Lake Ferry, North Island, New Zealand
Also known as: Lake Onoke
Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake Ferry.
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Lake Ferry visitor and community guide
Lake Ferry, also known as Lake Onoke, sits at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. The waves of the Tasman Sea crash against a narrow gravel barrier, the structure that keeps the sea’s waters partially separated from the inlet. It’s been said that Lake Ferry feels like the edge of the world.
Lake Onoke is a 1,557-acre brackish coastal lake that combines saltwater from Palliser Bay with freshwater inflows from the Ruamahanga River and Pounui Lagoon. The Ruamahanga River flows from Lake Wairarapa to the north, through Lake Onoke, before exiting into Palliser Bay. Water levels at Lake Wairarapa, Lake Onoke, and Pounui Lagoon are regulated to prevent flooding of this low-lying area.
Lake Ferry’s name is a bit misleading: it is an area on the southeastern shores of Lake Onoke that marks the opening to Palliser Bay and the Tasman Sea. Surrounded by so much water, this coastal lagoon is called a lake, but Lake Ferry actually refers to the ferry service that used to cross Lake Onoke. When the ferryman opened a hotel in 1851, it was called the Lake Ferry Hotel, and the name soon applied to the area.
Lake Ferry, in the Wairarapa region of North Island, is a repository of rich history. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was inhabited from the 12th century until around 1600. Maori settlers came afterwards, dwelling mostly around Lake Onoke. Their scattered “pa” settlements are still located in the area, and there are tours available that can take you to them. When European settlers came to the area in 1844, they brought herds of sheep and cattle and established pastoralism in New Zealand. Present day Lake Ferry is called home by residents of various backgrounds and is an attraction to visitors who come to visit the area’s truly unique traits.
The aggressive waves and winds from the sea make the spot ideal for surfing, windsurfing, and sailing. The area is also a popular location for surfcasting. On the right days you will see fellow surfcasters standing in the white foam of the surfs hitting the sand, casting their lures into the water. Lake Onoke catches include eel, whitebait, kawhai, and flounder. (Whitebaiting refers to several fish species that migrate from the sea up-river to mature into adults.) Not to be outdone by saltwater species, the Ruamahanga River offers up healthy populations of brown trout and a growing population of rainbow trout. The Ngawi Fishing Village hosts a nationally popular three-day fishing contest every February for children and adults.
The Lake Ferry area is full of outstanding attractions: golf, birdwatching, clay bird shooting, horseback riding, hangliding, and mountain biking. Cape Palliser, south of Lake Ferry, is great for diving and snorkeling and has the island’s largest breeding colony of fur seals. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, built in 1897, provides inspiring panoramic views. South of Lake Ferry are the dramatic Putangirua Pinnacles, formed over thousands of years into pipe-shaped towers; this eerie environment was a filming location for Lord of the Rings.
Drop into the historic Lake Ferry Hotel that is still in operation on this wild piece of land and have a sip as you contemplate how it feels sitting at the edge of the world. The population of Lake Ferry today includes both holiday home owners and permanent residents who make their livelihood by fishing, farming, and serving the tourism industry. Visitors will find a variety of self-catering vacation rentals, including holiday homes, baches, and cottages.
Custom Lake Ferry house decor
Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.
Things to do at Lake Ferry
- Vacation Rentals
- Horseback Riding
Fish species found at Lake Ferry
- Brown Trout
- Rainbow Trout
Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake Ferry
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Lake Ferry photo gallery
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Lake Ferry statistics & helpful links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed
Water Level Control: Greater Wellington Regional Council
Surface Area: 1,557 acres
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 33 feet
Average Depth: 5 feet
Maximum Depth: 15 feet
Water Volume: 7,297 acre-feet
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