Canoeing New Zealand’s Lake Manapouri

New Zealander, freelance photographer and Bending Branches ProStaffer, Sean Beale, spent a weekend canoeing Lake Manapouri. He tells us about it here…

canoeing New Zealand's Lake Manapouri

By Sean Beale

Hugged by the rugged mountain ranges of Fiordland National Park (on the South Island) lies Lake Manapouri. Manapouri has an abundance of remote bays, coves and sandy beaches along its 170 kilometers of shoreline, along with 33 islands. It’s one of the best options for canoe adventures in New Zealand.

Currently, there’s no guide book for canoeing in New Zealand, so any adventure is always a true roll of the dice! We spent countless hours on Google Maps scoping the lake shore for possible camping spots and portages. With 200 days of rainfall a year and some of the strongest winds known to mankind that can arrive within minutes, those options are nice to have.

Google Maps lead me to believe that some epic camping spots would be no trouble at all to find. But zero portages seemed available, hence the dice were rolled.

Launching from the shoreline of Manapouri Township, we headed in a northeast direction with plans to make it to a small bay that lay 15 km away. Being blessed with sheet glass lake conditions, we covered the first 7 km in what felt like minutes.

canoeing Lake Manapouri, New Zealand

We hugged the shoreline and made our way with only the sounds of bird life echoing out from the thick native beech forest. This forest predominates the water's edge, and carries itself up the mountains before snow takes over and reaches the jagged peaks.

We rounded the last main rocky outcrop which would lead us away from the safety of the shoreline and into deep open water—as deep as 444 meters.

Then I could feel the slightest breath of wind. We started to notice small ripples on the water that showed signs the famous Southern Alps winds might be in the mail. And man-oh-man, we were right!

Within five minutes our idyllic, relaxing, picture-perfect lake had turned into rolling swells and then delightful whitecap waves. The main consolation was that it was a tailwind, which made for a not-so-panic-stricken paddle to the end goal of our campsite.

view from lake manapouri campsite

As the bow of the boat sliced throw the white sand, it signaled our arrival at our campsite.
What a beautiful sigh of relief it was to discover this bay offered some of the best, most secluded camping we could have hoped for. 40-meter beech trees were spaced out just enough to allow us to pitch the tent in comfort, and the soft ground ate up the tent pegs.

After lunch and coffee, we headed off to discover a track that Google Maps had led us to believe was just around the corner of our bay.

A stiff 50-minute hike took us through the lushest native forest, and we encountered a truly unexpected surprise. We laid our eyes upon some of the most untouched natural landscape this country—possibly the world—has to offer.

lake manapouri and surrounding mountains

After the descent back to basecamp, we spent the rest of the evening around the fire eating our way through our food supplies and easing our sore muscles with some mighty fine New Zealand wine.

forest hiking lake manapouri

I personally can't think of anything more relaxing than waking up to the sound of thick heavy raindrops smacking onto and sliding down the outer walls of your tent. That’s exactly what greeted us at 6:00 a.m. There’s nothing better than a cozy, guilt-free lie-in.

With a quick check out the tent’s vestibule window it became apparent the rain was set in for the day. That meant a wet day of paddling lay ahead.

lake manapouri campsite, new zealand

Luckily, the rain didn't bring his friend, Wind, along. So despite an uncomfortably wet day ahead, we wouldn’t have the struggle of paddling into a headwind.

After eating our staple paddling breakfast—pancakes and coffee—we stuffed our gear into dry bags and pushed off the shore headed for home.

The heavy rain brought with it thick fog and mist you could almost scoop with a spoon. This made the shoreline our best guide for making our way safely home.

After a few hours of a rather uneventful and quiet paddle, we decided to dock up at a small cove and find shelter under a large beech tree and get a nice fire going. It was more to warm the soul than the body! After back-to-back cups of hot coffee, we made the final push back to the shoreline from where our adventure had started.

If you’re in New Zealand and looking for an untapped adventure in a truly wild area of the world, I can’t recommend Lake Manapouri enough!

canoeing new zealand, lake manapouri

All photos courtesy of Sean Beale. Learn more about Sean Beale and his professional photography on his website.

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