Lake Pukaki, South Island, New Zealand

Lake Locations:

New Zealand - South Island - Christchurch – Canterbury -

Lake Pukaki in the Canterbury region of the South Island is a scenic delight. One of three glacial lakes that lie nearly parallel, the lake gets water from the Tasman River, which is fed by the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. All three lakes were eventually naturally dammed by glacial moraine, forming large bodies of water. Running north to south, Lake Pukaki points directly to Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The area is a common starting point for visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and adjoining areas of the Southern Alps. The exceptionally clear waters are an unusual blue hue due to ‘glacial flour’ (powdered rock) carried into it from the glaciers above.

Lake Pukaki and its sister lakes, Ohau and Tekapu, are similar in composition and usage. All are fed by ‘braided’ rivers carrying glacial melt water from the mountains. The so-called braided rivers consist of several small streams that weave together and separate repeatedly. They change course regularly, leaving excellent habitat on the temporary islands for a variety of small amphibians and insects while the waters support many small native fishes. Walking and cycling trails skirt the shore, leading ultimately up to the small settlement of Mount Cook and mountain recreational activities. The Ruataniwha Conservation Park is located in the area making wildlife viewing a favorite day trip. But Pukaki and its sister lakes serve an important purpose in power generation for New Zealand. Each is dammed to increase water volume. Man-made canals connect the three, with small hydro power plants at the outlet of Tekapu Canal, and at the place the two canals from Ohau and Pukaki Canals meet to drain into Lake Ruataniwha. All three lakes act as large water storage basins for hydroelectric purposes. The entire extensive hydro scheme includes several other dams downstream and provides nearly one-third of New Zealand’s electricity. The small town of Twizel was formed in 1968 for the building of the giant system and now supports a permanent population of 1200 people plus visitors.

The shoreline of Lake Pukaki is generally quite barren and uninhabited. Fishing in the lake is sparse except near stream inlets and outlets. The canals, however, are more productive fisheries and hold brown trout, rainbow trout and a few salmon planted in past years. Guides in Twizel can direct anglers to the best fishing spots and make bait and tackle suggestions to improve results.

Twizel is an excellent spot for visitors to establish a home base for sight-seeing in the area. Because of the barren landscape, the residents of Twizel have made it a point to plant as many trees as possible until Twizel is often called the Town of Trees. A variety of vacation rentals are located near Twizel and Mount Cook settlement, with all sorts of amenities available from cottages to private homes, motels, camping and bed-and-breakfast establishments. Real estate in the area is available and becoming more in demand to provide further activities to the growing tourism industry.

Birding is popular in the Lake Pukaki region: The Twizel area is the only place in the world where you are guaranteed to see the black stilt (kaki). Also found here are the wrybill and black-fronted tern, both of which are threatened species. Banded dotterel (tuturiwhatu) and South Island pied oystercatcher (torea) can also be viewed at the Wairepo Kettle holes, five miles from Twizel. The kettle holes provide an important feeding area for a number of key bird species. In summer, after the water level recedes in the kettle holes, the bottom is covered with a carpet of tiny turfland plants. Nearby Lake Ruataniwha has an international rowing course, and the lake is popular for power boating, house boats, sailing, wakeboarding and all sorts of water sports. Twizel offers a range of sporting, recreation and leisure activities, both indoor and outdoor, in winter and summer. Facilities include tennis, squash, basketball and netball courts, skate park, climbing wall, gym, swimming pool, golf course and playing fields.

One of the most popular activities at Twizel is the Helicopter Line which provides transportation to Mount Cook and the glaciers. Sightseeing Lake Pukaki and the Southern Alps by helicopter, followed by a snow landing and skiing on the mountain is a favorite activity. Helicopter transport to mountain bike paths near the top of the mountain provides all the excitement of a downhill run without the work of pedaling uphill to the top. Glider soaring is available in good weather, with viewing of the Southern Alps at heights up to 10,000 feet. One tour sometimes available via helicopter is touring the shooting location of the scenes from Lord of The Rings, complete with some original props and sets. On private property, these tours must be arranged in advance but makes a spectacular destination for the committed Tolkien fan.

Avid hiking or cycling fans will enjoy the nearly 45 mile hike or ride along the shore of Lake Pukaki and on to the top of Mount Cook. The entire route provides spectacular scenes of Mount Cook overlooking and reflected in the lake’s surface. At the summit, the settlement of Mount Cook provides lodgings, food and tour opportunities such as hiking the glaciers and boating on glacial lakes. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is filled with information on mountain climbing, a movie of Sir Edmund’s accomplishments and mountain-themed gift shop. Mount Cook settlement has become a favored location for weddings and events.

Come to visit the Lake Pukaki Region. Whether you desire a peaceful scenic visit or one filled with activities, the Lake Pukaki area has plenty of fun for all. You may wind up being one of the visitors that comes back year after year.

Things to do at Lake Pukaki

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Wakeboarding
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Mountain Climbing
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Pukaki

  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout

Lake Pukaki Photo Gallery

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lake Pukaki Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Meridian Energy Limited

Surface Area: 49,421 acres

Shoreline Length: 46 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,745 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,700 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,747 feet

Average Depth: 154 feet

Maximum Depth: 230 feet

Water Volume: 3,777,924 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 546 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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