
Queenstown to Lake Pukaki Drive
The drive from Queenstown to Lake Pukaki is approximately 209 km and takes nearly 3 hours to complete. In my opinion, it is one of the more scenic drives on the South Island. Although it can be completed in 2.5 hours, there are a couple of interesting sites along the way that are worthy of a short break.
For me, two of the highlights along the drive from Queenstown to Lake Pukaki were Lake Dunstan and Lindis Pass.
Although Lake Dunstan is a man-made lake with a slightly controversial past, it was beautiful enough for us to want to stop and admire it.
But, Lindis Pass on the other hand felt out of this world!
The pass lies between the valleys of the Lindis and Ahuriri Rivers and is an alpine area of tall, tussock-covered mountains that looks stunning! It’s hard to miss because the scenery changes so dramatically that you’re left wondering if you’re on the correct road?
From Lindis Pass, the viewing point next to the Visitor Centre at Lake Pukaki is only 72 km away.
We started our drive at 7 AM from Queenstown and arrived at Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre at around 10:30 AM. Which, as I mentioned earlier, was a fairly easy and scenic drive.Best Car Rental Deals in Queenstown
Why Is Lake Pukaki So Blue?
So, the first thing that strikes you about Lake Pukaki is its incredible turquoise-blue colour!
The way its waters glisten under the sun is nothing short of magical. I kept asking myself, “how is Lake Pukaki so blue?“. Well, the answer lies in the extremely fine rock particles that get transported from the glaciers called “glacier flour”. This glacier flour lends the lake its exotic and distinctive turquoise-blue colour.
It’s the same glacial flour that also lends the colour to Lake Tekapo. So, both Tekapo and Pukaki have the same colour. Personally, what I think makes Pukaki more scenic than Tekapo is that isn’t any civilisation or town nearby. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains, including the highest peak in New Zealand – Mount Cook.
The Importance Of Good Weather At Lake Pukaki
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Pukaki, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for the weather. Weather, more specifically sunshine, plays an important role while visiting Lake Pukaki.
Speaking from personal experience, the day we visited Lake Pukaki it was cloudy and the lake looked quite dull, not as we had imagined it.
Fortunately, we were spending the night at Mt Cook and got a chance to visit Lake Pukaki again the next day when it was sunny. And I must admit, it did not look like anything from the day before.
The turquoise-blue waters, the snow-capped peaks, and the trees on the shores created the most striking contrasts that I’ve ever seen! It goes without saying, that we were absolutely blown away by the beauty of Lake Pukaki!
Lake Pukaki Lookout Points
Given its size, there are plenty of lookout and viewing points all around the lake. The most frequented one is at the Visitors’ Centre, which to be honest has some incredible views.
One way to discover the various lookout points is to simply drive around the lake. You’ll be sure to find many natural and man-made vantage points.
But my favourite lookout point at Lake Pukaki is called Peter’s Lookout and it’s about a 15 km drive on State Highway 80, towards Mount Cook.
Peter’s Lookout is slightly elevated above the shoreline, giving it a unique angle on the lake.
But more than that, it’s also the location from where you can see Mt. Cook behind Lake Pukaki. So, if you’re looking for an iconic picture of Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook, you can snap that from here!
To make the most of your visit and to properly explore Lake Pukaki, we highly recommend spending a night or two in the vicinity to take your time exploring the area. And more importantly, you don’t want to spend your day worrying about your drive back to Queenstown.
As far as accommodation options go, we recommend a few towns to pick from depending on your preference and budget.
Around Lake Pukaki
Over the past couple of years, a few accommodation options have sprouted along the shores of Lake Pukaki. Needless to say, these properties are exceptionally gorgeous and spectacular as they offer close access to the lake, with incredible views!
I would imagine that to book a room at any of these properties would require considerable advance planning.
Mt. Cook Village
When we visited Lake Pukaki, we spent the night at Mount Cook Village. And if I am being honest, we would highly recommend it too. Spending a night or two at Mt Cook Village will give you the opportunity to not only explore Lake Pukaki at your own leisure but also explore the area at the foot of Mount Cook.
Mt. Cook Village has access to quite a few more glacial lakes (Mueller Lake, Tasman Lake) and hiking trails (Hooker Valley Track), and is regarded as one of the best places to see the Milky Way!
We stayed at the Aoraki Court Motel and were delighted to have had the opportunity to be amidst the lakes and mountains! We spent our day exploring Lake Tasman, which is as white as Pukaki is blue, and counting shooting stars at night!
As a bonus, here is a timelapse of the drive from Lake Pukaki to Lake Tasman, which is just outside Mount Cook Village.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
If you’re looking for accommodation that doesn’t involve a long drive and is reasonably priced, we recommend staying in the town of Twizel.
Although there isn’t much to see in the town itself, it offers plenty of accommodation options that are a short drive from Lake Pukaki.
Your trip to Lake Pukaki would be incomplete without a visit to Lake Tekapo. Both lakes are quite similar as far as their turquoise-blue waters and surrounding scenery go. But they’re also different in their own ways.
For starters, Lake Tekapo is situated next to a small town called Tekapo which has less than 1,000 residents and has accommodation for tourists. This is perfect because you can visit Lake Pukaki in the morning and make it to Lake Tekapo in the afternoon, and then spend the night in Tekapo.
Pukaki to Tekapo drive
Whether you choose to stay at Tekapo or not, Lake Tekapo cannot be missed. The drive between Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo is approximately 48 km and should take just over 30 minutes to cover. The drive between the two lakes is quite scenic with some of the longest stretches of straight roads that I’ve ever driven on.
Here’s a timelapse of the drive between Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo (look out for the sheep!).
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
Once at Tekapo, other than the lake, there are a few other attractions worth visiting, most notably the Church of the Good Shepherd and the bronze sheepdog statue.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1935 on the shores of Lake Tekapo. The church is one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand and features an altar window that frames views of the lake and mountains.
Next to the church is a well-known bronze statue of a New Zealand Collie sheepdog. The statue was commissioned by Mackenzie Country residents to pay tribute to the indispensable role of the sheepdog in their livelihoods.
More information on the South Island
If you’re driving around the South Island, please feel free to check out our 2 weeks South Island road-trip Itinerary.Best Car Rental Deals in New Zealand
And while you’re at Lake Pukaki, don’t forget to eat some fresh salmon. It’s absolutely fresh and delicious!