Taking a glacier hike and cruising around Milford Sound are on the top of one’s itinerary list when travelling to New Zealand’s South Island. But the South Island also boasts some of the most stunning lakes in the world. Many of these glacial lakes were formed more than ten thousand years ago when the glaciers eroded the land, melted, and filled the hole or space it created, leaving behind magical looking glasses or summer playgrounds for swimming, fishing and kayaking.
We found out from Sonja, who’s just back from her New Zealand road trip, what some of her favourite lakes along the West Coast are…
“The first lake we visited was Lake Mapourika, the largest of the West Coast Lakes. The lake was formed some fourteen thousand years ago from ice blocks left behind from the Franz Joseph Glacier. Although it was a cloudy day, the tranquil waters provided for a stunning reflection of clouds upon the water. We were lucky to be the only one’s there to enjoy the serenity of our surrounding (and the best photographic viewpoints!).”
(Reflection of clouds upon Lake Mapourika.)
(Ok, thankfully someone finally came along to help us take a shot.)
“Yes, it’s called a pool because it’s so small, but it’s actually a kettle lake (formed when the glaciers retreated)! We had to include this as it was hands down the most breathtaking reflective lake, and so easily accessible. Just a 10 minute drive from Franz Joseph Glacier Village, Peter’s Pool is located near the start of the Franz Joseph Glacier Valley Walk along with some other walking trails, and is just a 12 minute walk from the carpark. With the glorious sunshine, cornflower blue skies, and towering snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, we were blessed with a picture-perfect reflection upon the still ‘liquid silver’ water.”
“Just a 30-minute drive away from Franz Joseph Glacier Village, Lake Matheson is known for its mirror views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Its reflecting properties are a result of organic matter leaving from the humus of the forest floor, resulting in the dark brown colours of the water. The full 2.6 km return walk around the lake is easy and takes about 1-1.5 hours to complete, with a total of three viewpoints. If you are tight on time, try the shorter 30-minute return option to the Jetty Viewpoint. We couldn’t resist completing the full walk.”
Tip: Best time to view the lake is at dusk or dawn.
(View point 1: The Jetty Viewpoint – a symmetrical reflection of the clouds and trees.)
(View Point 2: The View of Views – a slight misnomer considering the view was partially covered by the surrounding foliage. However, we quite liked how the leaves and branches provided a pretty frame for the back drop.)
(View Point 3: Reflection Island – beautiful but the most crowded of the three with tourists hanging around the jetty for photographs.)
“The fourth largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka is set against the alpine backdrop of Mt Aspiring National Park, and is possibly most famous for being the site of the tree with its own hashtag – #thatwanakatree. Located next to the quaint town of Wanaka, the lake is ideal for picnics, taking leisurely strolls and watching the ducks muck around. That Wanaka Tree is about a 20-minute walk from the town centre, or you could drive straight to the carpark near the view point. If you have the time to explore, walk further up north from the tree where you will discover even more picturesque spots, but without the crowds.”
(As it was dusk by the time we reached, and we found a hauntingly beautiful silhouette of the lone willowy tree, with about a dozen birds perched on its branches, together with a multitude of tourist with cameras perched on their noses.)
(One of our favourite spots just 15-minutes walk up north from That Wanaka Tree.)
“On our way to Aoraki/Mt Cook, we passed by Lake Pukaki, the largest of three alpine lakes in the Mackenzie Basin (the other two being Lake Takepo and Ohau). The lake was magnificent, with its battering waves, and sparkling blue water against the backdrop of the alpine mountains. Hold on to your hats, scarfs and children here as the winds were blustering away! We quickly stepped inside the little Salmon Shop for some respite, and to get ourselves some salmon sashimi. Each 100g box cost only $10NZD (cheap by Singapore’s standards), so we got ourselves two boxes and devoured the insanely fresh salmon in no time.”
“We managed a quick stop at Lake Takepo (the second largest in the Mackenzie Basin) en-route back to Christchurch, to take in the beauty of its turquoise waters. Interestingly, the turquoise hue comes from rock-flour (ground by glaciers), which is suspended in the water. Lake Tekapo is also part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, thus making it the perfect spot for stargazing and observatory tours. We would have certainly spent more time here or even a night if we could!”
Good To Note
The colour of the lake waters depend very much on the weather, as well as the minerals, algae and organic matter that’s in it. We were lucky to be able to see the lakes in good weather even though it was autumn going into winter.
Travel doesn’t always have to be expensive. The lakes were one of the highlights from our trip. If you take the time to look for them, you will discover that the best things in life can be found absolutely free.