New Zealand’s South Island is a land of excessive beauty. Most notably in the form of lakes, mountains, glaciers and forests. In fact, there are so many lakes that it really is impossible to see them all! Driving around South Island, it’s hard not to come by a sign for a lake every couple of hours. Sometimes even less.
Although we did stop at many of those lakes on impulse and visited some of them as part of our itinerary, we soon realised that not all New Zealand lakes are the same. They come in different shapes, sizes and colours. All of them will make you go “wow” but some of them will literally make your jaw drop and have you pick it up throughout your trip.
So after seeing my fair share of lakes on New Zealand’s South Island, here are my top 5.
Top 5 Most Beautiful Lakes on NZ’s South Island
5. Lake Tasman
Lake Tasman was really one of a kind. With its milky-white waters, barren rocky landscapes, and floating chunks of the glacier, Lake Tasman was really in a class of its own. The lake is a proglacial lake recently formed by the retreat of the Tasman Glacier. Apparently, the lake is still growing and is expected to grow to a maximum length of about 16 km within the next one or two decades.
The lake can be accessed from Mt. Cook Village.
4. Lake Dunstan
A few hours north of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu lies Lake Dunstan, one of my personal favourites. It isn’t one of the big lakes, nor is it as famous as some of them (BTW, it is an artificial lake). But driving along this narrow lake with trees and mountains rising behind its shorelines made it all too picture perfect! It felt a lot like Lake Wanaka only more condensed and packed into a smaller space. Maybe it was the morning sunshine, the clouds brushing the mountain tops, or that there wasn’t a soul in sight that made me fall in love with Lake Dunstan.
3. Lake Matheson (The Mirror Lake)
Lake Matheson is a few minutes drive from Fox Glacier, or 30 minutes drive from Franz Joseph Glacier. The lake is often referred to as the “mirror lake” because of its calm and still dark waters that reflect its surroundings – from the trees to Mt Cook. The lake’s water derives its dark brown colour through a process of natural leaching of organic matter from the surrounding forest floor.
There’s a path around the lake that takes 2 hours to cover and gives you amazing views of the forest and mountains. The walkway is not just pretty but also full of ferns, trees and crazy looking birds! The walk was so serene and peaceful that by the end of it I was completely lost in my thoughts. It’s actually a perfect place to take a book to read.
2. Lake Wanaka
Imagine a quaint yet lively town on the shores of a picture-perfect lake, lined with lush green trees and snow-capped mountains in the background. That pretty much sums up Wanaka.
Lake Wanaka, in my opinion, derives its charm from the area that surrounds it. From that lone tree in Lake Wanaka to epic sunsets, I found it hard to leave Wanaka.
1. Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo
No surprises here. It’s so unfair to the other lakes in New Zealand that they have to share it with the likes of Pukaki and Tekapo.
These two lakes literally make the other lakes look bad. Don’t get me wrong, the other lakes are as spectacular as they get. But they stand no chance compared to the overwhelming beauty of Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.
Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo are two of the three alpine glacial lakes in the south island’s Mackenzie Basin (the third being Lake Ohau). What makes them so special is their sparkling turquoise colour which is a result of glacial flour – fine eroded sediments from glacial rocks. Add to that the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, trees of different shades of green and barren rocky shores – you’ve got a recipe for the most beautifully set, natural contrasts of colours. It really is an abundance of natural beauty and a feast for the eyes!
More Lakes On New Zealand’s South Island
The drive from Haast to Wanaka is apparently one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand. There is a narrow pass that cuts between two giant lakes, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.
The second-largest large on the South Island, making Queenstown all so picturesque.
Remnants of Franz Joseph Glacier.
Not to be missed if you’re heading to Akaroa.
This was the first lake we saw on our journey while on the TranzAlpine Train.
Lake Ianthe lies between Ross and Franz Joseph and is popular for boating, swimming, and trout fishing. We made a quick stop just to admire its beauty.