Looking for a refreshing break in a sublime beauty spot, a get-away from the crowds, a wander in the woods or a quiet spot for some great fishing?
Famous for its picture postcard reflections, Lake Matheson is only one of a whole series of stunning West Coast lakes — lesser known gems with breathtaking mirror reflections, wilderness trails and lovely lakeside picnic spots to enjoy.
Oh, and did we mention? If you're after a chance to fish for wild trout (brown, rainbow and salmon, too), the lakes of the West Coast are pretty great.
Luxuriant wetland and rainforest ecosystems feed the temperate waters of Lake Brunner, creating a fisherman’s dream destination.
Fish, paddle, take in the scenery … Largest of the many lakes on the Coast, Lake Brunner / Kōtuku Whakaoka (sea of herons) is an incredible natural playground for all things freshwater from swimming to boating and fishing.
Aside from amazing reflections of mountains and towering lakes’ edge forests, the inky, nutrient-rich waters provide superb conditions for the large brown trout population and world-class fishing. Locals reckon their wily fat trout mostly get to die of old age.
The little town of Moana has a year-round population of under 100 and around 300 holiday homes which never really adds up to a crowd. The TranzAlpine scenic rail service pulls in at Moana, and there’s plenty of visitor accommodation and hospitality including a hotel, campgrounds, and holiday rentals.
Paddle around the water’s edge, follow scenic lakeside trails or explore hilly hikes. The short photogenic Carew Falls Track leads to a refreshing misty waterfall.
Pretty Peter's Pool is an easy family-friendly walk to a small kettle lake near Franz Josef.
For off-the-beaten track mountain reflections, Lake Gault rivals nearby Lake Matheson providing a worthy reward for the 8-km return hike up the newly built Lake Gault Track to a great hilltop vantage point.
Like its famous neighbour, Lake Gault’s dark mysterious waters are stained with natural forest tannins, making the perfect canvas for spectacular reflections. On a still day, Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman are gloriously reflected in the waters.
The Lake Gault Track starts from the Lake Matheson car park (5 km from Fox Glacier Weheka township). It’s classed as easy walking but at 8 km return, it takes around 3 hours up and back. If you’re short on time, Peter’s Pool accessed from Franz Josef is an easy family-friendly track (1.1 km, 25 min return) to a small kettle lake with alpine reflections.
Cyclists on the West Coast Wilderness Trail take a rest beside lovely Lake Kaniere on the way to Hokitika.
Moody Lake Kaniere, enclosed on three sides by mountains, was a well kept local secret until the Wilderness Trail came riding past! The quiet cluster of holiday homes and cribs (19 km east of Hokitika) is now a welcome lunch or overnight stop for bikers. Stay over and the views at night are wild.
Giant podocarp forest trees grow right to the lake edge, and there are magnificent views and mirror images of nearby mountain peaks. In warmer months Lake Kaniere is a lovely camping and boating spot, and year-round for fishing, mountain biking, bush walking and hiking.
A pretty stroll or cycle, the well formed Kaniere Water Race Trail follows an impressive historic waterway (hand-dug in 1875) through bird-filled mature forest, direction Hokitika. For experienced trampers the steep hike to the top of Mt. Tuhua (1125 m) pays off with epic views of coast and mountains.
Discover Lake Mahināpua — popular for water sports, camping, cycling and walking — on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
Don’t let your first view of the quiet waters of Lake Mahināpua fool you! Just south of Hokitika, there’s loads to get excited about here — fishing, boating, kayaking, walking, cycling, even zip lining, and more.
Long before there was a highway, early settlers used these waters to make their way up and down the West Coast. Hardy folks, like gold miners off to do some banking, could paddle their way from Ross to Hokitika via Lake Mahināpua and the Mahināpua Creek — you still can but there are more enjoyable, easier ways to get about here these days.
Relax on a guided cruise following in the wake of those hardy pioneers or paddle a freedom kayak with West Coast Scenic Waterway. Hire an e-bike from Hokitika for a gentle cycle, walk the boardwalks on the Wilderness Trail or join the birds up top (40 m above the forest floor) with an easy walk through the tree tops then come back to earth on the zipline.
Discover Lake Mapourika — a scenic gem and wildlife sanctuary near the glaciers — with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours.
Not so famous Lake Mapourika is a conservation jewel on the main highway just north of Franz Josef. Don’t pass by without stopping off at the little jetty on the waters’ edge — a photogenic masterpiece at any hour of the day from misty mornings to the rosy sunset glow.
South Westland’s largest mirror lake is a tranquil haven of crystal clear waters, verdant rainforest and a spectacular Southern Alps panorama (Aoraki/Mount Cook included). If it’s warm enough, you can swim, launch your kayak or take a boat tour.
Created 14,000 years ago as the glacier retreated after a significant ice age, Lake Mapourika is an example of a glacial kettle lake. Today it’s a haven for Ōkārito rowi, the rarest of all kiwi species. Take an immersive eco tour, a boat cruise out to the sanctuary on the other side of the lake or go fishing for brown trout and wild sea-run salmon with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours.
Lake Matheson is famous for its picture perfect reflections of Aoraki/Mt. Cook and superb views of Fox Glacier.
Lake Matheson’s postcard pretty reflections have become synonymous with the beauty of the West Coast’s alpine scenery. The much photographed views framed by temperate rainforest and mirrored in still waters include Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman — Aotearoa New Zealand’s highest mountains.
On a good day, there are the unsurpassed dream shots while, on the occasional wet West Coast day, the wide, well maintained lake circuit is an easy walk revealing atmospheric rainforest and lake views. Walk the track then stop in at the hospitable Lake Matheson Cafe.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours’ early evening nature tour around Lake Matheson (3.5 hr, 4.4 km) explores the lake when the colours are especially beautiful as you follow the track through lush rainforest, over little bridges and boardwalks crossing multiple mountain streams to the inky waters and incredible reflections.
Moana on the shores of beautiful Lake Brunner is an outdoor playground and world-class fishing destination.
Forget the seaside strips in the hot tourist spots, check out the West Coast’s absolute lakefront eco and luxury accommodations.
Hotel Lake Brunner, Moana — wide views of the lake and mountains. Apartments, studios, family accommodation, cabins; in-house restaurant, private wood-fired hot tubs.
Lake Brunner Eco Lodge, Inchbonnie — fishing lodge sitting pretty on the southern side of Lake Brunner. 8 suites, on-site restaurant cafe.
Lake Brunner Motor Camp, Moana — traditional Kiwi motor camp, Lake Brunner and mountain views. Cabins, caravans, motorhome, camp sites, close to hospitality and walks.
Five of DOC’s 11 wilderness camping areas on the West Coast are beside lakes.