Mou Waho

Visit Mou Waho Island

By New Zealand Trails

6 minute read

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Where is Mou Waho Island and why should you visit? For starters, it’s one of only five islands found in Lake Wanaka and it is perhaps one of the most unique lake islands anywhere in New Zealand. The area that surrounds Wanaka is one of the most beautiful regions of New Zealand, and Mou Waho can only be reached by boat, making it extra special! Wanaka is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park; an area of such exceptional beauty that all of our South Island trips make a stop there.

Mou Waho is a must visit for anyone interested in conservation; read on to find out why. There's so much that makes this little island special, here are five reasons why you should visit!

1.  The island, in a lake, in an island, in a lake, in an island in the ocean!

Confused? Don’t worry, we were at first too! We promise that once you’re on the island, it all make sense. On the island of Mou Waho, there is a small lake. It’s situated near the peak of the island, Tyrwhitt Peak. It only takes about an hour or so of walking to reach and it’s a great place to stop for morning tea. Whilst enjoying a hot beverage, you can also take in a perfect view of the lake.

The Arethusa Pool can be spotted from here and it has a small rocky island in the middle. From a little further past our rest spot, slightly higher up the track, we have a perfect view of the whole arrangement, the small island in Arethusa Pool, Mou Waho island itself, Lake Wanaka and the last island in the line-up, the South Island of New Zealand - the island, in a lake, in an island, in a lake, in an island in the ocean.

It’s a formation that isn't often encountered and we guarantee it will bring a smile to your face as you look at photos from your trip once you are home!

2.  See conservation in action

Mou Waho has been granted special protection by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as a scientific reserve and is the focal point for the actions of a community-based conservation group. The island has been cleared of introduced pests such as rats, stoats and possums, thus making it a 'safe' area for the native birdlife to live and breed. These pests are not native to New Zealand. Unfortunately, most New Zealand birdlife have no natural defences against keen hunters like the stoat, making them easy prey. With introduced pests now ensconced throughout most of mainland New Zealand, these island sanctuaries represent the best chance for endangered birdlife to flourish in a pest free environment.

The logic behind island sanctuaries is quite simple. Once a place is cleared of pests, it is much easier to control visitors to areas that can only be accessed by boat, thereby reducing the chance of an unwelcome hitchhiker making it to land. Local birdlife is free to live and nest without the risk of predation, which increases the chances of their young making it to adulthood and strengthening the species. Native birdlife including the bellbird, fantail, New Zealand falcon, wood pigeon, tomtit, grey warbler, wax eye and weka are common and can be seen at close quarters on Mou Waho.

Another interesting project on the island is the 'Weta Motels' - habitats made especially for the weta by students from the local high school. Weta are a large endemic insect whose history actually dates back to before the dinosaurs! Despite introduced pests being eradicated from the island, threats still exist. For the weta this comes in the form of the native birdlife, meaning that protection for them is now required, thus the 'Weta Motel' was born. Would you fancy staying with a weta for the night? Check out pictures from our previous trips here.

Weta on Mou Waho Island

Some of the locals look a bit creepy, but they're an important part of New Zealand's ecosystem.

3.  The journey itself - it's fun and very scenic

There’s no way to get to Mou Waho other than by boat. There are no scheduled boats or ferries to the island meaning that the only way to get there is by joining a tour. This tour is included as part of our World Heritage trip. Our guests have often told us they consider their time on Mou Waho as one of the most unforgettable parts of their trip. The tour of the island is led by an experienced eco-warrior who can answer any question that our guests may pose.

The Wanaka district is certainly one of the most scenic areas of the country and a trip out on the water gives you a brand new appreciation for this. The short trip to the island takes around 35 minutes each way and the landmass itself is tucked behind the mountains. It is not visible from the town at all, which is mirrored by the fact that when you are on Mou Waho Island you cannot see any evidence of human habitation. No roads, buildings, power lines, nothing man-made at all. We think it’s the perfect place to slow down and breathe the air.

4.  The amazing views - don't forget your camera

Like so many places in our incredibly photogenic country, Lake Wanaka and Mou Waho Island will have your jaw dropping and camera clicking! New Zealand's fourth largest lake is 42 kilometres (26 miles) long and was carved by a glacier in the last ice age 10,000 years ago. The lake borders Mt Aspiring National Park and is surrounded by high country stations (ranches), all of which make for million dollar views everywhere you look. It is hard to do these views justice with words, so we'll just offer this instead, one of our favourite views from the island. Our guest is looking north a few minutes’ walk from the high point of the island. We think it’s pretty special and hope you agree.

Couple on Mou Waho Island, Wanaka

Sit back, relax, and bask in the incredible views atop the island.

5. Plant a tree

As part of your visit to Mou Waho, you’ll make your very own contribution to the conservation project; each time we visit the island we plant a tree to help with the reforestation of Mou Waho. This is conservation in action and it aims to tackle an issue that has been around ever since humans first arrived in New Zealand. Native forest has been cleared by the people of New Zealand for many hundreds of years, by early Maori on their Moa hunting expeditions and by European settlers to convert forest and bush areas into farmland.

This deforestation has decreased the habitat for wildlife, so in order to re-establish the native forest, each time we visit the island we'll plant a native tree. Our friend and local guide Chris has been visiting this area for over 20 years and in that time thousands of native trees have been planted. You can even help dig the hole and place the tree in the ground if you’d like to get involved.

Planting on Mou Waho Island

Leave your mark on nature - in the best possible way.

Mou Waho Island hiking is the highlight of day five of our World Heritage Walking Tour which starts and finishes in Christchurch. You'll walk on New Zealand's best hiking tracks and never forget the iconic activities included in the itinerary - all the while enjoying all the comforts of home with laid-back luxury accommodation and the best local food and wine. Highlights are day walks on the Hollyford and Routeburn plus at Arthur’s Pass and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Parks.

As well as the best walking in New Zealand, there are plenty of classic activities included in the tour; here’s a taste! You’ll go glacier hiking, visit the Nile River glow-worm caves, get a taste of the Otago wineries, experience a helicopter flight across Fiordland, travel on a backcountry jetboat, take in the views at the Mt John stargazing observatory and of course, visit Mou Waho island! If this sounds right up your street, request your New Zealand Trails brochure here.

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