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10 Best New Zealand Summer Lakes

With the hot days rolling in most of us will seek to cool off in the traditional Kiwi way and head to the nearest mass of water this summer. Droves of day trippers and holidaymakers head to the beaches, lakes and rivers around the country that offer up sun, swimming and relaxation at its best.

Not sure where to go or looking for a new holiday spot for the summer? We have put together this handy guide to the best New Zealand Lakes – enjoy your summer holidays!

5 Best North Island Lakes

While many people have heard of prominent North Island lakes such as Lake Taupo and Lake Tarawera, we have also sort out a few of the lesser known lakes with just as much potential that they may become your new favourite summer holiday destination.

1. Lake Taupo

A popular holiday spot for many kiwis, Lake Taupo is the largest Lake in the North Island and offers up a wide range of water-based activities. Try your hand at wake boarding, water skiing, trout fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and much more!

Feel like exploring? The Taupo area is home to several geothermal attractions, the famous Huka Falls and the Great Lake Trail for mountain bikers or walkers provides a huge amount of choice for exploring the shores of Lake Taupo.

2. Lake Waikaremoana

Located on the eastern side of the North Island, Lake Waikaremoana is one of the North Island’s best kept secrets. Surrounded by simply stunning New Zealand native forest, the Lake is nestled among the rugged and remote hill country of the Te Urewera Forest.

Access to the Lake is via an extremely windy metal road which must be driven at a slow pace and is not suitable for large campervans but the drive is definitely worth the effort. On the Lake itself you have access to the usual water activities such as kayaking, swimming and paddle boarding – however you will need to bring your own gear in with you. For many people the highlight here is the Lake Waikaremoana walk – 46 km of beautiful forest, lake views and DOC huts for all to enjoy.

3. Lake Tarawera

Sitting at the bottom of the towering slopes of Mount Tarawera you will find the scenic shores of Lake Tarawera. Steeped in local legend and natural wonders Lake Tarawera offers guided and unguided boat tour opportunities, hiking on the popular Tarawera Trail and the chance to visit the famous Hot Water Beach and dig yourself your very own made-in-nature spa pool right on the Lakes edge.

Lake Tarawera is situated just 20 minutes’ drive from Rotorua however access to the Lake is via private land and requires a permit. There are three camping spots available to the public at various points around the Lake, see here for more information on camping at Lake Tarawera.

4. Lake Ōkareka

While not one of the most spectacular lakes on the list, what Lake Ōkareka lacks in size it makes up for in location. The perfect spot for that perfect kiwi holiday getaway, visitors to the lake return year after year to make the most of its convenient location and wide selection of things to do.

Activities include picnics and barbeques, swimming, water skiing, yachting, kayaking, and rainbow trout fishing as well as some beautiful bush walks around the Lake’s edge. There is also a great range of accommodation options at Lake Ōkareka for those who want to stick around for a while and the city of Rotorua with all its amazing adventure activities and bubbling mud pools is only 20 minutes away!

5. Lake Taharoa

The largest of three sand-dune style lakes situated just 2.5 km inland from the ocean just north of Dargaville in the Northland region, lake Taharoa is a great little stop on your Northland road trip. The other two lakes in the trio known locally as the ‘Kaiiwi Lakes’ are named Lake Kaiiwi and Lake Waikere.

These lakes have beautiful sandy surrounds and are perfect for swimming for all ages, and you can kayak, paddle board or even try a spot of fishing. The lakes are unique in that they do not seem to drain away which is thought to be because of underlying ironstone in the area. There are also some lovely walking tracks around the Kaiiwi Lakes shores.

5 Best South Island Lakes

While the South Island is perhaps better known for its stunning mountain ranges and world class ski fields, it is also home to some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. In fact some of the picturesque lakes below have been featured in popular films such as The Lord Of The Rings.

1. Lake Matheson

Located on the West Coast of the South Island, Lake Matheson is locally known as the ‘Mirror Lake’ due to its waters being a deep dark brown colour as a result of the surrounding vegetation. On a good day the Lake perfectly reflect the tall peaks of the neighbouring Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman making for some stunning photo opportunities.

Lake Matheson is a haven for a variety of water birds and within its dark waters native long-finned eels make themselves at home. There is a great little walk that loops around the Lake where you will have access to the best views. The full Lake Circuit walk is approximately 2.6 km and will take around 1.5 hours.

2. Lake Coleridge

An hour or so inland from Christchurch, Lake Coleridge is a wide lake nestled in a mountain valley in the Southern Alps. There’s only a rough metal access road in so you need to make sure your vehicle is up to the task, but the reward is a secluded lakeside playground with plenty of space for boating, kayaking and swimming in the summer.

Within the area there a also a number of activities such as walking and tramping, scenic drives, jetboating, farm tours, 4WD tours, horse trekking and hunting and fishing – take your pick!

3. Lake Wanaka

One of the South Island’s most famous lakes, Lake Wanaka is just over an hour’s drive from the popular tourist town of Queenstown. In summer this area is home to a buzzing community of hotels, backpackers and lakeside attractions.

Lake Wanaka is slightly a little more off the beaten track than its more well-known neighbour Lake Wakatipu at Queentown and it provides swimming and great family fun. Adjacent to Lake Wanaka you will also find Lake Hawera – its smaller cousin. The two lakes almost meet and are only separated by a small section of land at what’s known as ‘The Neck’.

4. Lake Pukaki

Situated in the valleys at the foot of Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki has a striking indescribable blue appearance due to the influence of the nearby Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. Its distinctive colour and location have made it popular with film makers and tourists for many many years.

Lake Pukaki is approximately 3 ½ hours drive from Christchurch and 2 ½ hours from Queenstown. While not the best choice for swimming as its waters are generally quite cold it does offer some great walks, mountain biking trails, scenic flights and photo ops.

5. Lake Tekapo

Nestled roughly half way between Christchurch and Queenstown you will find the beautiful Lake Tekapo. High up in what’s known as the Mackenzie Country, Lake Tekapo is a stunning example of New Zealand’s alpine lakes, and is surrounded by beautiful crisp mountain vistas.

With one of the clearest night skies in the world the skies around Lake Tekapo are recognised as a significant dark-sky site and the hills are home to a large observatory. Star gazing tours are among the attractions that operate over the summer, as well as lake activities such as kayaks and canoeing.

As you can see New Zealand has a fantastic range of lakes that are not only picturesque but great for splashing, exploring and learning a little about the history of the area. Why not grab a rental car and find your favourite lake this summer!

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