Lake Pukaki is one of three north-to-south-oriented glacial lakes in the Mackenzie Basin. Glacial flour is responsible for the water’s dazzling color, and the whole mountains-and-lake scene is one of New Zealand’s greatest views. Most visitors see Lake Pukaki on the way to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park—tours typically depart from Queenstown and Christchurch. Sightseeing flights are also popular with travelers short on time.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Even in summer, take warm clothing when heading to Lake Pukaki. Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, the lake sits at around 1,700 feet (518 meters), so temperatures can be cooler there than on the coast.
- If you’re driving yourself, be particularly mindful when passing Lake Pukaki. Accidents caused by travelers distracted by the view aren’t uncommon.
- While it’s possible to swim in Lake Pukaki, the water is cold and often choppy.
How to Get There
Lake Pukaki is about a 4-hour drive southwest of Christchurch, via State Highways 1 and 8. From Queenstown, it’s around three hours northeast, along State Highway 8. Private tours eliminate the need to drive yourself, so you can spend more time admiring the views.
When to Get There
Summer is the best time to visit Lake Pukaki and environs—not only are the weather and views at their finest, but the roads are more accessible. South Island mountain roads can be difficult or even impossible to navigate in winter, due to snow and ice.
Cycle the Alps 2 Ocean Trail Keen cyclists may want to take on New Zealand’s longest biking trail, the 187-mile (301-kilometer) path between Mt. Cook and Oamaru. You’ll find a starting point for the trail on the eastern side of Lake Pukaki. If you don’t want to do the entire thing, the sections around Lake Pukaki are a scenic shorter option.