What’s That Sound?
It’s the sound of your mind-blowing as you just feast your eyes on a majestic New Zealand lake. That might sound like a bit of an overkill, but you’ll definitely understand once you stand by the shore of one of New Zealand’s 3,820 lakes!
Lakes are a prominent feature that completes the picture of New Zealand’s famous scenery. In fact, New Zealand is full of stunning lakes so there is plenty to see while on a road trip. See brilliantly blue lakes caused by glacial melt, some of the clearest lakes there are, and sharp reflections in mirror-like lakes.
So until you get to see them all, just start dreaming by checking out these beautiful lake photos and where to take your own.
1. Emerald Lakes
Kicking off our list of the most stunning lakes in New Zealand is Emerald Lakes. Rewarding for its beauty and the fact that it is a trek to get there, the Emerald Lakes are near the summit of Mt Tongariro. It can be seen while tramping the 19.4 km (12 mi) Tongariro Crossing. Find out how to get there with our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Location: Tongariro Crossing, Tongariro National Park, North Island.
2. Lake Quill
One of the many stunning aspects of Fiordland National Park, Lake Quill funnels into the famous Sutherland Falls. Hike to the lake on the Milford Track or get the full picture with a scenic flight over Milford Sound. From the air, this is probably the most stunning of all the New Zealand lakes.
Location: Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, South Island.
3. Lake Taupo
New Zealand’s largest lake at 616 km² (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. See more humungous lakes in the 10 Largest Lakes in New Zealand.
Location: Central North Island, accessed off State Highway 1 near Taupo, North Island.
4. Lake Matheson (Te Ara Kairaumati)
Otherwise known as the “Mirror Lake”; we are still trying to figure out why… Enjoy the vivid reflections of Lake Matheson (Te Ara Kairaumati) on the Lake Matheson Loop Track just outside the Fox Glacier township. Find out more in the 10 Best Things to Do in Fox Glacier.
Location: Cook Flat Road near Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island.
5. Lake Tekapo
Next is the most photographed lake in New Zealand. Located in the Canterbury region on the South Island, Lake Tekapo offers views of brilliant blue waters made by glacial silt washed down from the Southern Alps’ mountains. 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. Check out what there is to do in Lake Tekapo in our 10 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.
Location: Tekapo, South Island.
6. 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, South Island.
7. Lake Mapourika
Lake Mapourika is a product of the Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast. Its dark water produced by the tannins washed in the surrounding forests gives it its super reflective surface, ideal for enhancing your kayaking/fishing/boating photos. Learn more about what to do on this mind-blowing lake in the 25 Best Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Location: State Highway 6, approximately 10 km (6 mi) north of Franz Josef, West Coast, South Island.
8. Lake Wanaka
This lake is especially characterised by “#ThatWanakaTree” which emerges alone from the water. Maybe not completely thanks to that tree, however, Lake Wanaka is another contender for the title of the most photographed and loved lake in New Zealand. Find out some awesome lake experiences in the 25 Best Things to Do in Wanaka.
Location: Wanaka, South Island.
9. Lake Rotorua
Although Rotorua does not often come to mind when it comes to listing New Zealand lakes, the town borders a phenomenal lake named, well Lake Rotorua. The town full of geothermal activity has the North Island’s second-largest lake. Not so surprisingly, the water fills the crater of a large ancient volcano. Check out experiences on and around the lake in the 25 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Location: Rotorua, North Island.
10. 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 – check them out in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown. Enjoy a scenic drive along the lake between Queenstown and Glenorchy or between Queenstown and Kingston.
Location: State Highway 6, Queenstown, South Island.
11. Lake Hawea
Our next entry for the most awe-inspiring lakes in New Zealand is Lake Hawea. Not a natural beauty of New Zealand, as it has been artificially raised, yet it is still easy on the eyes. For many, the lake beside Lake Wanaka is an apt introduction to the Wanaka area.
Location: State Highway 6, Otago, South Island.
12. 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.
13. Lake Pukaiki
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, South Island.
14. Lake Alexandrina
A great spot for fishing, Lake Alexandrina is one of the quieter lakes in New Zealand, wedged between its much more famous brothers, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaiki. Lake Alexandrina may not be the most epic New Zealand lake but it surely is a relaxing spot to hang out at, especially at the sweet little freedom camping site there.
Location: Lake Alexandrina Road S, approximately 7.5 km (4.7 mi) northwest of Lake Tekapo, Canterbury, South Island.
15. Lake Waikaremoana
In the midst of the North Island’s largest tract of rainforest, Lake Waikaremoana covers an area of 54 km² (21 mi²). 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.
16. Kai Iwi Lakes
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, Northland, North Island.
17. Lake Rotopounamu
And now, for an unknown and well-hidden New Zealand lake. Tucked away in the native forests of the Tongariro National Park, Lake Rotopounamu is a tranquil lake and a great place to spot some of New Zealand’s native birds. A loop track takes you around the perimeter of the lake. See more amazing attractions nearby in the 15 Best Things to Do in Turangi.
18. 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, South Island.
19. Lake Hauroko
Nestled in the southern reaches of the Fiordland National Park, Lake Hauroko is the deepest lake in New Zealand at 462 m (1,516 ft) deep. The lakeside can be accessed along the 32 km (20 mi) 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, Southland, South Island.
20. Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau is the start of many adventures in the Fiordland National Park. Take a boat trip across the lake to the glowworm caves or take a water taxi to one of the 5 Incredible Multi-day Hikes in the Fiordland National Park. On its shores, the town of Te Anau is also your starting point to explore the majestic Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.
Location: Te Anau, Southland, South Island.
21. Lake Brunner
Wrapping up our list of the most stunning lakes in New Zealand is Lake Brunner. Lake Brunner is the central point to some awesome 10 Hikes Around Lake Brunner. This little-known lake has it all: stunning mountains, waterfalls, a quaint town and fantastic trout fishing. Take a boat trip out on the lake or hike in its surrounding stands of ancient forest.
Location: Moana, West Coast, South Island.
More Stunning Sights in New Zealand
With great lakes come great lake activities. Check out the watersports activities that can be done in New Zealand, such as 10 Places to Go Sailing and 20 Places to Jet Boat. Then check these articles:
- 10 Picture Perfect Bridges in New Zealand
- 10 Loneliest Lighthouses in New Zealand
- 25 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand
Finally, complete your NZ bucket list with the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.