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June 2013 Issue
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Top 3 South Island alpine lakes

Lake Mavis. Photo supplied

Alpine lakes are a great drawcard for any tramping mission, especially if a lakeside camp can be made.

Most will require a good dose of strenuous activity to reach their remote shorelines and to enjoy their standout settings among peaks and valleys. Some lakes are a destination in their own right while others are waypoints of the journey, but however the visit is achieved it is sure to be memorable.

Lake Mavis, Arthur’s Pass National Park

This gem takes a full day to reach via the upper Mingha Valley and has a fantastic setting perched above Goat Pass on the Mingha-Deception tramping route.

Hidden in a post glacial cirque, the almost circular lake can be reached in 4-5hr and has some excellent camping spots near the outlet and sweeping views over the valley below. It’s also a great location for climbing Mt Oates, which rises immediately behind the lake, or as part of a range traverse along the tops south of Mt Oates to Williams Saddle. A range crossing, to the north, over to Taruahuna Pass and the Edwards Valley is also possible from here.

A visit at any time of year is recommended, with summer and autumn being the best times. In winter, frozen and snow-covered, the lake is simply spectacular.


Brass Monkey Tarns, Springs Junction-Lewis Pass

Brass Monkey Tarns and biv. Photo supplied

Brass Monkey Tarns and biv. Photo supplied

South of the Lewis Pass Highway, the Main Divide passes over several modest peaks to reach the tiny refuge of Brass Monkey Bivouac and its superb ridge top setting nestled among glittering tarns.

The bivvy and tarns can be reached in 4-5hr either from the highway summit track or from the head of Rough Creek, thus allowing for an excellent through trip with the option of overnighting at the bivvy or camping in the tussock beside the attractive little tarns.

There’s plenty of exploring to be had in the vicinity of the tarns and adjacent high catchments which, together with the wonderful isolation of the tops, makes for an excellent trip.

The route in from Lewis Pass actually passes through several other tarn basins on the way, so if you are feeling like a shorter trip or the weather is not good enough for a full traverse, there is always the option to camp sooner and enjoy the ambience for longer.

Lochnagar, Richardson Mountains, Otago



Located in the head of the Shotover River in the Richardson Mountains, this large lake is both spectacular and difficult to reach.

Created 500 years ago by a large landslide, the lake is 3km long and up to 1.4km wide and lies in a deep amphitheatre beneath 2000m+ peaks, with Lochnagar, 2316m, the highest.

The lake outlet is subterranean, eventually reaching Lake Creek and the Shotover River. A small rustic hut sits on the eastern shoreline allowing for overnight visits yet routes to this jaw-dropping spectacle are for the most part for the hardy, aside from the Shotover River route which requires permission and low flow.

The two main options are via Shotover Saddle, 1554m, a long high route from the East Matukituki, or the Snowy Creek-Pine Creek traverse from the upper Dart.

Lochnagar is a fantastic alpine lake to visit, and any effort to do so is grand adventure.