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Hiking the Circle Track, Manapouri

Hiking the Circle Track, Manapouri

If you’re looking for the perfect viewpoint above one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes, you’ve come to the right place. The Circle Track, which winds up through the forest to a lookout above Lake Manapouri, is a fun walk but there also needs to be a little planning involved – keep reading to find out more about Manapouri’s Circle Track!

Getting across the Waiau River

The Circle Track is on the opposite side of the river to Manapouri township (Pearl Harbour) and there isn’t a bridge in sight. You’ll need to hire the services of Mike, who will take you across the river and then come and pick you up a few hours later. He was a friendly guy and I thought it was reasonably priced ($25 each for two people, $30 if it’s just you). We gave him a call the day before we were going to do the hike and easily set up a time to meet. In busier times there’s a set schedule, but these days you’ll need to organise a private trip.

The Circle Track

Once you’re  across the river you’ll walk for 10-15 minutes until you come to the start of the Circle Track. It’s a loop track, and at this junction you’ll need to choose which way to go. We did it clockwise, which we’d read was the best way. It’s quite steep on the way up but I’d recommend doing it that way.

The track is straightforward for most of the way, but once you start heading up the hill it gets steep. We lost the orange track markers a couple of times and had to backtrack – be a bit careful on this track as it is quite easy to lose the markers, and therefore the track.

The Viewpoint

After around 90 minutes we finally got a decent view. Well, it was better than decent – Lake Manapouri, with its islands and background of mountains, in all its glory. It’s the perfect spot for some lunch, but once you’ve had your fill of the views (and the food) there isn’t much else to see up there.

The Way Down

With the slightly less steep nature of the track on the way down it was easy to get a good stride in, and before long we were at the bottom of the hill. From the lower part of the track you’ll get access to a long stretch of beach. Mike said it was a good place to swim if the wind isn’t up, but it was up (and we didn’t have swimming gear). From there it’s a short walk back to the pier, where hopefully you’ll be on time for your pickup. If you’re running late you can call and he’ll pick you up later – he seemed pretty flexible.

The Details

  • Time taken: It took us just under four hours to hike the Circle Track. That included a long stop for lunch and a bit of waiting around until our pickup (four hours after we were dropped off). You could do it slightly quicker, but I reckon getting picked up after four hours is the ideal time (maybe more if you’re slow at walking).
  • How hard is it? The hill was steeper than we had anticipated, and we got lost a couple of times, but I’d say it’s a fairly easy track. Probably not one to take the kids on though, unless they are used to walks like this.

  • Where does it start? The boat leaves from the piers at Pearl Harbour. It’s the same area that the boats for the Doubtful Sound tours leave from. It takes around 20 minutes to drive there from Te Anau.

Are you planning a New Zealand road trip? Check out our South Island travel guide!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.