Visiting the Beautiful Lake Benmore, New Zealand

Last Updated: 16th October, 2023

Lake Benmore is nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, and is one of the hidden gems of the stunning Canterbury region! Filled with outdoor activities, fantastic campgrounds and beautiful scenery, it is a must-see when visiting the golden Mackenzie Country. This article covers all you need to know when exploring the beautiful Lake Benmore… enjoy!

Lake Benmore view from Benmore Dam

An Overview of Lake Benmore, New Zealand

Lake Benmore, situated on New Zealand’s South Island, is a breathtaking and vast man-made reservoir close to the charming town of Twizel! It was formed during the 1960’s as a component of the Waitaki Hydroelectric Scheme, which entailed the construction of a impressive dam on the Waitaki River. This lake spans an impressive 74 square kilometers (equivalent to 28.6 square miles!) and is a hidden gem of the stunning Mackenzie District. With it’s crystal clear waters flanked by green willow trees, and surrounded by rolling hills, it’s a beautiful region to explore!

Where is Lake Benmore?

Lake Benmore is located in the beautiful Canterbury region, only a little way off the main tourist route through the South Island of New Zealand! Nestled conveniently close to the charming towns of Omarama and Twizel, Lake Benmore is strategically positioned midway on the journey from Aoraki Mount Cook National Park to Oamaru on the east coast.

Lake Benmore is nearby to a number of lakes within the beautiful Mackenzie District, all connected by the enchanting Waitaki River. Beginning its journey from Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, the mesmerizing glacial waters flow through a series of canals and reach Lake Ruataniwha before finally reaching the northern reaches of Lake Benmore. Continuing down the Waitaki River, it gracefully passes through the lovely Lake Aviemore and the smaller Lake Waitaki before finally meeting the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

How to Get to Lake Benmore

By Car:

Driving Times to Lake Benmore

  • Christchurch: 4 hours drive (309 km)
  • Lake Tekapo: 1 hour 20 minutes drive (111 km)
  • Twizel: 40 minutes drive (54 km)
  • Aoraki Mount Cook National Park: 1 hour 20 minutes drive (117 km)
  • Queenstown: 3 hours drive (196 km)
  • Oamaru: 1 hour 10 (97 km)

Lake Benmore is mostly accessible by car, as there is no public transport options that travel to the lake! One of the best ways to explore this beautiful area is to visit as a day-trip from Lake Tekapo, or to hire a campervan and spend a few nights camping on the secluded lakefront!

By Shuttle Service:

If you aren’t able to drive or have no access to a car, there are a couple of options you can use to reach the beautiful shores of Lake Benmore! The easiest option (though it is a little pricey) is to book a shuttle from one of the surrounding towns (such as Oamaru or Omarama) to Otematata (so many O’s!), a town nestled on the shores of Lake Benmore. These shuttles are designed for people cycling the stunning Alps 2 Ocean trail, which travels from Aoraki Mount Cook to Oamaru on the east coast – passing by Lake Benmore on its way!

When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Benmore?

The best time to visit Lake Benmore in New Zealand is during the summer and early autumn, which typically falls between December and April! During this period, you can expect milder weather, with warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours – making it ideal for outdoor activities and enjoying the lake’s scenery! This is the best time of year for boating, fishing, hiking, and camping in the area.

Note: If you are planning on visiting Lake Benmore during the peak summer season or over Christmas/ New Years, expect a crowd! This is a very popular summer holiday spot for locals and visitors alike, and so it can get pretty busy!

Sailors cutting camping at Lake Benmore, New Zealand

The 6 Best Things to Do at Lake Benmore

1. Walk over the Impressive Benmore Hydro-Dam

One of the highlights of visiting Lake Benmore is viewing the magnificent Benmore Dam. The Benmore Dam is the largest earth dam is New Zealand, and, at 118 meters tall, also the highest!

View over Lake Benmore and Benmore Dam

One of my favourite things to do in Lake Benmore is to walk across the length of the dam, admiring the incredible engineering and soaking up the seasonal landscapes from the viewing areas.

FAQS: Lake Benmore Dam

When was the Benmore Dam constructed?

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Location: 534 Loch Laird Road, Benmore 9412, New Zealand

2. Go Fishing!

One of the most popular things to do at Lake Benmore is to try your luck at catching a fish! Lake Benmore is the second most-fished lake in New Zealand (after Lake Taupo), and is filled with brown and rainbow trout, as well as chinook and sockeye salmon. Salmon from farms on the hydro canals above Lake Benmore have escaped into the lake – creating a fantastic population for fishing!

Fishing at Lake Benmore

Best Times for Fishing: Fishing in Lake Benmore is generally good year-round. However, the best times for fishing often coincide with the cooler months, from autumn through spring. During this period, the water temperature is more conducive to active fish feeding.

Boating: Many anglers use boats to access different parts of the lake, where they can find the best fishing spots. There are boat ramps available around the lake, including at some of the campgrounds in Lake Benmore!

3. Hike the Benmore Peninsula Track

  • Walking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Track Length: 4km loop
  • Track Difficulty: An moderate walking track with some steep sections leading to an incredible lookout!

The Benmore Peninsula Walk is a delightful and moderately challenging loop trail that guides you through lush, verdant woodlands and offers a breathtaking vantage point overlooking Lake Benmore.

The trail starts at the parking area located at the end of Loch Laird Road, just above the impressive Lake Benmore Hydroelectric Dam. From this point, the path meanders along the peninsula, leading you through vibrant forests before ascending to the ridge-line and the remarkable Island’s Lookout.

View over Lake Benmore from Benmore Peninsula Walk

The panoramic views from this lookout are truly worth the effort, as they encompass the lake, the nearby hills, extending all the way to the snow-capped Southern Alps, and, on clear days, the imposing Aoraki Mt Cook! There’s a bench at the lookout, making it an ideal spot to take a breather and fully absorb the magnificent scenery before descending back to the parking area.

Location: Benmore Peninsula Trail Head, at the end of Loch Laird Road (next to the Benmore Dam)

4. Camp under the Stars

During the summer months, locals flock to the shores of Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore with their campervans and boats in tow for a classic kiwi camping holiday! This is one of my favourite New Zealand traditions; setting up your tent in a beautiful lakeside campground, cooking sausages over a BBQ, and spending the hot, summer days swimming in the lake. Lake Benmore is perfect for this, and is a very popular holiday destination.

Camping at Lake Benmore

There are a number of camping grounds dotted around the shores of Lake Benmore, ranging from beautiful-yet-basic campgrounds with nothing more than a long-drop, to well-maintained holiday parks with all the necessary facilities to make your stay relaxing and stress-free!

5. Cycle a Section of the Alps 2 Ocean

  • Trail Distance: 35km
  • Fitness Required: Intermediate
  • Skill: Easy
  • Trail Type: Mostly smooth shingle path, with a short ride on sealed road

One of the most popular long-distance cycling routes in New Zealand is the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail! This gorgeous trail spans over 300 kilometers, all the way from Aoraki Mount Cook and out to the historic coastal town of Oamaru.

An amazing section of this stunning trail is the ride around Lake Benmore Peninsular, cycling from Omarama to Otematata! This trail begins by following the Chain Hills Highway southbound out of Omarama, until you reach the edge of Lake Benmore and Sailors Cutting – a popular boating and camping spot along the shoreline!

Alps 2 Ocean around Lake Benmore

From Sailors Cutting, follow the A20 signs through the campground, and away from the main road. The trail winds its way around the beautiful Benmore Peninsular, giving you incredible views out over Lake Benmore and the surrounding mountain ranges!

The trail finally emerges at the magnificent Benmore Dam, where you can wither follow the cycle trail into Otematata, or continue over the Dam and along the next section of trail (or until the next campground!)

Map of Cycle Trail from Omarama to Otematata

6. Explore the Otematata Wetlands

The Otematata Wetlands is a beautiful natural conservation park just outside the town of Otematata, on the banks of the Waitaki River and Lake Aviemore. Throughout this stunning nature park is an excellent network of small tracks, trails, picnic areas and swimming spots – making it the perfect place to explore for an afternoon by Lake Benmore!

Birdwatching at the Otematata Wetlands

Birdwatching at the Otematata Wetlands is a popular and rewarding thing to do at Lake Benmore! The wetlands are known for their diverse bird species, includeing sightings of the endangered Australasian bittern and the agile New Zealand falcon (kārearea). Visitors can also observe waterfowl like paradise ducks and pukeko, and the wetlands serve as a stopover for migratory birds.

Otematata Wetlands Walk

  • Walking Time: 1 hour
  • Track Length: 4.5 km loop
  • Track Difficulty: An easy stroll through the beautiful Otematata Wetlands, on a well-maintained path

Location: Access via Loch Laird Road, Wildlife camp ground or Boat Harbour camp ground.

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