A lake on a island, on a lake on an island! Sounds confusing? interesting? That is exactly the phrase which locals in Wanaka use for the Mou Waho Island. This island is located in the middle of Lake Wanaka, and is a short 30 minutes boat ride from the marina at Wanaka. Though it has some interesting birdlife and wildlife thriving on its land, it is most famous for the incredible views that can be seen once on top of the island. This is precisely the reason why we chose to book a trip to this island. There are a few tour operators offering this half day trip, including EcoWanaka and AdventureWanaka. We booked with EcoWanaka, as we had heard a lot about Chris Riley, a famous adventurer, photographer and trekker. However, Chris was booked for some fishing trip on the day we planned to go to Mou Waho. So, we were guided by Andy, his colleague.
We were instructed to meet the tour operator (Andy) around 8:45 am at a marina on Lakeside Rd. We left a little early from our B&B, as we also wanted to see the Lone Tree before we met up with Andy. The Lone Tree is a famous tree which has somehow managed to grow in the lake, without any real vegetation around it – hence the term “lone”. It was early morning when we went there, with only some morning joggers in sight. The calm water of the lake (and the absence of large number of people) gave us a good opportunity to take a couple of pictures. It was a bit cloudy that morning, but we had checked the weather forecast, which was supposed to clear up later during the day.
(the lone tree in Lake Wanaka)
(Lake Wanaka in the morning, very little activity this early)
After a few pictures, we drove up to the marina on Lakeside Rd, which is basically next to the town center of Wanaka. We saw Andy come in as soon as we parked, and we also met a couple of tourists from Australia, who were going to join us for the half day trip to Mou Waho.
(the starting point)
(boarding the boat to Mou Waho)
(inside the boat, Andy was the driver)
After the meet and greet, we boarded the Eco Wanaka boat, a small but powerful boat. Andy started the tour by giving us a brief background about Mou Waho island and about where we were going. He had maps and posters to explain this to us. Then we started the boat, and headed north under the cloudy weather. We picked up small nuggets of facts about Wanaka along the way, as Andy was full of information. The boat ride was also quite pleasant, as the lake was calm, and there was no rocking of the boat at all. Perhaps it was one of the benefits of going on the morning trip rather than the afternoon option.
(cruising on Lake Wanaka)
(an overcast morning meant low hanging clouds)
As we cruised on Lake Wanaka, we saw mountains along the way, with low hanging clouds. Even though the weather looked gloomy, it was beautiful in its own way. Within a few minutes, we reached Mou Waho Island. Mou Waho is a nature reserve, and it has been maintained very well by the DOC of NZ. We disembarked the boat and headed towards a bench, where Andy introduced us to some wildlife. It was a harmless insect called the Weta. We learned more about this nocturnal insect and how a group of local university students have made a “motel” for them to stay in. The motel is basically a wooden structure with small enclosures for the Weta to rest in during the day.
(approaching Mou Waho)
(stepping onto Mou Waho island)
(meet the Weta)
As we were finishing up our intro session to the Weta, we were introduced to Wally, a Weka bird that came looking for us. Apparently there are two famous Wekas on Mou Waho, Wally and Sally. They both like meeting visitors, and often follow them on the trek to the top. I tried to fool Wally into believing that a piece of twig was actually food. Though initially getting attracted to the “food”, Wally soon understood that he was being taken for a ride, so he backed out. It was fun fooling around with him. But then Andy got serious and actually started to look for real Weka food – insects, and that too inside tree barks! But unfortunately, neither Andy nor Wally could find any.
(Wally, the Weka bird)
(Andy looking for some food to feed Wally)
(When Andy could not find any food, Wally decided to take up the task himself)
After playing around with Wally, it was time for our main attraction, the trek to the top of Mou Waho, and the famous views from there! It was an easy 40-50 minute trek with a clear pathway to walk on. As we went higher, the views started getting better, and we could start to see the lake, the low clouds and mountains. We saw other birds like fantails and we also met up with Sally, the other famous resident of Mou Waho and friend of Wally.
(starting the trek to the top)
(clear pathway to the top)
(still no clear views)
(trekking higher and higher)
(slowly the views begin to appear)
(getting higher, but not quite there yet)
(Wally followed us all the way to the top)
(weather clearing up slowly)
(…….and the views begin)
(beautiful scenery of hills around Lake Wanaka)
After a bit of a hike, we reached Arethusa Pool. The most famous thing about Mou Waho island is the Arethusa Pool, a pool/lake on top of Mou Waho island. This is why Mou Waho is fondly called a lake (Arethusa Pool) on an Island (Mou Waho) on a lake (Lake Wanaka) on an island (South Island of NZ). The views are just spectacular. Totally worth the cost of the tour and the effort to walk up to the top. Here, we were given some refreshments (juice/tea/coffee) along with some home made cookies. We even fed Wally and Sally some cookies. But be careful, as they tend to jump up to your hand and try to bite the cookies from your hand…..those mischievous little buggers!
(The calm water of Arethusa gave a stunning reflection)
(two lakes in one picture)
(Lake on an island, on a lake on an island)
When we thought that the views could not get any better, we were surprised. Andy took us to another spot on the other side of the hilltop, where the rocks are in the shape of an armchair. There is a big concave crevice in one of the rocks where you can sit and rest your arms on. You actually feel as if you are sitting on an armchair, but with the most incredible view of Lake Wanaka. The rock is naturally shaped in such a way. Just amazing!
(Andy sitting on the armchair rock)
(view from the armchair rock)
(another view from the armchair rock)
After a few blissful minutes enjoying the amazing views of Lake Wanaka, it was time for us to descend and head back. The weather had now opened up nicely, and we got awesome views of places which were cloudy and gloomy earlier in the morning. As a regular practice, Andy had one of us plant a tree on Mou Waho. He does this with every visitor group that comes to Mou Waho, in an effort to raise awareness about nature and its conservation. We gladly helped him out in planting one tree, which will probably glow big and tall in 20 years time. Perhaps, we will make a visit in the future and see it grown to its full size.
(descending Mou Waho island)
(tree planting equipment brought by Andy)
(Andy doing the initial digging before one of us planted a tree)
(almost back to the boat, a lovely view along the way)
(time to head back to Wanaka)
After about 2 hours since landing on Mou Waho Island, it was time for us to say goodbye and jet our way back to Wanaka. The water of the lake here was so clean, that one of the Australian tourists asked if it was ok to drink it. Andy said yes it was, and the Australian tourist actually filled a bottle with the lake water and drank it. It looked very pure, just like bottled mineral water. The awesome views and the interesting wildlife aside, the trip to Mou Waho definitely made us feel closer to nature. And being closer to unspoilt nature is exactly the unique aspect about visiting New Zealand and the South Island. A truly memorable trip, with more than 500 pictures of course!
(clear water of Lake Wanaka, near Mou Waho)
(heading back south to Wanaka)
(stunning landscape and scenery along the way back)
(beautiful scenery, near Wanaka)
(back to where we started)
While there are tons of outdoor activities that you can do around Wanaka, I highly recommend a trip to Mou Waho, especially if you are not a very active trekker or want something more easy paced than a full day hike to Rob Roy Glacier or to Diamond Lake. Those hikes can be physically quite demanding, while Mou Waho is a 30 min boat ride each way followed by an easy 2 hour return hike. The views of Rob Roy and other full day hikes are stunning, but so are the views at Mou Waho. Chris Riley, and for that matter even Andy, are both brilliant and friendly guides who will make your trip memorable. And the lake-on-a-lake view, with two lakes in one picture frame, is something that you may perhaps not find anywhere in the world. So it is definitely something unique which can only be experienced at Mou Waho Island. We had a choice between Mou Waho and the Diamond Lake hike, and we are glad that we chose Mou Waho Island with EcoWanaka.