One of the most beautiful places in Wānaka (and New Zealand) is hidden in the middle of the lake. Mou Wahu is one of four islands in Lake Wānaka and it’s the furthest one from town – in fact, its name can be translated as “the outer island”.
The island is uninhabited and covered in native bush. It’s stunning and seems untamed, and the outlook is simply stunning. But the most magical thing about Mou Wahu is Arethusa Pool, the small and perfect lake at the top of the island.
I visit Mou Waho with my husband and young son and there’s only a handful of other passengers on our small boat. The boat ride itself is pleasant, if a little bit bumpy, and the captain tells us interesting snippets about the islands we pass.
We learn about the Mou Tapu, the sacred island where Māori buried their dead. No one is allowed to step on its shores.
We hear the stories of Ruby Island, where a dance hall was open during the prohibition years so locals could still have a sneaky tipple.
And, of course, we admire the expansive and stunning views of Lake Wānaka and the surrounding mountains.
We get off the boat at a small beach, covered in white shells and pebbles, and dotted with driftwood. A small, driftwood shelter has been built on the edge of the beach and, of course, my four-year-old heads directly inside. It’s sunny but windy, and we are the only ones on the island.
To get to Arethusa Pool, you need to follow the trail up a small mountain (or rather large hill) in the centre of the island. The trail is relatively short but steep and, as we see the track, we realise this is a slightly ambitious undertaking with a small child.
We shrug and make our way up, passing Horoeka trees with sword-like leaves and the pretty Kōtukutuku fuchsia with vibrant pink flowers. There are colourful birds to stop and admire, along with tui and Kererū, the New Zealand wood pigeon. And, at every break in the trees, we can see the gorgeous views over Lake Wānaka.
Arriving at Arethusa Pool, we are greeted by a weka and soon discover there are many (over 200) of them on the island. The pool itself is a deep, dark blue and incredibly cold. The weather is too cold for swimming anyway, and we marvel at the glacial lake in the island on the lake.
It’s a peaceful and serene spot and we stop for lunch at the edge of the pool. There are rocks for the little one to climb, shade from the surrounding bushes and a bench.
We see a cliff high above the lake and realise that is the viewpoint and a couple of our companions have already climbed up.
The track up to the viewpoint is steeper than the previous trail, but it only takes a few minutes to get there. I scramble up the rocks and there it is in front of me: the incredible view of the dark water of the pool surrounded by the lighter waters of Lake Wānaka.
The Southern Alps frame the scene and I think this may be one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’ve ever been. I’m alone up there and look down at the husband and son, tiny dots near the lake below. It’s a truly remarkable spot and the feeling of freedom is palpable. I never want to leave.
The return walk to the viewpoint and back is just under 3km. Walking up to Arethusa Pool takes about half an hour, depending on how fast you walk and how often you stop.
While the trail is short, it is steep and can be slippery in places, especially after rain. There are several benches along the track where you can stop for a break and admire the view.
The glacial pool at the top of Mou Wahu is a beautiful and tranquil spot. It sits about 150m above the water level of the lake and is surrounded by large rocks and trees.
A tiny islet is also set in the middle of the pool, and is clearly visible from the viewpoint above. This is a wonderful spot for a picnic or snack.
From the pool, you can look up towards the huge cliff above you. This is the viewpoint and your destination. The walk to the viewpoint from the pool is completely uphill, but only takes around 10 minutes.
When you get there, you’ll find yourself surrounded by spectacular views of Arethusa Pool and Lake Wānaka, with towering mountains in the distance. It’s well worth the climb!
Pick a clear, calm day to make the most of the views and go in spring or autumn for photos with snow-capped mountain peaks. The track can also get a little bit slippery after rain.
If you want to swim in the lake on the island, you’ll want to visit on a hot day as the water is very cold.
The easiest way to get to Mou Waho Island is by taking an organised half-day trip to the island. These leave in the mornings and the afternoons and give you approximately two hours to explore the island.
This is enough time to make your way up to the viewpoint and spend some time admiring the view, as well as enjoying a picnic (and a swim) at the lake. If you are less mobile or visiting with small children, you should still have enough time to enjoy your trip.
If you want to stay longer, you can book a water taxi and you can even camp there overnight. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to bring everything with you and the facilities are very basic.
The water taxi trip is $139 for adults, $61.50 for children 5-15, and under 5s free. The three-hour tours, with commentary, leave twice daily.
The Eco Wanaka tour is longer, provides refreshments, and costs $265 for adults, and $180 for children under 15. Under threes are free. You also can plant a tree as part of this informative, guided eco-experience.
Take sunblock, a hat, water and snacks with you, along with a swimsuit if you’re visiting in summer and want to swim in the pool. There are wasps on the island, so bringing an antihistamine can be a good idea if you’re allergic to them.
There is a compost toilet at a grassy clearing at the start of the walk. Bring toilet paper and hand sanitiser with you as neither is provided.
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Last Updated 5 January 2024