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Lake Manapouri Area Guide

Real Journeys vessel 'Fiordland Flyer' takes passengers
across Lake Manapouri - ©
Lake Manapouri, one of New Zealand's most beautiful lakes, its blue waters studded with more than 30 small islands, is the gateway to the serene Doubtful Sound, the deepest of the 14 fiords.

The Manapouri township (population 300) lies on the edge of the lake beside the outlet of the Waiau River, 19 kilometres south of Te Anau. Manapouri was used as a base during filming of the Lord of the Rings, when the Waiau River between Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri was used to portray the River Anduin. Filmmakers were famously forced to move filming to the Manapouri Hall one November because of a late spring snowfall.

You can explore the lake's sandy beaches and sheltered coves on a boat or kayak trip, or take one of the walking tracks around its shores. The Pearl Harbour to Frasers Beach track is an easy 45 minute walk through the forest, where fantails dart back and forth, to the beach just along the lakeshore. Hire a rowboat or jump aboard a water taxi across the river to the start of the Circle Track, a three hour walk around the lake and up to a ridge for stunning views across the lake.

Among many New Zealanders the name Manapouri is synonymous with the environmental battle fought in the early 1970s over government plans to build a hydroelectric power station here and raise the level of the lake by up to 30 metres. The power station project went ahead, but the plan to raise the lake did not. Whatever its merits, the construction of the power station had the positive outcome of opening up Doubtful Sound to visitors via the 22 kilometre road which was built as a supply route between West Arm on Lake Manapouri and Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound.

Many tour operators offer lake cruises which take in tours of the underground power station and bus trips across Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove, from where you can kayak or cruise around pristine Doubtful Sound, its rainforest-covered mountains providing a habitat for rare native birds, its clear waters inhabited by bottlenose dolphins and fur seals. The sound was named by the British explorer Captain James Cook who sailed past in 1770, but didn't enter as he was 'doubtful' the winds would be favourable for sailing out again.