Lake Pukaki

Visit Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook / Mackenzie Country, NZ

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  • Lake Pukaki
    is the largest lake in the Mackenzie District. It is fed by melt-water from the Tasman, Murchison, Mueller and Hooker glaciers, among others, via the Tasman River at the lake’s northern end.

    Lake Pukaki’s original outflow at its southern end was dammed as part of the Upper Waitaki hydro-electric power scheme built from during 1960s, 70s and 80s. Today, water flows from the lake along a man-made can to join with water from Lake Ohau before entering the Ohau A power station. The Tekapo B power station is located on the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki, and generates electricity from waters of Lake Tekapo, diverted into Lake Pukaki by canal. By regulating canal flows, the water level of Lake Pukaki can be raised to store reserve power generating capacity. On average, the lake sits at about 520 metres above sea level.

    The landscape around the lake is stunning, consisting of high mountain ranges and alpine valleys that are carpeted in lupins and other flowers during summer. Mountain biking and horse trekking are two popular ways to travel in the district. Four wheel drive tours are also available. Many visitors choose to enjoy the scenery from the air in scenic flights by ski-plane or helicopter.

    Accommodation in Lake Pukaki (NZ)

    There are no permanent settlements at Lake Pukaki. The nearest centres are Mount Cook Village and the service town of Twizel.  However, Glentanner Station, a working sheep farm on the north-western shore of the lake, offers motel-style accommodation and backpacker and camping facilities.

    Freedom camping is permitted according to Department of Conservation rules. Campers should not spend longer than two nights in one location, and should not camp within 200 metres of a road. Campers should consult a DoC area office or a tourist information centre at Tekapo or Twizel for more detailed information.

    Transport around Lake Pukaki

    On the southern shore of Lake Pukaki, near the dam and canal works, is a car park and lookout with great views of Mount Cook – an ideal place to stop for a picnic. From here it is about 40 minutes’ drive to Mount Cook Village at the lake’s northern end.

    The southern end of the lake is about 2 hours’ drive from Wanaka to the south, or from Timaru to the east. It is only 15 minutes from the town of Twizel, and 75 minutes from Tekapo.

    Pukaki Airport is a new “airport village” currently under development, about 3 minutes’ drive from Twizel. Private charter aircraft can land here or at Mount Cook Airport.

    Tourist Activities around Lake Pukaki

    There are many short and long walks around Lake Pukaki, including those at its northern end, within Mount Cook National Park, and on its eastern and western shores. Many of the trails are also navigable by mountain bike.

    Guided tours of the region can be booked from Twizel or Mount Cook Village, and may include 4-wheel drive, mountain bike or horse transport. Heli-biking is popular among cyclists, whereby riders are taken to a high altitude start position and can freewheel down a mountain trail back to the lake.

    Water recreation such as fishing and water-skiing is rarely conducted on the lake, due to its turbidity and cold temperature. However, fly-fishing for trout and salmon is good where streams feed into the lake, and local fishing guides are available to help anglers to the best spots.

    Guidedhunting adventures targeting red deer, thar and wapiti are popular, with helicopter-based hunting a high altitude a possibility.

    Scenic flights are one of the area’s best attractions. Light passenger aircraft make long flights along the length of the Alps, while ski-planes make local flights among the peaks and often land on snow or on the upper Tasman Glacier, allowing passengers to walk about and take photos. Helicopter flights are also very popular, and may be used to airlift skiers and snowboarders to high altitude.

    The night sky of the Mackenzie District is renowned for the brightness and number of stars visible. There are several observatories within the district. However, the naked eye is quite sufficient to see much more of the heavens than is the norm anywhere.

    The small hydro town of Ben Ohau is 15 minutes’ drive south-west of Lake Pukaki. The town is known for skiing, climbing and hunting. Ben Ohau has several interesting shops including a cheese factory and art gallery, and an 18-holegolf course.

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    Lake Pukaki