What are the Most Scenic Lakes on the North Island?
Plan a New Zealand road trip with stunning scenery in mind with this list of the most beautiful lakes on the North Island. Of course, choosing the most scenic North Island lake is subjective and everyone who has travelled New Zealand’s North Island will have their favourite. Our list aims to give you a variety of stunning photo opportunities, as well as various different ways to experience these North Island lakes. Check them out in this list of the best lakes in New Zealand’s North Island!
Want to see the best of the South Island too? Take a look at the 10 Most Beautiful Lakes on the South Island.
1. Emerald Lakes
One of the most photographed lakes in North Island, Emerald Lakes is on the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s the highlight halfway along the 19.4km (12-mile) journey, whose green colour is created by the sun reflecting on a layer of calcium carbonate on the lakebed. The lake fills an explosion crater on Mt Tongariro itself. Nearby, you’ll also see the lake Blue Lake on Mt Tongariro.
Location: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park.
2. Lake Waikaremoana
In the midst of the North Island’s largest tract of rainforest, Lake Waikaremoana covers an area of 54km² (21 sq mi). It’s seen from all kinds of walks through lush podocarp forest, including the New Zealand Great Walk the Lake Waikaremoana Track. Boat tours and transfers will also enable you to see some of the lake’s submerged forest.
Location: Te Urewera Forest, along State Highway 38 near Wairoa and Gisborne.
3. Lake Tarawera
The largest lake surrounding the Mt Tarawera volcano, Lake Tarawera sits in a caldera formed during a famous volcanic explosion in 1886 which shaped the landscape you see today. A popular way to see the lake is along the Tarawera Trail, which takes you to the lake shores with natural hot pools and a campsite. The walk takes five hours one way and a boat transfer to return you to the start. Alternatively, there are accommodation and beaches to check out via road at the northern end of the lake.
Location: Tarawera Road near Rotorua.
4. Lake Taupo
New Zealand’s largest lake at 616km² (238 sq mi), Lake Taupo is a must-see lake on the North Island mainly because it’s impossible to miss! Due to its immense size, there are various places to admire its beauty. A popular place is from Taupo, the largest town on the lake or while following State Highway 1 which will bring you to many scenic picnic areas along the lake. The Western Bay is arguably the most scenic side of the lake, however, with dramatic cliffs topped with lush forest and rolling farmland.
Location: Central North Island, accessed off State Highway 1 near Taupo.
5. Lake Rotopounamu
A short drive south of Lake Taupo, you’ll find a much smaller yet incredible scenic lake. Lake Rotopounamu is named after the green shimmer the lake has on sunny days, “Roto” meaning lake and “Pounamu” meaning greenstone. A relaxing short walk encircles the lake, taking you through conservation forest alive with birdsong. There are two small beaches and a large beach along the way.
Location: Along State Highway 47 between Turangi and the Tongariro National Park.
6. Lake Okareka
Another stunning lake in the Rotorua area, Lake Okareka is not only a beautiful lake on the North Island but is close to other lakes – Tikitapu (Blue Lake), Rotokakahi (Green Lake) and Tarawera – should you want to make a day of seeing them all! Walk the Lake Okareka Walkway, which is a 1h30min walk along the lake’s beaches, farmland and wetland landscapes.
Location: Okareka Loop Road, just off Tarawera Road near Rotorua.
7. Lake Rotoiti
Not to be confused with the Lake Rotoiti in the South Island, the North Island’s Lake Rotoiti is another stunning scene near Rotorua. While the lake is actually connected to Lake Rotorua via the Ohau Channel, it feels like a world of its own, especially when you join one of the many kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing tours on the lake. These tours take you to the lake’s hidden glowworm caves and hot pools. Learn more in the 10 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Location: Access along State Highway 33 and 30 near Rotorua.
8. Lake Mangamahoe
Admittedly, Lake Mangamahoe is a manmade lake, but still provides a picturesque picnic, walking and cycling area in Taranaki. The lake is surrounded by 262ha (647 acres) of forest. On a clear day, you’ll get gorgeous views of the volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki beyond the lake.
Location: Access from Junction Road and Plantation Road near New Plymouth.
9. Lake Rotomahana
Ok, this is the last lake near Rotorua we are mentioning! Lake Rotomahana is a unique experience for those who visit it thanks to its geothermal cliffs venting with steam. Located just south of Mt Tarawera, the lake was formed after the 1886 eruption. The eruption destroyed the legendary Pink and White Terraces, which were a major tourist attraction in the 19th Century that now lie beneath the lake’s surface. The lake can be accessed on a boat cruise at Waimangu Volcanic Valley (see Viator and Tripadvisor for more info).
Location: Waimangu Road, just off State Highway 5 near Rotorua.
10. Kai Iwi Lakes
Finally, for something a little different on the North Island, Kai Iwi Lakes are dune lakes. Located in the sunny Northland region, the Kai Iwi Lakes (also known as the Taharoa Domain) is a reserve of lakes with the largest being Lake Kaiiwi. The shores are lined with soft white sand and offer a gorgeous beach experience without the waves.
Location: Kai Iwi Lakes Road, just off State Highway 12 near Dargaville.