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Lake Manapouri, Southland, New Zealand

GPS: -45.524040011027, 167.49141004216

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Lake Manapouri is located in a sparsely populated and wild region of New Zealand, in the south-west of the South Island (Te Waipounamu). Close to the 45th south parallel, this lake is surrounded by deep fjords and high peaks sculpted by glaciers. It occupies a land of adventure renowned for its calm and silent waters on the fringes of the tourist resort of Queenstown.

Manapouri is the deepest lake in the country (444 meters) It is made up of around thirty islets and virgin beaches spread around the Cathedral range. Formed by the tectonic plates then shaped by the melting of the glaciers only 20,000 years ago (geological era of the Quaternary), Lake Manapouri is part of Fiordland National Park. It is the largest nature reserve in the country and one of the largest protected areas in the world (12,500 km). With the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park and Westland Tai Poutini National Park, they together form a landscape of rare scenic beauty, listed as Unesco World Heritage under the name Te Wāhipounamu. The latter covers 26,000 km² of area and represents 10% of the continental territory of New Zealand.

According to a Māori legend, Lake Manapouri is known as a “lake with a sorrowful heart”. It stretches over four inlets (Hope, North, South and West) with breathtaking landscapes. This natural site is also called Roto-ua (rainy lake) since it rains more than 200 days a year, on average. The practice of fishing, navigation and hiking are the essential activities to be practised in this remote region of Fiordland, far from any urban centre. The Lake Manapouri region brings together three of the country’s nine Great Walks, the most beautiful New Zealand hiking routes (Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks). Recognized for the spectacular landscapes they cross, these walking paths run in several days. They make it possible to approach an anthology of natural sites (Alpine lakes, mountain passes, deep valleys, profound gorges, virgin forests, waterfalls, wild rivers) through a masterful series of marked trails, suspension bridges, wooden walkways and boat trips.

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  • The magnificent and preserved rugged landscapes of this isolated region of New Zealand; dense clouds rubbing shoulders with the surface of the lake and the mountains
  • The majestic fjords of Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound; the countless waterfalls including Stirling, Cleve Garth and Browne (dizzying series of six waterfalls flowing in the Doubtful Sound) ; the Crooked Arm and Deep Cove natural sites; the gigantic fjord of the Dusky Sound (overlooking the Tasman Sea)
  • The Cone Peak hill; the pedestrian path of Stockyard Cove Track; the Wilmot Pass (magisterial view of the Doubtful Sound); the Percy Pass mountain bike route
  • The tropical forest and thick vegetation surrounding Lake Manapouri; the beaches, the cracks and black coral of Fiordland National Park; the natural caves and caves; the incalculable number of rivers and waterfalls; the view of the imposing Mitre Peak (whose summit reaches 1,692 meters above sea level)
  • The park’s long hiking trails: Kepler Track (60 km), Milford Track (53 km), Routeburn Track (32 km) or the epic Dusky Track (84 km) access to which is reserved for a limited number of people to spend the night in refuge or tent; the Hollyford Track (56 km) accessible all year round; the trails adapted to families (Earlland Falls Track, Key Summit Track and Lake Howden Track)
  • The excursions by boat, cruise ship, taxi boat or kayak in the waters of Lake Manapouri and the fjords
  • Fly-fishing activity; the visit of Te Anau Bird Sanctuary (rare birds from Fiordland region)
  • The park’s wildlife: whales, Bottlenose dolphins (the genus Tursiops), sea lions, seals, sharpnose sevengill sharks, Fiordland penguins, kea (the clown of the mountains), southern brown kiwi (animal symbol of the country) and little penguins living in Fiordland fjords (vast territory composed of 1,900 km of coastline)
  • The panoramic road between Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau; the great scenic beauty road between the locality of Te Anau and the Milford Sound (240 km round trip without a filling station)
  • If a Māori legend is to be believed, it is the tears of two sisters (Moturua and Koronae) who are at the origin of the formation of Lake Manapouri.
  • Fiordland National Park is made up of 14 fjords and a hundred inlets. Its old glacial valleys were invaded by the sea and transformed into fjords.
  • The name of Milford Sound was given by the famous British navigator James Cook who discovered the entry of the arm of the sea in 1770 without however entering it for fear that it would not be navigable.
  • Fiordland is one of the regions in the world where it rains the most (7 meters of water per year).
  • Due to an unimportant sea current in fjords, fresh and salt water do not mix in some places. Fresh water forms a thick layer above salt water, thus reinforcing the opacity and the very dark colour of the waters of Fiordland.
  • Lake Manapouri has the largest hydro-electric power station in New Zealand, built between 1963 and 1971 underground, 200 meters deep. In 1970, a large national protest movement prevented the water level of the lake from being increased by 30 meters as foreseen in the initial project (with the consequence of the disappearance of a good number of islands and forests of the lake). This power station can today be visited by the public (access by boat only from the small port of Pearl Harbor). It is supplied with water by a dam which diverts the course of the Waiau River and which has seen its flow decrease considerably.
  • The kea is an endemic parrot from the South Island of New Zealand. It is the only mountain parrot in the world (it is known to be curious, fearless and very ingenious).
  • This area of Fiordland has a small airport in the village of Milford Sound. Sightseeing flights by light aircraft or helicopter are available.
  • Excursions and cruises by boat to the natural attractions of Fiordland National Park are carried out from Lake Manapouri.
  • If you like tranquillity, rather than discovering the Milford Sound fjord as do the majority of tourists attracted by the scenes shot in the trilogy “The Lord of the Rings”, favour the more peaceful and less frequented fjords of Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.
  • Remember to equip yourself with an effective anti-mosquito solution to fight against fly clouds or sandflies, particularly voracious little flying beasts. In wetlands or in rainy periods, wearing long clothes is highly recommended.
  • Large hiking trails built around the lake are subject to reservation and the purchase of one special permit to the authorities of Fiordland National Park.

Where to eat

  • Miles Better Pies
    (tasty filled pies)
  • Sandfly Cafe
    (exciting coffee)
  • Redcliff Cafe
    (inventive kitchen)

Where to go out

  • Te Anau Glowworm Caves
    (fairy caves to discover)
  • The Chasm
    (charming little canyon)
  • Westray Horse Treks
    (horse riding in wildlife)

Where to sleep

  • Acheron Cottages
    (practical and well-placed)
  • Murrell's Grand View House
    (character accommodation)
  • Cathedral Peaks B&B
    (superb location)

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