Walter Peak across Lake Wakatipu Wilson Bay

Time to unwind

Kai Iwi Lakes Thirty-five kilometres northwest of Dargaville, the Kai Iwi Lakes” Kai Iwi, Taharoa and Waikere” offer fishing, windsurfing, boating and swimming in sub-tropical climes. These dune lakes” Taharoa…

Kai Iwi Lakes

Thirty-five kilometres northwest of Dargaville, the Kai Iwi Lakes” Kai Iwi, Taharoa and Waikere” offer fishing, windsurfing, boating and swimming in sub-tropical climes. These dune lakes” Taharoa and Waikere are the deepest in the country” sparkle within the 538-hectare Taharoa domain, ringed by tall pines.

The lakes have no known natural inlets or outlets, nurtured instead by the abundant Northland rains. This means their levels” and swimming temperatures” can fluctuate wildly. There’s a sheltered campground for the adventurous, or you can take your pick of homestays and B&Bs nearby.

If you get restless, there’s a track around the lakes, or you reach the coast by another that wanders over an adjoining farm west of the domain. Take in the Tasman views from atop Maunganui Bluff, or you can make the short drive to wild west Bayley’s Beach. Then there’s the kauri museum at Matakohe and the real, growing thing at Trounson Kauri Park or Waipoua Forest.

Getting there

Head along State Highway 12 to the junction of Omamari Road; it’s well signposted. Then travel another 11km along Omamari Road before taking Kai Iwi Lakes Road to the domain.


Campground, boat ramps on Waikere and Taharoa.


Motor boats are not allowed on Lake Kai Iwi. No dogs in the domain, please.

Picture 011

Lake Waikopiro

Lake Rotoehu

The smallest and least visited of a chain of three lakes, 400-ha Rotoehu lies between Rotorua and Whakatane. If the whine of outboards winds you up, Rotoehu is the place for you; the watersport crowd prefer the deeper, clearer lakes to either side.

Rotoehu suffers periodic algal blooms, but the many arms and bays make for great kayaking, and rainbow trout can be fished all year round (with a licence). The peace and quiet mean the lake is also a good spot to appreciate some rarely-seen water birds.

There are two access points; Otautu Bay and Kennedy Bay, and while the waterfront is a no-camping zone, the Rotoma campground lies next to SH 30 turnoff. There are also plenty of homestays and holiday homes available.

If you tire of watery pursuits, you’re in mountain-biking mecca, and there are walking tracks along Lake Rotoma and Lake Rotoiti (Hongi’s track), and a network of trails at Lake Okataina.

Getting there

Take State Highway 30 east 40 kms out of Rotorua or west 55 kms from Whakatane. There’s a rudimentary boat ramp at Kennedy Bay, and small boats can be launched off some of the beaches. Access along the Pongokawa Valley Road.

Lake Tutira

Tutira is synonymous with Herbert Guthrie-Smith, farmer, writer, philosopher and pre-eminent naturalist. He came here in 1882, and turned a bracken-infested, marginal proposition into the famous “and prosperous” Tutira Station. Before his death in 1940, he left part of this area in trust for education and conservation, and Lakes Tutira, Waikopiro and Orakai have been a much-loved playground ever since.

Lake Waikopiro 1Long before Guthrie-Smith’s time, Maori lived here in seasonal kainga, taking birds, eels and freshwater shellfish, and there are six pa sites dotted about the lakes. In 1926, they gifted part of the northeastern shore to the government to ensure its protection. This is now the Tiwaewae Memorial Reserve.

Today, DoC and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council jointly manage the lakes and surrounds as a Wildlife Refuge and “Country Park”. There are two well-appointed camping grounds, complete with covered dining shelters, taps and toilets.

You have a wide choice of walks, from a 20-minute amble around Lake Waikopiro to a steep half-day to Table Mountain and back.

Getting there

Take State Highway 2 north out of Napier for 35 kms. Look for the sign for the Tutira Store on your left. The turnoff is signposted on your left about 300 metres on.


No open fires allowed. Motor craft are not allowed on the lakes, and the dog is canis non grata on any adjacent farmland.

Pencarrow Lakes

These secluded coastal lakes, nestled behind the Pencarrow beaches, are Wellington’s best-kept secret. Kohangapiripiri and its partner, Kohangatera, were formed when water pooled behind a stony terrace pushed up by earthquakes.

Picture 010

Lake Kohangapiripiri

Both lakes are listed as nationally important, home to a variety of threatened wetland plants and native fish, which is why you can’t fish here. Farm stock have been fenced out, and native regeneration now makes for a verdant setting.

Camping isn’t allowed either, but the picnicking is exemplary, and you can walk or mountain bike off lunch on a track that circles round both lakes. The swampy bits are boardwalked.

It’s a two-hour walk (or a half-hour bike ride) from the Muritai Road gate at Eastbourne, around Camp Bay and past the Pencarrow lighthouses to the lakes. All the gates have information panels on them. Be aware that if you want to walk to the lakes, and around them, and back to the car, it’s a day-long enterprise.

Getting there

Head for Eastbourne, and follow Muritai Road to its logical conclusion. There’s an information kiosk at the park gate.


Dogs are banned around the lakes, which lie on private property. Leave gates as you find them.

Lake Brunner

Hidden from State Highway 6 on the South Island West Coast, Lake Brunner glitters among forested hills. The required side trip to Moana, the lake’s closest settlement, means that Brunner, or Kotukumoana, lies off the campervan beat, offering seclusion and great fishing. Named after the nineteenth century explorer Thomas Brunner, the 40 sq km lake flows into the Arnold River, a tributary of the Grey.

From Moana, you can organise fishing trips, lake cruises, canoe hire or yacht charter, or head off on any of a range of nearby walks from the gentle, 20-minute Velenski Track to six-hour epics. A water taxi can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go. Freedom camping opportunities are few, but there are plenty of commercial campgrounds and holiday parks around the lake, or motels, B&Bs and cottages if the West Coast rains prevail.

Getting there

From Greymouth, take Highway 7 east beside the Grey River through Brunner, then take the Arnold Valley Rd at Stillwater.

From Christchurch, take a right onto Lake Brunner Rd at Jacksons, on the Otira Highway. The daily TranzAlpine scenic train stops at Moana if you want to leave the car at home

Ashburton Lakes

The broad Ashburton Lakes basin in inland Canterbury is ringed by dramatic mountain peaks” the jewel in the crown is Lake Heron, a wild upland setting between the Mt Taylor ranges to the east, and the Arrowsmiths to the west.

Picture 009

Lake Heron

Along with smaller lakes nearby” Clearwater, Camp and Emma” Heron offers high country recreation at its most grand, but be aware that the weather up here can turn in any month. The lakes are very exposed to the nor’wester, and snow isn’t unknown in January. If that doesn’t scare you, there’s a basic campground nestled behind willows and pines halfway along the lake shore.

At Lake Clearwater, 38 kms past Mt Somers, there’s a busy village of holiday homes/cribs/baches some of which you can hire, or stay at the basic campground (a toilet, but no other facilities).

Power craft are banned on Clearwater, and the nor’wester makes for windsurfing nirvana, backed by views of the Southern Alps.

There are plenty of other options too, such as fishing, mountain biking or tramping for all levels of inclination.

Getting there

From Methven, take Pudding Hill Road west to the Arundel-Rakaia Gorge Road. Turn left and follow until you see the turn-off on your right for Mt Somers village. Pass Mt Somers (your last chance for provisions) and follow the Ashburton Gorge Road. For Lake Clearwater, keep straight ahead (it’s all signposted). For Lake Heron, turn right at Hakatere onto the gravel road, and drive past the Maori Lakes wetlands to Lake Heron.

Lake Wakatipu

Wakatipu isn’t all tourist steamers and jet boat rides; at eighty kilometres long (the country’s longest) it has plenty of room for everyone. This secluded DoC campsite, 20 km from Glenorchy, puts you right in the heart of some of the most glorious scenery anywhere.

Picture 012

Lake Wakatipu

From your base in the Kinloch Foreshore Recreation Reserve, you can swim, kayak, fish or go boating or just take in the vistas. It’s also handy to the Greenstone and Caples tramping tracks if you want to burn off some of those holiday calories.

There are 20 campsites, and you can either self-register at a kiosk or pay your fees to the nearby Kinloch Lodge, where you can also take showers or prepare meals. Or you can barbecue on-site. Water comes like it used to, from a stream. Toilets and picnic tables provided.

Once you’re done roughing it, you can head back to Queenstown for a flat white. For more details, call the Department of Conservation on (03) 442 7935.

Getting there

From Glenorchy, follow the Glenorchy-Paradise Rd, then turn left into Priory Rd. Take a right onto the Glenorchy-Routeburn Rd and follow it until you see the Kinloch Rd campsite at Kinloch.

Lake Monowai

Lake Monowai lies in a sinuous valley amid mountainous scenery in the southern part of Fiordland National Park. Some 120 kms northwest of Invercargill, it powers one of the South Island’s oldest hydroelectric stations, opened in 1925. In the think big, can-do 1970s, plans to raise Monowai for more power were eventually defeated by a fledgling environment movement. This basic DoC campsite gives you a base at the Lake Monowai roadend, from which to explore tracks to Rodger Inlet and Green Lake huts, or go boating (there’s a launching ramp handy) and fishing.

The trout season opens November 1, and you’ll need a licence. Watch out for submerged stumps around the lake shore. There’s also river kayaking, up to grade three, to be had on the lower Grebe River. There are just five campsites, so crowds are no problem. Toilets and tap water provided.

Getting there

North out of Invercargill, head to Clifden then follow the Clifden-Blackmount Rd to Blackmount. Keep heading north on what is now the Blackmount-Redcliff Rd until you see the Lake Monowai Road on your left. Follow it right to the end.