This post was updated in September 2019.
New Zealand has amazing nature, wonderful wildlife, unique flightless birds and the friendliest people. Besides mountains, tropical forests, dunes, green rolling hills and volcanoes there are a lot of beautiful lakes in New Zealand.
The most beautiful lakes in New Zealand
When I was looking up how many lakes there are in New Zealand, Wiki quickly provided me with a surprising answer: there are about 3820 lakes in New Zealand!
I obviously haven’t seen them all, though I would like to give it a try because all the lakes that I did see were so incredibly beautiful! That is why I created a list of the most beautiful lakes of New Zealand:
- Lake Tekapo
- Lake Pukaki
- Lake Wakatipu
- Moke Lake
- Lake Wanaka
- Lake Hawea
- Lake Paringa
- Lake Matheson
- Lake Mahinãpua
- Emerald Lakes
I hope this post will inspire you to pay these New Zealand lakes a visit when you making a New Zealand road trip!
10 breathtaking New Zealand lakes
1. Lake Tekapo
About Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo New Zealand was the first lake I visited on my NZ trip and my favorite one as well! Lake Tekapo has a striking blue color because of the rock flour floating in the water. These small particles refracts the sunlight and give the lake its typical color.
The lake is surrounded by mountains, at the southern end of the lake there is a small village also called Lake Tekapo.
When you travel to Lake Tekapo, don’t forget to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, the most beautifully located church in the world. Also hike the 3-hour Mount John circuit, you’ll have splendid views over Lake Tekapo!
The best thing about Lake Tekapo
The gorgeous blue color and the surrounding mountains which are completely devoid of any sign of cultivation.
2. Lake Pukaki
About Lake Pukaki
Just like Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki is a beautiful blue glacier lake. The lake is fed by the Tasman river and has a surface area over twice the size of Lake Tekapo.
There is no town on the Pukaki lake shore, but there is a viewpoint at the southside of the lake. From the viewpoint you can see Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand!
The best thing about Lake Pukaki
My advice: take a (lunch) break at the viewpoint. Cook up a nice meal or brew a cup of coffee and enjoy the wonderful over the lake with impressive Mount Cook in the background under a striking sky.
3. Lake Wakatipu
About Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is possibly the most well known lake in New Zealand, though Lake Taupo on the North Island might give it a run for its money. But not without reason: Lake Wakatipu is stunning!
Fun fact: Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s longest lake with a length of over 80 kilometers!
Just as famous as Lake Wakatipu is Queenstown, an enviably located town at the shore of this beautiful lake and the foot of the Remarkables. Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital and home to the renowned Fergburger.
The best thing about Lake Wakatipu
Coming from the south you will drive the thrilling Devil’s Staircase road to Queenstown, a patch of road with lots of twists and turns. Along the entire drive you’ll have a fantastic view over the lake and the majestic mountains in the backdrop. But be careful and keep your eyes on the road (most of the time;-).
4. Moke Lake
About Moke Lake
Moke Lake is not very well known, but one of my favorite lakes on this list! I ended up here because there is a wonderful DOC campsite located at the North side of the lake.
Getting to the campsite isn’t easy, you have to drive over a very bumpy gravel road for 4 kilometers. The road is only accessible by 4WD cars during winter but in summer a 2WD will do (go slow!).
The best thing about Moke Lake
At Moke Lake you will feel very peaceful and far removed from civilization. My advice: hike around the lake, it’s a lovely 2 hour trail. When I did the hike, I didn’t see a single soul (except my husband). Like I said, very peaceful!
Alternatively, there is a secret hiking trail to a viewpoint as well. Read more here.
5. Lake Wanaka
About Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka is a beautiful lake in the center of the South Island and 4th in the list of biggest lakes in New Zealand. When you drive from Wanaka to Haast you will travel along the top half of the lake and you’ll get a feeling of its massive size. And beauty!
The best thing about Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka and its surrounding area regularly appears in international movies, like LOTR, the Hobbit and Mission Impossible 3. The lake is also known for the famous Wanaka tree of which I unfortunately do not have a picture. Check it out on Google if you are curious, I’m sure you’ll recognize it once you see it!
Fun fact: New Zealand has a population of 5 million people but is home to more than 30 million sheep!
6. Lake Hawea
About Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea can also be found on the South Island of New Zealand, next to Lake Wanaka. At their closest point the lakes lie just 1000 meters apart!
They are separated by a narrow ridge called The Neck and driving on road 6 you cross from Lake Hawea to Lake Wanaka, from one gorgeous lake to the other.
The best thing about Lake Hawea
The drive along the lake is absolutely spectacular! There are also lots of things you can do on or in the lake, such as fishing, swimming and jetboating.
7. Lake Paringa
About Lake Paringa
Lake Paringa is a small lake on the West Coast of New Zealand. The downside: lots of sand-flies. The upside: it’s gorgeous…
The best thing about Lake Paringa
The DOC campsite next to the lake, imagine stepping out of your campervan and waking up to this view!
8. Lake Matheson
About Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is a pretty lake on New Zealand’s wild west coast and is renowned for its mirror reflection of Mount Cook on wind still days. Unfortunately the clouds covered the top of Mount Cook when I visited but it was still a beautiful sight.
The best thing about Lake Matheson
Obviously most people come here for the mirror reflections of Mount Cook and other impressive mountains like Mount Tasman. You’ll have the highest change of taking a mirror picture when you visit early in the morning.
But even when you don’t get the perfect shot, Lake Matheson is well worth a visit. The hiking trail around the lake is lovely and there are lots of birds nesting in the area.
9. Lake Mahinãpua
About Lake Mahinãpua
Lake Mahinãpua is a beautiful lake on the west coast of New Zealand, just south of Hokatika. The area around the lake is part of the Mahinapua Scenic Reserve and there are several short hiking tracks.
There is also a lovely DOC campsite next to Lake Mahinãpua, perfect to spend a night!
The best thing about Lake Mahinãpua
If you are lucky and it’s a clear day, you’ll have a beautiful view with the mountains reflecting in the lake…
10. The Emerald Lakes
About the Emerald Lakes
The only lake(s) on this list which isn’t located on the South Island! Instead, the Emerald Lakes are found on New Zealand’s North Island along the famous Tongariro Crossing.
The Tongariro Crossing is one of the coolest day hikes on the planet, I mean, it’s where LOTR (Lords of the Rings for all people who aren’t fantasy geeks like me;-) was shot!
The lakes are actually old craters, filled with melted snow and dissolved minerals which is what gives them their pretty color.
The best thing about the Emerald Lakes
The Tongariro Crossing is over 19 kilometers long and ascends for 800 meters. That is if you don’t include a hike to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe (a.k.a. Mount Doom), which adds another 700 meters to the climb.
That’s why one of the best things about the Emerald Lakes is that the Tongariro trail only goes downhill from there, so the hardest part is over once you have arrived at these pretty lakes.
Where to find these beautiful New Zealand lakes?
On the map below you can find all the lakes on this list.
Best lakes in New Zealand: in conclusion
I hope you enjoy visiting these amazing NZ lakes! Want to read more about my New Zealand trip? Check out these posts as well: