8 Amazingly Scenic Lakes in New Zealand (South Island)
There are so many incredible lakes in New Zealand, it is an absolute water paradise. While driving down the west coast from Franz Josef to Wanaka it is difficult to go 30 minutes without seeing another lake.
New Zealand’s lakes are great for a wide range of activities like fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and many even have campsites right next to them.
Which lakes should you check out in New Zealand? Here are eight great options to get you started, but there are plenty more out there to choose from.
New Zealand Lakes Map
Lake Tekapo is filled with glacial water, this means it has some of the bluest water you will ever see in your life. Seriously, it might be bluer than the sky! Though don’t trust me, I’m colorblind.
When the water is calm it is a great spot for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing. However, the water is freezing, so you probably don’t want to swim for too long. The Church of the Good Shepherd is right along the lake too which is a popular spot for long exposure photography of the night sky. Lake Tekapo has some of the clearest night skies in the world, great for stargazing.
We stayed right along the water at Lake Tekapo Caravan Park. I highly suggest this spot, it has a great barbecue area overlooking the lake and some great park facilities.
Lake Pukaki is another incredibly blue glacial filled lake. It is located about 50 kilometers west of Lake Tekapo, along the road heading north from Twizel to Mount Cook. You’ll pass Lake Pukaki on the way to the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook National Park.
The road along the lakeside has some of the best views of Mount Cook in the whole New Zealand South Island. I’ve marked a few of my favorite places to stop for photos in my Discover New Zealand map.
The best place to stay around Lake Pukaki is the Mount Cook campground right by the start of the Hooker Valley Track. Facilities are limited to a camp kitchen, drinking water and toilets. Be prepared not to shower for a couple of days.
Lake Wanaka is the fifth largest lake in New Zealand, in fact, it is almost 50 kilometers long! You will realize how big Lake Wanaka really is when you come over the mountains from the Haast Pass. It almost feels like you’re looking down at the ocean.
Wanaka is a popular town located at the southern end of the lake. We stopped here to go hiking for a few days in the surrounding area. Check out Roy’s Peak and Rob Roy’s Glacier for a start, these are the most popular trails, but plenty more around.
If you’re in more a chill-mode then you can also enjoy loads of great lakeside restaurants and pubs. One of my favorite places in town is the bar/restaurant called Kai Whakapai, they do some amazing local craft beers on tap.
If you want to stay near the town then I suggest the Wanaka Lakeview Campervan Park, it is also a short walk to Lake Wanaka. To stay right by the water you will need to head further out of town to Glendhu Motor Camp, the camping spots here are incredible. We stayed two nights at each.
At over 40 kilometers long, Lake Hawea is another one of New Zealand’s largest lakes. There is a scenic lookout worth stopping at called The Neck. Check location on my New Zealand lakes map. At this point, there is less than 2 kilometers separating Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka.
You will pass Lake Hawea on the way to Wanaka. I suggest staying in Wanaka as it is a great town. See suggested campervan parks above.
It is impossible to go to Queenstown and not see Lake Wakatipu. The entire town is practically built around the lake, and it is the third largest lake in New Zealand! There are lots of cafés and restaurants along the lake which make for a good lazy day in New Zealand’s South Island.
For the best views of Lake Wakatipu head high up the mountain on Skyline Gondola. There is an amazing lookout at the top with a view of the lake and The Remarkables mountain range in the background. The best time to visit is an hour before sunset, the light on the mountain is perfect and oh so Instagram-worthy.
We spent three nights at the Queenstown Lakeview Campervan Park. As the name suggests, you will get a decent view of the lake from up on the mountain. The price is a bit higher than other campervan parks in New Zealand, but hey, this is Queenstown.
Lake Lyndon is high up in the mountains at an elevation of 841 meters. It is located along the route from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass. This small but tranquil lake is worth a stop if you are heading this way.
There is a free campsite at the carpark by the lake. Facilizes are limited to one toilet, so expect to be roughing it a bit. The Lake Lyndon campground makes a great stop while crossing from Christchurch on the east coast to Hokitika on the west coast.
It gets quite cold up at Lake Lyndon in the winter. Be sure to bring along some decent winter gear! We definitely should have brought a bit more.
Lake Ianthe is located about 80 kilometers north of Franz Josef. You will pass this as you drive down the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island from Hokitika on the Harihari Highway.
Although quite small, this is one of my favorite lakes in New Zealand. It is a great spot to go for a swim or even kayak around the lake. There are usually kayaks available for rent at the lake, or you can organize a lake kayaking trip from Franz Josef.
The road down to Franz Josef seems to be lake heaven. Along the next 80 kilometers, you will pass Lake Rotokino, Lake Wahapo, and Lake Mapourika. Each lake has it’s own free campground, though you will need to get a bit off the road for a few of these, and some are only passable by 4WD.
Saving the best for last. Lake Gunn is definitely my number one lake in New Zealand. This super tranquil lake is in the Fiordland National Park, about 100 km north of Te Anau on the Milford Sound Road.
You will hardly see Lake Gunn from the main road, so you will need to check the location on my New Zealand lakes map at the start of this post.
There is a short walking trail around Lake Gunn and a day use picnic area at the northern end of the lake. It is a great spot for lunch after doing a trip to Milford Sound.
Camping is not allowed at Lake Gunn itself. I suggest the Cascade Creek Campground further down the road towards Milford Sound. It is one of the largest campsites in the areas, and easily accessible for campervans.
What are your favorite lakes in New Zealand, have I missed them?