10 Mind-Blowing Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand© Julian Apse - Tourism NZ
10 Mind-Blowing Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand

10 Best Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand

© Julian Apse – Tourism NZ

Which Lakes to Kayak in New Zealand

There’s no lack of lakes in New Zealand. In the country renowned for its magnificent landscapes, it’s no surprise that lake kayaking tours are an awesome way to see this awesome scenery. In fact, there are 3,820 lakes in New Zealand (with a surface area larger than one hectare), so to whittle down your options, we’ve listed 10 mind-blowing kayaking lakes in New Zealand!

Kayaking is one of the best ways to see the lakes of New Zealand which have been formed glaciers, tectonic activity and volcanoes. Each lake has its own fascinating history and something unique to offer, whether it’s vivid reflections, glacier icebergs, and even glowworms! Plus, if you’re new to kayaking, you can still enjoy all of this with introductory lessons being a standard for most lake kayaking tours in New Zealand.

1. Lake Taupo

Let’s start with the biggest lake you can kayak on in New Zealand: Lake Taupo! A popular kayaking trip on this North Island lake is to the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings which has a way of making you feel tiny beneath this huge piece of art carved into the cliff face. Book your trip with Taupo Kayaking Adventures on Viator or Tripadvisor. Add kayaking in Lake Taupo to your Taupo must-do list!

Location: Taupo, Waikato, North Island.

Tara Hunt on Flickr© Tara Hunt on Flickr

2. Lake Wanaka

A day out on the water is a popular pastime for Wanaka locals. Who can blame them when the lake is surrounded by awesome mountain scenery. There are a few kayaking options on the lake, but we recommend hiring a kayak for a self-guided tour of Lake Wanaka’s shoreline to find secluded beaches and more hidden gems. Alternatively, get a local guide to show you all the hot spots with Paddle Wanaka – more information is available on Viator and Tripadvisor. Find more things to do in Wanaka in our 10 Wanaka Must-Dos.

Location: Wanaka, Otago, South Island.

Wanaka NZ© Wanaka NZ

3. Lake Mapourika

With dark waters thanks to the tannins washed into the lake by the surrounding rainforest, Lake Mapourika displays vivid reflections. What’s more, those reflections are of the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, including Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman! There are plenty of picture opportunities on this pristine lake near Franz Josef Glacier. A kayaking tour with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours will take you down a hidden creek to a nature reserve known for its kiwi bird population. Find out more about the tour on Viator and Tripadvisor. It’s one of the Franz Josef must-dos!

Location: Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, South Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

4. Lake Rotoiti

Lake Rotorua’s neighbouring lake has so much to offer those who explore it by kayak. After a paddle on Lake Rotoiti, kayak tours will take you to some free natural hot pools and even a glowworm cave! Book your evening kayak tour in Rotorua on Viator or Tripadvisor. It’s one of the 20 Awesome Places to Visit in Rotorua.

Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, North Island.

10 Mind-Blowing Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand© Julian Apse - Tourism NZ

5. Lake McLaren

Lake McLaren, near the North Island city of Tauranga, is a popular kayaking lake both day and night! We recommend an evening kayaking tour for a pleasant evening picnic by the lake before departing across the lake to a small streamlined with hundreds of glowworms! Book your trip with Waimarino on Viator or Tripadvisor.

Location: Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, North Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

6. Lake Manapouri

On the edge of the Fiordland National Park, Lake Manapouri is surrounded by a dramatic glacier-carved landscape that makes any kayaking trip interesting. To add an element of uniqueness to your trip, try “packrafting” which is a hiking/kayaking tour where you can pack your kayak into your backpack! It’s one of the awesome things to do in Te Anau.

Location: Te Anau, Southland, South Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

7. Tasman Glacier Lake

New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier, terminated into a glacier lake which, during summer, you can kayak on! Come face-to-face with giant icebergs that have broken away from the glacier. Not to mention there are endless photo opportunities with the magnificent Aoraki Mt Cook ever in view. Try this activity in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park!

Location: Mt Cook Village, Canterbury, South Island.

Avenue on Wikipedia© Avenue on Wikipedia

8. Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu is a pretty huge lake, so don’t expect to kayak everywhere. However, the lake with Queenstown and Kinloch on its shores is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy town. Guided tours in Kinloch can take you to all the best spots, or you can freedom kayak to explore at your own leisure. Find out more about the tour on Viator and Tripadvisor.

Location: Queenstown & Kinloch, Otago, South Island.

 Tom Walter on Flickr© Tom Walter on Flickr

9. Lake Okarito

Lake Okarito has some of the most unique and fascinating native wildlife in New Zealand. Some of which, like the white heron, can only be found in this one lagoon out of the entire world! Either take a self-guided or a guided trip around this lagoon near Franz Josef for an awesome alternative kayaking experience in New Zealand.

Location: Okarito, West Coast, South Island.

ogwen on Wikipedia© ogwen on Wikipedia

10. Lake Waikaremoana

Due to its super isolated location, guided kayaking tours don’t currently operate on Lake Waikaremoana – a giant lake nestled in the North Island largest tract of native forest, Te Urewera. However, the local holiday parks do offer kayak hire to explore this magnificent lake known for its untouched wilderness, cultural significance and even underwater petrified forest.

Location: Te Urewera, Hawke’s Bay, North Island.

 Tom Walter on Flickr© Tom Walter on Flickr


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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