Hide and seek Tucked in the high bare hills south of Omarama, where northern Otago butts up against southern Canterbury, is a sparkling alpine lake. Sitting at 1550m amid the tawny landscape, it’s a legacy of the glaciers which once occupied the cirques here.
Hidden Lake, as it is known, laps against a south-east spur of the St Bathans Range where it falls to Omarama Saddle.
The lake itself feeds the upper Manuherikia River West Branch which, when combined with the East Branch, drains a large sector of Central Otago and eventually reaches the Clutha River at Alexandra.
The lake is notable for both its intrinsic beauty and the fact that its presence marks a welcome contrast against the dry, barren summits which surround the cirque and dominate almost the entire range and its neighbours, the Hawkdun and Dunstan ranges.
Other lakes exist here, also secreted into post-glacial basins. But Hidden Lake is queen, both in size and splendour.
The northern side of the lake presents a 100m-high bluff which reaches the spur crest at just over 1700m and then eases gently back to the St Bathans Range summits at a tad over 1800m. More gentle slopes predominate to the west, south and east, with the latter aspect covered with large boulders forming part of the natural dam holding the lake.
The route in begins on a 4WD track, which can be mountain biked if you want to make a day trip of it. The last section of the road to the saddle is steep and rough and entails a 400m ascent.
From the pass, the slope eases and as the remaining 4km to the lake is walked, the immense backdrop of the Mackenzie Basin, with many of the country’s principal summits, is slowly revealed. At the lake itself, there are several good campsites but this view is hidden, and the outlook turns to the south and east. But if you take the short climb to the crest of the St Bathans Range, even more of the grand spine of the Southern Alps is on display, including the grand spectacle of Aoraki/Mt Cook far to the north, hovering over the turquoise expanse of Lake Pukaki.
Despite all this, Hidden Lake and basin draws you in. The large rough blocks of stone at the edge provide an entrancing spectacle where the blue-green waters lap and tussock heads wave in the breeze.