NEW ZEALAND’S SECRET LAKES

There are a staggering 3, 820 lakes in New Zealand. These are contained in a land area of just 268,000 square kms. By comparison, Britain with a land area similar to New Zealand has only 387 lakes!  With such a large number spread around New Zealand, it is probably no surprise that some can be classed as ‘secret lakes’. In other words, they are unknown by most Kiwis because many are buried deep in the spectacular alpine areas of the country.

In the years I worked as a TV cameraman, I visited a couple of these inaccessible lakes in the mountains of Otago and Fiordland. I was always taken by two things: the stillness of the location and the clarity of the water in the lakes. (We used helicopters to get to them).

LAKE MARIAN

Formed by glacial action, Lake Marian is an alpine lake in a hanging valley in one of the most beautiful settings in the South Island. The 2000m long lake is hidden above the bush line at the southern end of Fiordland National Park and is surrounded by mountains which provide magnificent reflections in calm weather. The valley is protected on all sides by steep snow-covered peaks of over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft).

Marian Creek flows into and out of Lake Marian. The creek’s catchment upstream of the lake includes several permanent snowfields at the head of the valley. There the creek drains two smaller alpine lakes, Lake Mariana and Lake Marianette, followed by the 122 metres (400 ft) tall Lyttle Falls, before it feeds Lake Marian.

Lake Marian (DoC)

It is a mission to reach Lake Marian by land. It takes over 90 minutes to tramp there from the nearest road. The track to it crosses the Hollyford River on a swing bridge before leading upstream alongside Marian Creek as it cascades over a series of small waterfalls. After this, the track becomes rougher and being an area with high rainfall, it is very muddy in places. The last part of the climb to Lake Marian is a gut buster even for the fittest as it passes through native bush ascending almost 400 metres (1,300 ft) in height.You have to be adventurous and keen if you plan to set eyes on this ‘secret’ lake.

LAKE NERINE

Lake Nerine (NZ Tramper)

The trek to Lake Nerine is no less a challenge. It is a rugged and challenging tramp through remote parts of Mt Aspiring National Park. The route involves a 6km alpine hike along the main divide crossing over Park Pass at the head of the Rockburn Valley at the head of the North Branch of the Routeburn Track. Trampers who have made the effort to reach Lake Nerine and have spent a night camped beside it comment on the special tranquillity of the place. It’s no wonder, being located about as far from civilization as is possible in New Zealand. With its rock knolls and outstanding views, it has been classed by trampers as a very special place to explore.

LAKE WILSON

I have been to Fiordland on numerous occasions for TV programmes and have visited many parts of this amazing wilderness area. However, it wasn’t until I started researching for this blog, that I came across Lake Wilson. It really is a ‘secret’ New Zealand lake.

Lake Wilson (NZ Tramper)

 I read the travel log of a hiker called Patrick who recorded his thoughts while on a visit to this alpine lake. It can be reached by taking a detour off the Routeburn Track. This detour makes its way through the splendidly named Valley of the Trolls to eventually end at Lake Wilson. Here is how Patrick described the valley:Flowers, vivid and bright, streams crystal clear and tinged with light blue, grass and moss soft underfoot, it made me pause to take it all in every dozen steps. Not a single photo I took has done it justice.” It would seem quite a lot of effort is needed to make the tramp off the Routeburn Track to this lake but it would also appear the effort is worth it. Patrick again: “Surrounded by peaks and sharp ridge lines, stone buttresses and boulders, Lake Wilson mirrored nearby Lake Harris in its colour and tone, but with all the added extras of an alpine wonderland.”  I’m not sure why this lake was never mentioned during my Fiordland travels but I guess its inaccessibility has made it undesirable as a tourist attraction. The thousands from around the world who walk the Routeburn Track are awestruck enough with the scenery by just remaining on the track itself.

LAKE MAHINERANGI

Although it is only 40km from Dunedin, Lake Mahinerangi is little known to the city’s inhabitants. I lived in Dunedin for 21 years but never visited this lake. In fact, I wasn’t really sure where it was or how to get there so I class it as a ‘secret’ lake.  It was actually formed in the 1900s, when the Waipori Dam was built to supply power to Dunedin.  Prior to the dam’s construction, Waipori was a bustling gold mining town which had several hundred residents, a busy school, 11 hotels, 11 bridges, two banks, two bakers, a couple of dance halls, blacksmiths, 6 billiard saloons, many gambling dens, and even an undertaker.

The place was described as a “humming hive of activity by day and revelry by night”.  Three generations lived and died there until it was progressively swallowed up by the water of Lake Mahinerangi, erasing virtually all trace of its existence. The first dam was built in 1923 but the foundations were unstable so a second one was built further downstream in 1927. Three dams were built on the Waipori River with the largest at 33.5metre (110ft) completed in 1946. This last dam submerged the town of Waipori when the 12km (7.5mile) long lake changed the landscape.

Lake Mahinerangi (ODT)

Today, there are a cluster of holiday cribs dotted along the shores of the lake but the landscape is barren and windswept. The lake is known for the trout that it has been stocked with but the lake itself is of little interest to the tourists who flock to the South Island as there are far more spectacular bodies of water to see around the island. However, it does hold some interest when the lake level drops after a dry summer. Remnants of buildings that once served Waipori town are exposed and provide a reason for fossickers to make the trip to the lake in the hope of finding something of interest.

LAKE CRUCIBLE

With names like “Siberia” it is no surprise that Crucible Lake has iceburgs floating on its surface. It is a challenging 4 day tramp from the alpine village of Makarora to get to this little known lake. From Siberia Hut the track begins by crossing open meadows, with great views up to Mount Awful and Mount Dreadful at the head of the valley.  The explorers who named these two mountains must have had a suitably unpleasant trek to give such beautiful mountains such negative names. The steep, rock strewn track to the lake passes through native beech forest. The steep climb takes between 1 and 1.5 hours to navigate. In the shadow of Mt Alba, the trail heads up an open valley and towards the moraine wall that hides Lake Crucible. The waters are bright blue and freezing cold, but the views from the lake are said to be spectacular.

Lake Crucible (DoC.govt.nz)

I have discussed 5 ‘secret lakes’ in this blog, but rest assured, there are many more that fit this description. With a population of just 5 million, there are a number of areas in New Zealand that have never been explored on foot so there will be other lakes that remain out of bounds for the average person. It is only those with an adventurous spirit and in peak fitness who will glimpse these ‘secret lakes’ of New Zealand.

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