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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart


Further to my New Zealand South Island Lakes You Must See and Photograph blog, I've thought long and hard about which NZ North Island lakes I have visited to put on this list, and here we finally have the Top 6 in my books!

I grew up on the North Island of New Zealand, and throughout my years of photography I've travelled this part of the country many times over, visiting new and old places, getting lost in the art of imagery, and noting down all those places that I feel offer the best for photography.

The North Island and South Island of New Zealand are very different, you can't really compare the two. The same goes for their lakes. South Island lakes are usually surrounded by snowy mountains and rocky outcrops. The North Island lakes on the other hand are normally found with lush surrounding bush or rolling hills.

I always explain the North Island as being about sandy beaches and beautiful forests, and the South Island covered with stunning snowy mountains and crisp clear glacial lakes.

That being said, the North does have its fair share of lakes and although I haven't visited all of them, these are the ones that stood out to me.

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Lakes in North Island New Zealand Map



Now the Tama Lakes require a little more effort to get to, but they are absolutely worth every step of the way for the prize that awaits you at the end. Unobstructed views of both Mount Ruahepu and Mount Ngauruhoe are on offer, and it literally feels like you've been transported to another world.

Lower Tama Lake and Mount Ruapehu

The Tama Lakes are situated in Tongariro National Park in the Central North Island, approximately 4.5 hours south of Auckland. The lakes themselves are situated in craters that were created around 10,000 years ago during an explosive eruption period in Tongariro National Park. There are two lakes, being the Lower Tama Lake and the Upper Tama Lake.

Upper Tama Lake and Mount Ngauruhoe

The Tama Lakes track to the lakes starts from Whakapapa Village on the Taranaki Falls Track and takes approximately 3 hours to the Upper Lake, 17km return.

I chose to shoot these scenes at sunset, knowing that I would get light from the sun setting on Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, and colour in the sky after the sun had actually set. An added bonus was that I could see Mount Taranaki in the distance above the cloud!

Please note that Tongariro National Park is an alpine environment with rapidly changing weather conditions at all times of the year, so do take care and make sure you have the right gear with you.

nz travel guide and map


Around 3 hours north of Auckland and 30 minutes past Dargaville you will find the Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland's crystal clear fresh water dune lakes created almost 2 million years ago by rain water and sand dunes.

There are three lakes nestled amongst 538 hectares of recreation reserve surrounding the Taharoa Domain. With a trio of white sandy foreshores, absolutely stunning warm crystal blue water in the shallow areas, and deep emerald blue in the deep areas, these lakes really are a magnificent sight.

Kai Iwi Lakes Northland

I'd recommend staying at one of the two campgrounds by the lake and spending a few days in the area. The incredible Waipoua Forest is close by which is the largest and oldest standing Kauri Tree forest in New Zealand left, and home to Tane Mahuta, New Zealand's largest Kauri tree.

Kai Iwi Lakes Northland



Lake Tarawera Sunrise Rotorua

Lake Tarawera is one of the many lakes that can be found in the geothermal town of Rotorua (around 3 hours south of Auckland). It is a favourite holiday destination for many New Zealanders for all manner of boating activities, swimming and hiking. It has also become a very popular spot for photographers due to the endless jetties along the lake shore and the resting volcano Mount Tarawera in view from many different angles.

Rangiuru Bay Lake Tarawera Rotorua

The lake is surrounded by some stunning native forest, and the drive there is just as pretty as you pass by the Blue Lake along the way.

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Famous for its eruption in 1886, Mount Tarawera has been dormant since, but there is a lot of history tied with both this mountain and lake, and its importance to Maori is significant.

Lake Tarawera Rotorua Astrophotography

Lake Tarawera is spectacular for viewing the night sky and astrophotography is definitely worth a try with very minimal light pollution.

The Landing, Lake Tarawera

The best time to visit the lake for photography is sunrise. The shots featured here have been taken at The Landing, and Rangiuru Bay, both very accessible and easy to compose.



This little lake is in one of the prettiest spots you can imagine ... surrounded by stunning New Zealand bush and reflecting the magnificent Mount Taranaki so perfectly down the centre, you can't ask for more boxes to be ticked when it comes to landscape photography.

Lake Mangamahoe Taranaki

The lake is easily accessible by car and the 6km track that surrounds the shoreline is a great way to see the different vantage points of Mount Taranaki.

Lake Mangamahoe Upper Lookout

The Taranaki region is full of diversity, from mountain landscapes to rugged beaches, including bush walks, cycle ways and boardwalks within the city, so Lake Mangamahoe is only one stop of many when visiting this district. The trip to Taranaki takes around 5 hours from Auckland southbound in a car.

Lake Mangamahoe Lookout Taranaki

The best time to visit for photography is sunrise and sunset. At both times you will get the colour of the clouds and the light on the mountain. For the location used in these photos, drive to the end of the lake and then take the short walk to the Dam and the Upper Look out (sign posted).



Lake Tikitapu Blue Lake Rotorua

Not far from Lake Tarawera above, actually around 10 minutes before it by car, Lake Tikitapu sits quietly off the road across from the Top 10 Blue Lake Campground. Surrounded by a mix of native forest, glass land and pine plantation, this small but beautiful lake is the ideal place to relax and bring the camera out for a photograph.

Situated under the same dark sky as Lake Tarawera, the Blue Lake is perfect for astro photography with very minimal light pollution from the surrounding areas and because it is on a quiet road, there aren't many disruptions from cars or other light sources.

Lake Tikitapu Blue Lake Rotorua

I shot the Blue Lake at sunrise as the lake is facing towards the sun rising, meaning you will get beautiful colour in the sky and golden light if conditions are right.

Lake Tikitapu Blue Lake Sunrise Rotorua

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As with the Tama Lakes above, these lakes also require a little more effort to get to. They form part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4km hike through volcanic lava flows and craters in the centre of the North Island.

Emerald Lakes Tongariro Crossing

The Emerald Lakes are around 3.5 hours into the hike and at the highest point. From the Mangatepopo car park it is relatively flat until you reach the 'Devil's Staircase', then it is a steady incline until a short break at the South Crater. From the South Crater continue up towards the Red Crater, where you will then see the Emerald Lakes. From there you will also have an amazing view of the Blue Lake and crater.

View to the Blue Lake Tongariro Crossing

I have completed this hike a couple of times, both during the day, but it would be equally and if not better at sunrise due to the position of the sun coming up behind the lakes.

Emerald Lakes Tongariro Crossing

As with the Tama Lakes, the Tongariro National Park is an alpine environment with rapidly changing weather conditions at all times of the year, so please do take care and make sure you have the right gear with you.

The Tongariro Crossing Walk Ruapehu

There are many other stunning lakes dotted around the North Island which I haven't mentioned here, but these are the ones I have personally visited and rated high on the list for me.

Thank you for reading my blog, and happy exploring!

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