Lake Ohau, South Island, New Zealand

Lake Locations:

New Zealand - South Island - Marlborough -

Lake Ohau, in the Mackenzie Basin of the Waitaki District, South Island is an often overlooked lake and mountain paradise. The smallest of three parallel glacial lakes serving as water storage for the Waitaki hydroelectric system, Lake Ohau is connected by artificial canal to Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapu. All three lakes are extremely clear and maintain an unusual turquoise color due to glacial ‘flour’ or rock dust carried from the mountains along their supplying rivers. Of the three, Lake Ohau is often considered the most scenic, nestled as it is along the base of the Ohau Range of the Southern Alps. With the Ohau Ski Fields at its back, and beautiful Lake Ohau before it, the tiny town of Ohau Alpine Village soon becomes a favorite destination of those lucky enough to stumble on it.

Fed by the braided Hopkins River, which originates on the slopes of Mount Hopkins, snow melt water travels to Lake Ohau. Eons ago, glacial gravel blocked the valley of the Hopkins River allowing Lake Ohau to form. The naturally dammed water body gains water from the Hopkins River and its main tributary, the Dobson River, along with many small un-named tributaries – all mountain-fed. The relatively short distance these rivers travel allows for extremely clear waters to enter the lake. The result is a lake with few native fish or water plants. A canal and dam system on the Ohau River outlet a short distance downstream from the lake provides water exchange between the three lakes. Power is generated at the dam. Water then flows downstream into Lake Ruataniwha and on to Lake Benmore, eventually forming the Waitaki River. The Waitaki system, powered by waters stored in these and downstream lakes, provides nearly half of all electricity for the South Island.

Around the turn of the 19th century, European settlers attempted to establish breeding populations of game fish in the region’s lakes. Brown and rainbow trout were successfully introduced in to the three lakes. After many years of effort, a breeding population of sockeye salmon was induced to breed in Lake Ohau. Since that time, the salmon have been found in several other lakes and the entire river system. Due to the sparse natural feed in Lake Ohau, the salmon here tend to be smaller than those in other more productive lakes. Both salmon and trout are fished for in the lakes and the connecting canals by those familiar with the lake system. New Zealand Fisheries believe that Lake Ohau is likely under-fished as the fish population is relatively unknown to most anglers. Anglers are wising up however, and Lake Ohau is increasingly a fishing destination.

The lucky traveler that shows up at Lake Ohau usually comes to enjoy the many fine trekking trails in the area. All three lakes offer camping locations along the shores and trails, often with overnight shelters. Serious trekkers use Lake Ohau as the starting point for the many excellent tracks such as the Tekapo Walkway, the trails along the connecting canals and the many natural areas to explore within both the Ruataniwha Conservation Park and Ahuriri Conservation Park. Here walkers, hikers and mountain bikers can select from a wealth of trails according to their abilities and interests. Naturalists and birdwatchers find Lake Ohau the ideal base from which to head toward the braided river valleys and the variety of wildlife thriving in the shallow rills.

The lake is a fine headquarters from which to explore both the Southern Alps and central areas of the South Island. In winter, the adjoining Ohau ski fields provide skiing and snowboarding facilities and slopes for every level of expertise. Famed Mount Cook is located due north of Lake Pukaki and many visitors come to see this highest peal on the South Island. There are a wealth of activities available at Mount Cook, including visits to glaciers and boating on glacier lakes in summer. Helicopter rides to the top of Mount Cook can be arranged at nearby Twizel. Many visitors have themselves helicopter lifted to the top with their mountain bikes and enjoy the easier scenic downhill ride. Glider rides are available locally and prove an excellent way to view remote areas of the mountains and glaciers from above.

Nearby Lakes Ruataniwha is home to power boat racing and the small town of Twizel acts as home base for these nearby water sport events. Many of the regular attendees head to lodgings at Lake Ohau to enjoy the highly photogenic lake. The lake has become a favorite of photographers and artists who can never get their fill of the stunning vistas of the mountains reflected in the clear blue lake.

The visitor lucky enough to land one of the many vacation rentals around Lake Ohau Village soon seeks out favored kayaking and canoeing routes along the shoreline. Swimming, windsurfing and sailing are favorites on Lake Ohau, but sailors must be aware of winds coming off the mountains that can make the water quite choppy in a hurry. All sorts of watercraft are enjoyed including power boating and jet skiing. Many vacation rentals in the area are of the traditional New Zealand ‘bach’ or sparse lake cottage-type but others are delightful, fully-appointed quality homes with everything furnished including wireless broadband on the deck. Most are heated and available for winter lodgings for skiing enthusiasts. Real estate is available in the area for those wishing to build and existing homes can be found for very reasonable prices.

If you’re trying to decide between a lake or a mountain vacation, give Lake Ohau a try. Here, you can have the best of both worlds. Mountains or lake today? You decide. At Lake Ohau, you can have both!

Things to do at Lake Ohau

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Snowboarding
  • Wildlife Viewing

Fish species found at Lake Ohau

  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Trout

Lake Ohau Photo Gallery

Lake Ohau Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Meridian Energy

Surface Area: 13,344 acres

Shoreline Length: 28 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,706 feet

Average Depth: 243 feet

Maximum Depth: 423 feet

Water Volume: 3,259,067 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 463 sq. miles

Trophic State: Microtrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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