Lake Tekapo / Mackenzie Basin

Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin

There are some places in New Zealand that will never be the main destinations for tourists. Lake Ruataniwha is one of those. You’ll pass it when driving between Queenstown / Wanaka and Mount Cook / Lake Tekapo and it makes for a nice place to stop for a quick rest or a picnic. If conditions are right, it’s also a very photogenic spot and is definitely not a typical spot to stop, which is always a bonus.

Lake Ruataniwha

After turning off the main road (the turnoff is close to the popular Salmon place) you’ll soon get awesome views of Lake Ruataniwha and the surrounding hills. It’s generally a very calm lake (unless the wind is howling obviously) meaning you can get some great reflections photos.

Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin, New Zealand

From that first spot we drove around to the picnic area to eat our lunch. It was a bit cold (we were there in the middle of winter), but it was a cool spot and we had it all to ourselves. There’s also a camping ground close to the lake – it wouldn’t be a bad spot to stay if you’re travelling around the area for a few days although it seems like more of a “local” place compared to Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo.

READ MORE: 16 Fun Things to Do in Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin

A picnic spot at Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin, New ZealandWoods at Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin, New Zealand

Lake Ruataniwha, which is actually an artificial lake, is most well-known as the home of rowing in these parts. I don’t know much about rowing so that’s where that thread ends! There is a path linking some of the sections of the lake together and it seems to be a cool place to walk / cycle – the lake is also popular for boating etc, you’ll probably want to wait for summer for that though!

Winter at Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin, New Zealand

Above the Lake

On the way to the picnic spot we decided to try and get some photos of Lake Ruataniwha from above. We found an awesome spot (on Max Smith Drive) and it’s easily the best place to photograph this place. Again, Lake Ruataniwha is probably not your main destination but it’s well worth a stop if you’re in the area. New Zealand is great like that – there is so much to see between the main sights and you’re sure to find plenty of hidden gems along the way.

READ MORE: Planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out my South Island travel guide!

Viewpoint above Lake Ruataniwha, Mackenzie Basin, New Zealand

Getting to Lake Ruataniwha

It’s basically in Twizel, but the turnoff to the lake is just before the turnoff to the town. The road is partly gravel but it’s in good shape. Twizel is kind of a nondescript NZ holiday town – there isn’t a lot to see and the surrounding scenery isn’t as special as somewhere like Lake Tekapo, but it’s a good place to stop for food / petrol and Lake Ruataniwha is worth a look. It’s also probably cheaper to stay in Twizel than Lake Tekapo and it’s closer to Mount Cook National Park, so it could be a good option.

Are you planning a trip to the Mackenzie Basin / Mount Cook National Park? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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