Get up close to – or better, in – the Ōwhāroa Falls. © The Coromandel

Get fresh: 10 lakes, rivers and waterfalls to visit this summer


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Whether you’re after a cleansing dip, a riverside stroll or a peaceful moment of reflection, New Zealand’s lakes, rivers and waterfalls offer a myriad of opportunities for refreshing summer fun.

1. Huka Falls, Taupō

Huka Falls are New Zealand’s most visited and photographed natural attraction. Here the mighty Waikato River narrows from 100m down to a slender 15m wide, flowing at 220,000 litres per second and plunging from 11m high. While obviously not swimmable, you can witness the watery action from bridges, lookout points and various trails and paths, some of which take you past hot springs and stunning views of the river. 

2. Mirror Lakes, Fiordland

Mirror Lakes on Fiordland’s Milford Road is a good place to stretch your legs on the drive to the famous Milford Sound. Here, the small lakes provide outstanding photo opportunities with reflective views of the Earl Mountains and water fowl and wetland plants against a backdrop of beech forest.

3. Ōwhāroa Falls, Coromandel

A series of three tiered waterfalls, Ōwhāroa Falls are not far from the popular riverside walks of the Karangahake Gorge. While the first and third waterfalls are easily accessed and a popular swimming spot for locals, the pools are prone to strong currents, underwater snags, slippery rocks and deep holes, so take care if you’re taking the plunge.

4. Rākaia River, Mid Canterury

The South Island has no shortage of bright-blue braided rivers to explore, but on the Rākaia River you can fish for salmon. If you’re after something more adrenaline-packed, catch a jetboat: you’ll get great views of the mountains and learn about the geological features of the surrounding area, served with a generous helping of thrills.

5. Kaimāī Spring, Bay of Plenty

The Kaimāī Spring, near the summit of the Kaimāī Ranges has water that is fresh, cool and pure all year round, making it a popular spot for travellers to stop and refill their water bottles. The spring is about 30 metres from the ‘Welcome to the Western Bay’ sign so although it may officially be in the Waikato, it’s on the Tauranga side of the range, so the Bay of Plenty can rightfully claim it. The Kaimāī Ranges are also home to secluded streams, pools and waterfalls, perfect for exploring on summer adventures. 

6. Clutha River, Otago

The Clutha River is New Zealand’s biggest river by volume and also one of the world’s swiftest. Running through historic gold mining country, the Clutha was once home to 187 gold dredges where prospectors made and lost fortunes. Today, you can cycle along it on the Clutha Gold trail, following a mix of gentle riverside paths and an old railway line.

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The Clutha River, just near the impressive Clyde Dam. I've driven past this spot a few times but never stopped. On this day, with the sun shining and the river reflecting, my buddy Lynne and I decided to spend some time here. Was so warm and lovely! Loved the green of the river contrasting with the blue of the sky. 💙💚 #mauimotorhomes #gobycamper . . . #NewZealand #NZ #NZMustDo #newzealandguide #travelnewzealand #newzealandvacations #destinationnz #arteobjetiva #artofvisuals #artsyheaven #earthdiscoveries #earthlandscape #earthoutdoors #gottolove_this #greatshotz #heart_imprint #hot_shotz #hubs_united #ig_bliss #igPodium #igworldglobal #infinity_shotz #magic_photographers #magicpict #main_vision #splendid_shotz #superbdestinations #superhubs

A post shared by Laurie Winter | New Zealand (@laurie_winter) on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:25pm PDT

7. Lake Ōkataina, Rotorua

The true jewel in the crown of Rotorua’s lakes is arguably Ōkataina. Predominantly fed by underground channels from Lake Rotoiti, the water is very cold and clear. Completely fringed by high, bush-clad hills and with all but one beach inaccessible except by boat or on foot, the lake is secluded and quite lovely. 

8. Oakley Creek Waterfall, Auckland

One of urban Auckland’s best-kept secrets is down in the valley not far Mount Albert’s Unitec campus – the Oakley Creek Waterfall. On hot days you’ll find people swimming in this peaceful bush setting, jumping from the six-metre-high falls and you’d swear you were more than 15 minutes from the central city.

9. Virginia Lake, Whanganui

Whanganui is known as the garden city and Virginia Lake, a public park, is a fine example of a gorgeous garden. The 25-minute walk around the lake passes through gardens and woodlands. In the middle of the lake is a performing fountain which is imaginatively lit-up in the evenings. If the weather is inclement, the extensive glass-covered winter gardens are warm and brightly filled with blooms all year round. 

10. Dart River, Glenorchy

While trampers bound for some of the greatest walks in New Zealand depart from here, Glenorchy is also home to beautiful, glacier-fed waterways. You can explore the Dart river by jet-boat, ducking, weaving and swerving in the maze of channels and islets formed by the meandering, braided river. Or for something a little different, drift down the sheer-walled gorge in the wilds of Mount Aspiring National Park, in a Funyak – a very stable, very comfortable sort of short kayak.

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