What are the Most Scenic Lakes on the South Island?
Make your New Zealand road trip as scenic as can be with this list of the most beautiful lakes on the South Island. Of course, choosing the most scenic South Island lake is subjective and everyone who has travelled the South Island of New Zealand will have their favourite. Nevertheless, this list aims to give you a variety of epic photo opportunities, as well as different ways to experience them. Discover more in this list of the best lakes in New Zealand’s South Island!
Want to see the best of the North Island too? Check out the 10 Most Beautiful Lakes on the North Island.
1. Lake Matheson
Topping our list of the most beautiful lakes on the South Island, Lake Matheson not only has beautiful surroundings but reflects them in its inky black waters. A 1h30min walk encircles the lake near Fox Glacier on the West Coast, taking walkers to various viewpoints of rainforest and mountain reflections.
Location: Cook Flat Road near Fox Glacier on the West Coast.
2. Lake Rotoiti
The icon of the Nelson Lakes National Park, and not to be confused with the North Island lake of the same name, Lake Rotoiti is one of the most accessible lakes on a South Island road trip. Park up on the lakeside as you pass through St Arnaud and you have a stunning view of the lake with mountains in the background. A popular picture is on the jetty. If the main jetty is too busy, there’s another one hidden near the campground to the left when facing the lake.
Location: State Highway 63 in St Arnaud, between Blenheim and Murchison.
3. Lake Pukaki
The milky blue waters are the most striking thing about Lake Pukaki, which can be found pooling out of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. From the highway, you can park up at several picnic areas to admire the views with Aoraki Mt Cook as its backdrop. Travel up State Highway 80 toward Aoraki Mt Cook Village and you’ll traverse along this majestic lake.
Location: State Highway 8 between Twizel and Lake Tekapo.
4. Lake Tekapo
An easy transition, Lake Tekapo is the neighbouring lake to Lake Pukaki, offering views of brilliant blue waters made by glacial silt washed down from the Southern Alps’ mountains. It also features a backdrop of the Southern Alps. Around the lake, you can enjoy jet boating, hiking, getting that famous photo of the Church of the Good Shepherd and stargazing in an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Location: State Highway 8 between Twizel and Fairlie.
5. Blue Lake (Lake Rotomairewhenua)
Meaning “lake of peaceful waters” in te reo Maori, Lake Rotomairewhenua or more commonly “Blue Lake” holds the title of the clearest lake in the world. It’s not only of the 16 lakes that make up the Nelson Lakes National Park but is also one of the hardest lakes to get to on this list. Either hike to this peaceful gem on the Travers-Sabine Circuit, which is a 4-7-day hike, or fly via helicopter.
Location: Along the Travers-Sabine Circuit, starting from Kerr Bay (Lake Rotoiti) in St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes National Park.
6. Tasman Glacier Lake
Unlike any other lake in New Zealand, the Tasman Glacier Lake is the only lake you can go on with giant icebergs! In the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, the Tasman Glacier Lake is the terminal lake created by the Tasman Glacier which is the longest glacier in the country. It’s an environment that’s ever-changing, which you can learn more about on the lake’s zodiac boat tours and kayaking tours. Alternatively, the Tasman Glacier View and Tasman Glacier Lake walking trails in the national park offer excellent views.
Location: Tasman Valley Road, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.
7. Lake Hauroko
Nestled in the southern reaches of the Fiordland National Park, Lake Hauroko is the deepest lake in New Zealand at 462m (1,516m) deep. The lakeside can be accessed along the 32km (20 miles) Lillburn Valley Road, most of which is gravel. At the end of the road, you have a ton of walks to choose from between short bushwalks, the three-hour Lake Hauroko Lookout Track and a multi-day hike around the lake. There are also jet boat tours operating on the lake onto the Wairaurahiri River which take you all the way out to sea.
Location: Lillburn Valley Road, near Tuatapere in the Southland region.
8. Lake Wakatipu
The lake that Queenstown sits on the shores of, Lake Wakatipu is the longest in New Zealand. Being part of the “Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand”, Lake Wakatipu hosts many tourist activities including jet boating, jet boarding, parasailing, cruises, kayak tours and more. Enjoy a scenic drive along the lake between Queenstown and Glenorchy or between Queenstown and Kingston.
Location: Easily accessed via Queenstown off State Highway 6.
9. Lake Marian
A lake in the Fiordland National Park, Lake Marian is an alpine lake at the southern end of the Darran Mountains, i.e. on the way to the infamous Milford Sound. The only way to get there is via a three-hour return hike, starting just off the road to Milford Sound. The walk includes views of waterfalls until you reach this attractive lake in a hanging valley.
Location: Hollyford Road, just off State Highway 94 between Milford Sound and Te Anau.
10. Lake Heron
Finally, Lake Heron is what many agree is the highlight of Ashburton Lakes, also known as the Hakatere Conservation Area. About three hours from Christchurch, Lake Heron and the Ashburton Lakes are a series of spectacular lakes with surrounding mountains and various walks and campsites to enjoy them. It’s quite the journey to get there, but most would say it’s worth it!
Location: Hakatere Heron Road, off Ashburton Gorge Road, inland from Ashburton.