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Go with the flow – South Island

Image of the January 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2018 Issue

Cool off this summer on a walk where water is the drawcard

Man-made beauty

Blue Lake, St Bathans, Otago

An oasis in the Central Otago desert, Blue Lake is a remarkable man-made feature; the result of gold mining sluicing in 1873.

The lake is like a luminous blue jewel set amid a barren, and fractured backdrop of chalky cliffs and tussock flats.

Various tracks circle the lake and nearby hills, allowing differing views of the lake’s inky depths. Nearby St Bathans sports numerous historic buildings, including the iconic Vulcan Hotel, which, along with the lake, is said to be haunted. Some claim to have experienced ghostly visions of ancient miners ascending from the lake bed.

There is a picnic area at the southern end of the lake and it is also safe to swim here. Just west of the lake is the beautifully set St Bathans Domain Campsite, where you can enjoy the magnificent panoramas, including views into the high and barren St Bathans Range, that Central Otago is renowned for.

Access From St Bathans Loop Road Grade Easy.

– Pat Barrett

Lower McLean Falls exude a lush beauty in a remote corner of the Catlins Photo: Ray Salisbury/Lighthouse Creative


McLean Falls, Catlins Conservation Park, Southland

Landscape photographers know the Catlins for its abundance of waterfalls. McLean Falls is the most spectacular, where the Tautuku River drops 22m in a series of gorgeous cascades. The lower falls, though bypassed by many, offer the most aesthetically pleasing view along a shadowy canyon lined by lime-green moss. The main viewing platform is five minutes further, up a rock staircase.

A wonderfully graded track leads over a couple of small bridges, past huge tree fuchsia, stands of olearia and podocarp forest. The hard part is the long drive to the bottom of the South Island. This place exudes that feeling of isolation – well off the beaten track, in a remote corner of the Catlins.

Access 3km up Rewcastle Road, off Chaslands Highway, 11.6km south of Papatowai  Grade Easy Time 20 minutes.

– Ray Salisbury

The Southern Alps form a formidable backdrop to Lake Kaniere. Photo: Pat Barrett

Intimate space

Lake Kaniere, West Coast

Lake Kaniere is one of the Coast’s renowned bush-fringed lakes, small enough to be intimate yet large enough to see a dramatic mountain backdrop from parts of the shoreline.

With an expanse of water under trees, hills, and the soaring ridgelines of the Southern Alps, it’s a great place to stroll along the pebbly beaches, or pop up a tent at the lakeside camping ground. There is also a host of activities in the area, including exploring the secluded bays and tiny beaches by canoe or kayak. A lakeside track runs along the western shore from Sunny Bight, and the Water Race Track follows this historic feature alongside the lake outlet. The more strenuous hike up Mt Tuhua (1125m) begins near the campground.

Evening and dawn are the best times to view the lake, likely to be still and brooding, and perhaps catch a shimmering reflection of the mountain fastness to the south in the lake’s impenetrable depths.

All tracks are well marked, signposted and easy to follow.

Access Lake Kaniere Road, Hokitika Grade Easy-moderate.

– PB

A mirror-calm Lake Matheson reflects the Southern Alps. Photo: Ray Salisbury/Lighthouse Creative

Mirrored Mecca

Lake Matheson, Westland/Tai Poutini National Park

Lake Matheson is arguably the most photographed body of water in New Zealand. Even in the frigid pre-dawn murk, you may be shoulder-to-shoulder with a dozen dedicated shutterbugs, vying for space on the viewing platform. Nevertheless, this trekker mecca is a must-see destination for any Kiwi tramper.

Tucked in ancient forest, the dark brown lake has excellent reflecting properties – the result of organic matter leached from the humus of the forest floor. During daybreak, before the wind picks up, you can enjoy mirror views of Mts Cook and Tasman. The best light is just after sunrise or just before sunset, when the Southern Alps are bathed in warm light.

Starting out from the Matheson Café, a suspension bridge crosses the Clearwater River. Kahikatea and rimu tower above a rich profusion of native foliage.

There’s a number of official hotspots dotted around the 2.6km loop track, which encircles the lake. The most popular is the extended wooden viewing platform at Reflection Island.

Access From Fox Glacier, follow Cook Flat Road 5km to Lake Matheson Rd Grade Easy Time 1hr.

– RS

Mangatini Falls are a must-see landmark on Charming Creek Walkway. Photo: Ray Salisbury/Lighthouse Creative

Charming cascade 

Charming Creek Walkway, West Coast

With luxuriant rainforest, mining and forestry relics and historic tramline tunnels, the Charming Creek Walkway combines history with outstanding natural features.

While the full length of Charming Creek Walkway takes over three hours, and requires a car shuttle, the return trip to Mangatini Falls is a must-do. Beginning near the Solid Energy coal-handling facility, this historic tramway follows the Ngakawau River, as it heads inland through luxuriant forest.

There is a clearing 10 minutes in, where bins and boilers are rusting relics of the coal and timber industry during the early 1900s. Entering the lower section of gorge, the track narrows and remnants of the railway can be seen – including a handful of short tunnels which the track passes through.

An impressive suspension bridge spans the Ngakawau River. From this swingbridge, the 25m Mangatini Falls can be seen.

From the lookout platform, a gnarly track leads to the base of the falls, and a 50m tunnel leads to The Verandah, a spectacular section of tramline cut into a rock shelf. This can sometimes be slippery, but offers glorious views into the Upper Ngakawau Gorge. It is worthwhile pushing on to the river flats of Charming Creek and the historic site of Watson’s Mill. A lunch shelter provides a suitable turn-around point.

Access Turn off SH67 at Ngakawau Grade Easy Time 1hr to falls; 3.5hr for full walkway.

– RS

Mueller Tarn is an airy perch – and superb camp spot. Photo: Nina Dickerhof

Intriguing tarn

Mueller Tarn, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury

On a ledge at 1200m, directly above Maruia Springs, Mueller Tarn is an intriguing place to visit.

The 600m climb is near vertical in places and tough going, but can be done in less than two hours.

The tarn itself is particularly attractive – deep green and fringed with stunted mountain beech and mosses. Above it looms the pocked face of the Freyberg Range and opportunities for travel farther afield onto the range via a gently angled ridgeline out to the east. It is also possible to camp at the tarn and enjoy this airy perch. Being so accessible to a main road and yet also requiring a good degree of effort to reach, Mueller Tarn is one of those special places to introduce others to the beauty of the tops, or just to reacquaint yourself with the remarkable nature of the sub-alpine environment.

The track starts across the river from the highway, just west of Maruia Springs, and is signposted and well marked. There is only one way up – straight up! Enjoy the climb.

Access From Maruia Springs, SH7 Grade Moderate Time 2hr to tarn.

– PB

The track to John Tait Hut follows the Travers River. Photo: peter Laurenson

Travers treasure

Travers Falls, Nelson Lakes National Park

You can hear the thunderous Travers Falls long before you see them. It’s an 80m drop from the trail to reach them and you’ll need to clamber down, using gnarly tree roots  for handholds.

The falls are about 15m high – one unbroken plunge from top to bottom. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the mossy, fern-clad grotto that the Travers pours into. At the bottom, the turquoise pool swirls before gravity eventually drags the water out at a less extreme gradient. There’s a leaf-padded shelf beside the water’s edge from where you can pause to enjoy the ambience.

Getting to the falls is a pleasure. From Lake Rotoiti, start by climbing aboard a water taxi. This saves about two hours of walking on the Lakehead Track and gives a beautiful on-the-lake perspective of the surrounding ranges.

Then the walking starts, but the entire route to John Tait Hut is on a gentle incline, only gaining 200m. Just follow the obvious trail that alternates between broad grassy river flats and gladey beech forest beside the river. There is one impressive swingbridge about a third of the way to the hut. Mt Travers dominates the skyline – its snowmelt is the source of all the water in this valley.

From the hut, continue up valley, taking the right-branching Upper Travers Valley Track for 30 minutes.

Access From St Arnaud via water taxi or Lakehead Track Grade Easy Time Lakehead to John Tait Hut, 4hr; Hut to Travers Falls, 30min.

– Peter Laurenson

The first part of the route to Lake Marian is easy going on boardwalk beside the gushing Marian Creek. Photo: hzind / 123RF Stock Photo

The quintessential alpine lake

Lake Marian, Fiordland National Park 

Nestled in a bowl surrounded by 1500m-high granite walls that have been scoured vertical by glaciers and sprout a myriad small waterfalls, Lake Marian is the quintessential alpine lake.

Cross the swingbridge over the Hollyford River and begin climbing. The first 10 minutes to the cantilevered gantries above a rushing section of Marian Creek is well-metalled and of even footing.

The rest of the track is much more gnarled, with rocks, roots and occasional muddy patches. Around 20 minutes before the lake, cross a rock slide that weaves the track to the northern side of the gorge. It is one of those tracks where you think you are nearly there, but then the brow of the hill keeps retreating. Eventually, there is a change in vegetation – ferns to moss and a more stunted tree growth.

Then the lake appears and the climb suddenly becomes worthwhile.

Access From Lower Hollyford Road Grade Moderate Time 3hr return.

– MG

Bush-fringed Whites Bay. Photo: Shellie Evans

Beach, forest and mountains

Whites Bay, Marlborough

Unknown to most, Whites Bay is a balmy beach fringed by thick forest and bordered by the dwindling hillsides of nearby Mt Robertson. A neat network of walking tracks explore all the area’s features.

However, it is not the landscape which put Whites Bay on the map. By a curious quirk of fate it ended up as the South Island node for the first telegraph cable connecting the North Island to the Mainland.

In the 1860s, it could take a month for Government correspondence to travel between Christchurch and its headquarters in Auckland. On August 26, 1866, the first cable test proved successful.

From Rarangi, the track climbs steeply through a forest composed almost entirely of five-finger trees. The zigzags are numerous. After 20 minutes, the track meets Port Underwood Road. Follow this for 15 minutes to the signpost on the right and the start of the steep descent to Whites Bay. The real treat of this walk is the view along Rarangi Beach south towards Cape Campbell and the Inland Kaikouras. These look their best early in the morning as the snow-capped peaks catch the rising sun and the parched hillsides glow orange.

Access From Rarangi Beach Road Grade Easy Time 2hr return.

– MG