Looking down at the lakes and islands from the viewpoint of Mou Waho island, New Zealand

Planning to visit Mou Waho? Book a water taxi from Wānaka.

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.

View of Lake Wanaka and surrounding mountains from the viewpoint

Visiting Mou Waho

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.

A small boat on the beach at Mou Waho Island, Wanaka

The trail to Arethusa Pool

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.

A man and child walking up the trail on Mou Waho Island, New Zealand
Views of Lake Wanaka on the trial to Arethesa Pool
Rocky terrain on Mou Waho island, New Zealand

Arethusa Pool

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 viewpoint

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.

Looking down over the pool and Lake Wanaka

The Mou Wahu walk

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! 

Looking down at the pool from the viewpoint

Planning your trip to Mou Waho

It’s a 30-minute boat trip to Mou Wahu from Wānaka. Most visitors to the island will need to do a day trip or take a water taxi, and the boats vary in size from small vessels to larger catamarans.

Best time to go

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.

Getting there

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 view of Arethesa Pool, Lake Wanaka and mountains from the viewpoint on Mou Waho, New Zealand

How much does it cost?

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.

Additional information

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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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 5 January 2024

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