10 of the largest lakes in New Zealand

There’s no denying that New Zealand is a beautiful country. It’s known for its dramatic landscapes, striking mountain peaks and epic glaciers.

Incredibly, Aotearoa is also home to over 700 lakes that are at least 0.5 km long. Plus, there are plenty more that don’t reach this length.

The lakes here play an important role as they are used as water sources, for irrigation, and to generate electricity. They’re also a big tourism drawcard and used for boating, fishing and leisure activities.

Many people love to visit the lakes here as they are stunningly beautiful. To help you decide which you’d like to visit, we’re here to share the largest (and in many cases, the most beautiful) examples in Aotearoa.

So, let’s take a look at the largest lakes in New Zealand!

A family playing on the waters of Acacia Bay while boats and yachts anchored up ahead the deeper waters.
Skimming stones on the shore of the lake is a popular family-friendly challenge. Photo: Love Taupō.
Largest lake in New ZealandLake Taupō, 616 km²
Largest lake in the North IslandLake Taupō, 616 km²
Largest lake in the South IslandLake Te Anau, 344 km²
Deepest lake in New ZealandLake Hauroko, 463 m deep
Deepest lake in the North IslandLake Waikaremoana, 248 m deep
Deepest lake in the South IslandLake Hauroko, 463 m deep
Longest lake in New ZealandLake Wakatipu, 80 km long

Everything You Need to Know About the Largest Lakes in New Zealand

In size order (from the largest lake in NZ), these are our largest lakes based on area.

1. Lake Taupō, Central North Island

Area: 616 km² | Depth: 163 m

Lake Taupō is not only the largest lake in New Zealand but in all of Australasia. Covering an impressive 616 km² it’s nearly twice the size of other lakes in the country (and is about the same size as Singapore!)

It is actually a volcanic crater lake as it was created over 26,000 years ago when Taupō Volcano erupted. The eruption was enormous and created the basin that the lake lies in today.

Considering this, the lake is relatively shallow compared to others with a depth of only 163 meters.

Taupō, Kinloch, Kuratau and Tūrangi are all situated on the shores of Lake Taupō. Each of these are great bases from which to explore the lake, but Taupō is the spot that offers the most.

Known for its geothermal activity, breathtaking mountain backdrop, and awesome watersports, this whole region has a lot to offer.

A blue sail boat close to the Māori carvings on Lake Taupō.
Lake Taupō is a beautiful place to spend some time – and it’s close to Rotorua. Photo: Love Taupō.

2. Lake Te Anau, Fiordland, South Island

Area: 344 km² | Depth: 417 m

Although Lake Taupō is the largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Te Anau is the largest of the South Island lakes. It is also one of the deepest in the country.

Boasting a depth of 417 meters, Lake Te Anau gives Lake Hauroko and Manapouri a run for their money – both featuring depths of over 440 meters.

Lake Te Anau is one of the most beautiful glacial lakes in the country – and that’s saying a lot as there are plenty of them! This is due to its location as it stretches into Fiordland National Park.

If you’re looking to base yourself in the area, then many people choose the town of Te Anau as it’s the gateway to Milford Sound.

From there you can take a trip to New Zealand’s iconic ‘eighth wonder’, hit some of the nearby hiking trails or go jet boating [use the promo code NZTT to save].

A wooden pontoon extending to the calm waters of Lake Te Anau.
A peaceful start to the day on Lake Te Anau. Photo: Richard Young.

3. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island

Area: 291 km² | Depth: 380 m

Next up on this list is Lake Wakatipu. This is the third-largest lake in New Zealand, covering an area of 291 km².

Although it’s not the biggest lake in the country, it’s certainly one of the most popular as the resort town of Queenstown is located on its shores.

You’ll find endless things to do in Queenstown like riding an old steam train, heading up the gondola, racing around on a jet boat and taking a [discounted] cruise on Lake Wakatipu.

However, it’s not just the town that will convince you to visit. With a jaw-dropping mountain backdrop, lush forests all around you and mirror-like waters, the beauty of Lake Wakatipu is unparalleled.

Because of this, it’s no surprise to learn that it’s one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand.

Did you know? Lake Wakatipu is actually spelt with an ‘h’ in te reo Māori. It should be Lake Whakatipu. In te reo, a ‘wh’ sounds like an ‘f’, so the name is quite different.

Two kids running towards a lake in Queenstown for a swim.
Children enjoying Lake Wakatipu. Photo: Miles Holden.

4. Lake Wānaka, South Island

Area: 192 km² | Depth: 311 m

If you’re keen on watersports and a more relaxed vibe (while still being near Queenstown) then you should head to Lake Wānaka.

Covering an impressive 192 km² and boasting a length of 45 km, there’s plenty of room for activities such as jet boating, kayaking and sailing.

However, one of the most popular things to do on Lake Wanaka is to find (and photograph) the famous Wānaka Tree!

This lonely tree is located in the lake with the water often covering its roots and part of the trunk, making it quite a memorable sight. Surprisingly though, this tree is relatively small – this takes many people by surprise.

When in the area, we suggest staying in the resort town of Wānaka – you’ll find it located on the shore of the lake.

If you’re looking for a base then many people choose to stay in the resort town of Wānaka which is located on the shores of the lake. This is home to some great activities and attractions. These include amazing walks (including Roys Peak), Puzzling World and amazing skiing in the wintertime.

With Mount Aspiring National Park on your doorstep, you know you’re in for a scenic treat.

A person doing a handstand on top of a small, rocky promontory of Lake Wanaka.
Lake Wānaka at dusk is a beautiful place to spend some time. Turn to the left of the lake to find ‘that Wānaka tree’.

5. Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora, Canterbury, South Island

Area: 197.8 km² | Depth: 2.1 m

Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora is located in the charming region of Canterbury, and it’s the largest lake in that area.

It is located right by the coast and actually flows into the Canterbury Bight, only being separated from the Pacific Ocean by a long sandy spit.

Although it may not be the most beautiful lake in New Zealand, Lake Ellesmere is an important wildlife area. As such, it is vital when it comes to preserving our native flora and fauna.

If you enjoy nature or bird watching, this is the perfect lake for you.

Did you know? Sometimes, there are algae blooms on the lake that are extremely toxic to humans and animals alike. If you’re visiting with dogs or small children, make sure you keep them away from the water just in case.

Golden sunset facing Lake Ellesmere with a bird flying above its calm waters.
Kaituna Lagoon at Lake Ellesmere. Photo: Ben.

6. Lake Manapouri, Fiordland, South Island

Area: 142 km² | Depth: 444 m

Yet another lake from the South Island makes it onto the list; Lake Manapouri. It’s the second deepest lake in New Zealand boasting a depth of approximately 440 meters.

Lake Manapouri is located at the edge of Fiordland National Park, so as you can imagine, the scenery is pretty spectacular!

In fact, several mountain ranges surround the lake including the Kelper Mountains, the Hunter Mountains and Turret Range.

In 1964 a power station was built here, and it was quite a feat at the time. You’ll find it there still, located at the end of the lake’s west arm, where it is still the largest hydroelectric power station in the country.

If you want to stay close to Lake Manapouri, you’ll want to stay in Manapouri (have you noticed how creative we are with many of our place names?)

This is the departure point for Doubtful Sound. Plus you’ll also find plenty of other fantastic things to do in the area like hiking the Kelper Track (which is a popular Great Walk).

Alternatively, Te Anau isn’t far away if you’d like to be in a slightly bigger town.

Book: Doubtful Sound day trip & cruise | Doubtful Sound overnight cruise.

A family with their mountain bikes parked on the grass while they play on the shores of Lake Manapouri.
The shores of Lake Manapouri. Photo: Great South.

7. Lake Hawea, South Island

Area: 141 km² | Depth: 392 m

Next on the list is Lake Hawea, which is just a 15-minute drive from Lake Wānaka. This means you can easily combine a visit to both of them.

With a depth of 392 meters, Hawea is one of the deepest lakes in New Zealand after Hauroko, Manapouri and Te Anau. It’s also one of the most beautiful with its striking mountain backdrop.

Although Lake Hawea is most famous for its legendary fishing spots, you’ll find plenty of other fantastic things to do in this area. That includes swimming, kayaking, boating and hiking.

The township of Lake Hawea is the perfect base for exploring this area. There’s also a scenic walk that leads from the township to Timaru Creek.

Or, you could base yourself in Wānaka and just drive over.

A backpacker hiking up a grassy hill with the calm Lake Hawea behind her.
The hills around Lake Hawea provide incredible views of the water.

8. Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, South Island

Area: 178.7 km² | Depth: 70 m

Lake Pukaki is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand. With its gorgeous turquoise waters, breathtaking mountain backdrop and lush forests, this spot is picture-perfect.

It is the largest of the three alpine lakes that are found in the Mackenzie Basin, with Lake Tepako being the second-largest in this area.

Located in the Canterbury Region, Lake Pukaki is situated right at the doorstep of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. As you can imagine, there are plenty of fantastic hiking trails in the area – and we think that’s one of the best ways to explore.

Though we won’t lie, heading further towards the Southern Alps and taking on a [discounted] heli hike or scenic heli/ski plane combo is hard to beat!

Back on the ground, you’ll find plenty of incredible viewpoints near the lake too Peter’s Lookout has to be one of the best spots, so be sure to stop with your camera in hand.

If you’re wanting to stay near Lake Pukaki, check out accommodation in Mt Cook (and nearby), Twizel or a bit further out in Tekapo (which is home to another lake on this list – it’s coming up next).

Backpackers mountain biking on a trail beside a calm lake.
Yes, the water really is that stunning in person! Photo: Miles Holden.

9. Lake Tekapo, South Island

Area: 87 km² | Depth: 120 m

Lake Tekapo is another alpine lake that’s situated in the Mackenzie Basin. As we previously mentioned it’s the second-largest after Lake Pukaki.

Like its neighbour to the East, Lake Tekapo also boasts bright blue glacial waters, a mountain backdrop and incredible viewpoints.

And you guessed it, it’s located in Tekapo!

It’s easily one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand and once you visit you’ll see why.

If you time your visit to this lake from November to January then you’ll have a great chance of seeing the lupin flowers in full bloom too.

These towering pink and purple flowers against the turquoise waters, and mountain peaks in the background (not to mention the iconic stone church, perched on the side of the lake) make for some pretty incredible photographs.

You’ll find plenty of other things to do in Tekapo, along with great places to eat and to stay. We do recommend making bookings in advance, particularly during the busy season as this small town is a popular spot.

Lake Tekapo is also part of a UNESCO dark sky reserve, making it the perfect place to do a bit of stargazing at night.

Book: Dark Sky Project tours.

Lupin flowers growing beside the waters of Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand – and it’s no wonder why.

10. Lake Rotorua, North Island

Area: 79.8 km² | Depth: 25 m

Although Lake Rotorua isn’t the largest lake in New Zealand by any stretch of the imagination, it is the second-largest in the North Island.

Covering an area of approximately 80 km² and with a maximum depth of around 25 meters, the numbers just don’t do this lake justice!.

Like Lake Taupō, Lake Rotorua is also a volcanic lake. It formed in a magma caldera that collapsed due to an eruption about 200,000 years ago.

Geothermal activity is still present in the area due to Rotorua’s position on the Pacific Ring of Fire. For this reason, you’ll find plenty of thermal springs, boiling bud pools, and geysers nearby.

Rotorua is a real highlight in the North Island, offering so, so many things to do. We think, though, that one of the best things to do around Lake Rotorua is to relax in a hot pool or to take a dip (unsurprisingly, in one of the many lakes).

The glass-like surface of Lake Rotorua with the view of Mokoia Island.
Lake Rotorua with views out to Mokoia Island. Photo: Mark Smith Photography.

As you can see there are plenty of incredible lakes in New Zealand!

If seeing these spectacular locations is one of your main reasons for visiting the country, then you’ll want to prioritise the South Island during your trip.

This is where you’ll find the majority of the largest lakes in New Zealand.

However, the North Island is still home to beautiful lakeside locations.

Wherever you go, you really can’t go wrong!

Have you visited any of these lakes? If you have, which was your favourite?

Similar Posts