Waitaki: New Zealand’s Hidden Lakes Region

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Set in a raw and inexplicably uncrowded landscape between the Southern Alps and the sea, the Waitaki Lakes District remains one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets.

The nearby lakes of Tekapo and Pūkaki may be real celebrities in New Zealand’s tourist scene, but head a little further south and you’ll find equally idyllic stretches of clear blue water leaning against the mountain – with a lot less people around to share them with.

Lake Benmore contains approximately 1.25 billion cubic meters of water.

Lorna Thornber / Stuff

Lake Benmore contains approximately 1.25 billion cubic meters of water.

Connected by the braided, ultra-blue Waitaki River, Waitake, Aviemore and Benmore Lakes are part of a hydroelectric system that generates enough electricity each year for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand homes.

Reflecting the mountains, hills and mature trees that surround them, the lakes serve as both recreational sites, attracting boaters, water sports and fishing enthusiasts, walkers, mountain bikers and campers who return year after. year – and generation after generation.

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Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Lake Ōhau, meanwhile, attracts skiers and snowboarders in winter and lovers of nature and peace and quiet all year round. If you’re planning a trip to the area, it’s a must to visit at least one of these giant liquid mirrors.

Waitaki Lake

The Waitaki Lake Campgrounds provide the perfect setting for a healthy family vacation.

Bejon Haswell / Tips

The Waitaki Lake Campgrounds provide the perfect setting for a healthy family vacation.

Surrounded by sunny countryside retreating to bare brown hills and distant mountain ranges (covered in seasonal snow), Lake Waitaki does not appear to have changed much since the dam that created it was built. with pickaxes and shovels in the 1930s.

The oldest and smallest of the region’s man-made lakes, the blue-green lake is a popular spot for fishing, boating, swimming, water sports, and picnics among the willows (often on freshly caught trout).

Located just below the Aviemore Dam, Fisherman’s Bend has been a popular campground for over 40 years, offering both shady riverside sites and sunny spots overlooking Merino Country.

If camping isn’t your style, you can stay in one of the cabins originally built to house dam workers and their families. The eight three-bedroom cottages at Lake Waitaki Village come with full kitchens, and there is a cafe, communal lounge, and billiards room on-site.

The lake is a short drive from Kurow, the heart of the Waitaki wine country. Head to Ostler’s Cellar Door on Main Street or to Pasquale Kurow Vineyard on Duntroon Road for a pinot noir that rivals the best of Central Otago.

Aviemore Lake

The Deep Stream Track will take you through a flooded canyon to a scenic picnic spot.

Stuff-co-nz

The Deep Stream Track will take you through a flooded canyon to a scenic picnic spot.

The second largest of the trio of lakes along the Waitaki River, Lake Aviemore offers clear-water, willow-fringed beauty on an even grander scale.

Walkers shouldn’t miss the 2 km Deep Stream Track – a narrow path that follows a flooded canyon to a picnic spot that looks like something out of The wind in the willows. Taking up to an hour one way, it’s a good choice for families and others in the mood for a gentle but ultra-scenic walk.

The network of trails through the wetlands of Otematata is also worth a visit. Pack your lunch and, in the summer, togs – sheltered picnic areas and swimming spots along the way are likely to inspire you to turn your walking or biking trip into a day-long adventure.

Parsons Rock on the south side offers idyllic lakeside camping, as does the Waitangi campsite on the north shore.

The Aviemore hydroelectric dam is an attraction in itself. Built in the 1960s, its generators are still New Zealand’s largest, producing enough electricity to power around 120,000 homes each year.

Benmore Lake

The Alps 2 Ocean cycle path has opened up a section of the lake previously only accessible by water.

Lorna Thornber / Stuff

The Alps 2 Ocean cycle path has opened up a section of the lake previously only accessible by water.

Containing around 1.25 billion cubic meters of water (1.5 times more than in Wellington Harbor), Lake Benmore is large enough that you can always find a bay or uncrowded expanse, even at its peak. of summer.

The 16 km section of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle path that passes from Sailors Cutting – a sublimely scenic recreation and camping area where barges float under willows – to the Benmore Dam is one of the most beautiful on the trip. of 300 km.

Cycle or cycle past established trees admiring their reflections in the water and lupine-filled fields before tackling the more difficult part of the trail along hidden bays and islands. The view of the Benmore Dam, New Zealand’s largest earth dam, towards the end will take your breath away (and not just because of the steep climb to get there).

Lakes are common on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle path.

Lorna Thornber / Stuff

Lakes are common on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle path.

Set around a sheltered swimming beach with a cycle path to the town of Otematata, Loch Laird is a popular place to camp, as is Boat Harbor near the main boat launch.

High lake

Overlooking the Ben Ōhau and Main Divide mountain ranges, Lake Ōhau is New Zealand at its best.

Its shores are a perfect place for a stroll or a bike ride – on a clear day you can see all the way to Aoraki / Mt Cook. The section between Ōhau Weir and Lake Ōhau Lodge is part of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle path. From the lodge, walk past the lodge to its highest point at 900 meters for panoramic views of the classic highland landscape.

Lake Ōhau is New Zealand at its most beautiful and rugged.

Lorna Thornber / Stuff

Lake Ōhau is New Zealand at its best.

The view is even better from the small, friendly ski area, which is suitable for all ages and abilities. Just a 20-minute drive from town, Ōhau Snow Fields offers rentals, lessons, a double chairlift, and a day lodge, and unlike the resorts at famous Otago ski resorts, you don’t often have to beat for fresh powder.

With its old-fashioned hunting lodge vibe with leather sofas and open fireplace, Lake Ōhau Lodge is a great choice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or aperitif. Expect hearty country fare using lots of local produce. Think mānuka smoked Aoraki salmon fillet, high country merino lamb shanks and hazelnut crumble. If you’re staying overnight, enjoy an after-dinner soak in the hot tub under one of the country’s clearest skies.

Stay Safe: New Zealand is currently subject to restrictions related to Covid-19. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.


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