Eastern Okataina credit DOC
Photo by Department of Conservation

Access to New Zealand lakes

Recent research from Lakes380 indicates that 53% of lakes in New Zealand are considered difficult or legally impractical to access. Shane Dooley from the Cawthron Institute has created a beautiful story map to explore public access to lakes in Aotearoa. 

Access to our lakes is important to New Zealanders as lakes are taonga (a treasured possession). They are significant mahinga kai (food bowls) for many people. Looking after our lakes enhances tourism, recreation, ecology, cultural connections, economic value and our wellbeing. A healthy lake is also an important source of biodiversity. 

Therefore, we need to look after our lakes to avoid lake degradation now and in the future.  

Lake Wānaka in the Otago region is a valuable, easy-access lake that is great for recreational activities like swimming, water sports and social activities.  

Lake Opouahi in Hawke’s Bay forms part of the Opouahi Scenic Reserve. This has ecological value as it’s home to a kiwi crèche, protected by a predator-proof fence.  

The Rotorua group of lakes in the Bay of Plenty have intangible values like healing, cleansing, wairuatanga (spirituality), and whakapapa (genealogy). The lakes are core to the Te Arawa identity. The lakes are easy to access and provide beautiful trails with stunning views and swimming spots.

Barriers to access lakes leads to the loss of lake knowledge, stories, cultural practices and enables lake degradation. 

There is ongoing work to improve public access to lakes across Aotearoa. Greg and Rachel Hart privately own Horseshoe Lake in central Hawke’s Bay. The Harts, along with some volunteers, began undertaking native planting of the lake shore. Their efforts have been rewarded as the lake now sees more visits from Australasian seabirds.  

The Harts have also moved from a traditional sheep station to a farm focused on regenerative agriculture to increase biodiversity on the entire farm. 

Lakes are a significant part of outdoor access in our communities. You can look for public access to lakes on our maps. These maps show tracks and pathways, unformed legal roads, marginal strips and easements that can help you reach lakes. 

If you want to visit a lake and are unsure on public access, the commission is here to help. 

Read more about access along rivers, lakes and the coast