Franz Josef to Lake Mahinapua

The early bird catches the worm or in our case the early bird hits the road. We decided with the beautiful day dawning that we would hit the road for Hokitika stopping along the way to explore various spots. First up Lake Mapourika for the first of a couple of stops by this lake. With the mist over the lake it was so still and calm with almost a perfect mirrored surface great opportunity for some photos.

There were a couple of people freedom camping in the carpark area here and with a toilet there hopefully no little messes get left behind.

In a place where there is 9 metres of rain a year I guess it’s no surprise that along with the multitude of rivers and streams that there are also multiple lakes. Not long after we had left the lake we came across it again from another angle for another round of mirror images from the absolutely still water. Just so serene we felt almost like the first people ever to see this.

There is a DOC camp here (#6776) Lake Mapourika – McDonalds Creek right next to the creek but somehow I think you would feel cheated staying here when 2 minutes down the road you have the lake front scenery shown above. Still there was  good view of the mountains with snow capping the peaks.

Just a bit further up the road is the turn off to Okarito a name that stuck in my mind from the ad on TV for the Resene colours of New Zealand but in reality is much more famous as the only breeding ground in New Zealand for the White Heron (Kotuku).


The camp site (#6767) here nestled in the local reserve advertises itself as having the sea on one side mountains on the other from our short wander round the camp I think they left out the part about the sandflies in the middle, ferocious ones at that as well. Although the camp has no power it appears to have good facilities @$15 per person.

The beach appears a typical West Coast one with a windswept lonely appearance but maybe that’s because it’s a Wednesday early morning with no one up and about to add life. There is a walk that runs down the beach called the 3 mile track to a lagoon and nature reserve. No prizes for guessing how far down the beach you need to walk. But with Sarah having a sore ankle we decided to pass on this walk today.

As I said earlier Okarito is the only breeding ground for New Zealand’s Kotuku with that happening on the shores around this lagoon. Obviously in April we are rather past the spring breeding season so none of the birds graced us with their presence. Also given the time of the year the Eco Tourism built up around the bird was having a quiet time so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, anyone want a kayak?

Inside the building on the jetty they have done a fantastic job with the posters explaining the gold mining history of the area as well as the other main enterprise flax harvesting to make rope. It’s really informative well worth taking the time to read all the displays as well as learning about the ship wrecks that occurred.

Okarito is only 10 minutes drive from State Highway 6 on sealed road well worth a detour to spend some time there.

The whole way along this State Highway since we left Haast it seems that we have been either driving over or next to rivers but for most of the highway there is nowhere to stop however at this spot where the road has had to be reinforced against the raging torrent sweeping down against it we had the chance to pull over to admire. It simply is almost unbelievable the amount of water pouring out of the hills above.

Arriving next at Lake Ianthe where the Travel Directory mentions two camps (North and South) we have no idea which one we found only to say that there appeared to be only one and it was rather small so most likely (#6752 South) as there was no space for our motorhome which I had to turn around with the assistance of the boat ramp and then park back up the road a little.

We did meet a couple who had been out fishing for trout saying that there are plenty of fish in the lake but they weren’t hungry on this day.

I think it’s rather sad when you pull over to look at a “Historic Monument” to discover that it’s in this condition, overgrown with weeds and gorse. The monument itself marks the 100 years anniversary of the road from 1865 to 1965 and was installed by the Westland District Council. Interestingly although it was a clear day we couldn’t see any of the mountains that the memorial points to but I guess they must be out there.

Also located at the same spot is the second monument in slightly better condition than the first marking the contribution of the surveyors to the road as well as a memorial to one Leonard Holmes who must have been instrumental in building or upgrading the road.

About 10 kms out of Hokitika we spotted the sign that points to Lake Mahinapua and we had another of those will we won’t we moments having already seen plenty of lakes already today but in the end we decided that we would stop. It’s a really nice short journey through native bush to get to the lake down a one way road with the bush almost touching the van on both sides it was a cautious slow journey.

Without realising it we had stumbled into the DOC camp (#6724) a large spacious camp right next to the lake and with almost nobody here at the time of our arrival it looked like a great place to spend the night.


Mahinapua - DOC Camp

Proximity to Attractions

Boating/Fishing/Swimming/Cycling all right here on the doorstep.

Nearest Supplies/Town

Make sure you stock up before visiting here as no supplies nearby with the nearest shops in Hokitika.

Ground Surface

Firm level (in most places) ground with a peak of the lake from the main camping area.

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

Water onsite but with a boil water notice nearest dump station is in Hokitika 12kms away.

Outlook from Camp

A view of the lake as well as the mountains and bush in the background very pretty.

Noise during Day and Night

Really Quiet

Cellphone Signal

Almost none, just weak enough for the occasional text

Walking/Cycling Tracks

Right next to the West Coast Wilderness Trail that you can either walk or cycle. Also short walks located next to the camp.

Overall Rating:

A pretty DOC camp in pleasant surroundings with onsite toilets and a shower block


Lake Mahinapua was quite the area in it’s day with a number of paddle steamers cruising the lake with people taking in the views as well as swimming in the waters which are warmer than you would expect, mainly due to the tannin contained in the water making it darker and absorbing the sunlight. On the foreshore are the remains of one of the old paddle steamers for people to admire.

There are a number of short walks in the area with this one at only 10 minutes the shortest although if you stop along the way as we do to take in the scenery it’s a little longer than this.

We also set off for the short walk to Swimmers Beach which passes through some of the dense rain forest in the area. It really is quite amazing the amount of growth that occurs on top of everything else and no wonder that the trees simply fall over from all the weight eventually. On some of the larger trees there must be thousands of mosses, ferns and creepers on the trees. With the mosses retaining large amounts of water the additional weight must also be huge.

We almost fell about laughing when we reached “Swimmers Beach” in fact I double checked the sign on the way back up the hill. As you can see from this shot of Sarah that is the width of the beach. We had imagined a nice wide area for people to sunbathe during summer not about one metre of dark grey muddy sand. The bush scenery however made the walk worthwhile.

For the first time in weeks we had Weka’s in and around the camp providing huge amusement for the campers as they chased each other around the camp fighting over every scrap of food that was on offer. They have almost no fear coming really close and whilst we where talking to one of the other campers even jumping inside the Motorhome. I would never have known but one of them left a little white mark on our floor mat as if just to say I was here!

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In the next part of this blog we move the 10kms up the road to the NZMCA camp in Hokitika
If you would like to see all the places we have visited click here

If you would like to see the ratings of the places we have stayed click here

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One thought on “Franz Josef to Lake Mahinapua

  1. Glad you are taking it slowly as it doesn’t look as if you’ll be able to travel over the Alps via Arthurs Pass for a few days owing to the snow that is forecast.- it’s to be quite deep up there, so James says. So enjoy Hokitika and the West Coast until the snow passes.

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