Off the beaten track: Lake Tennyson, Canterbury

For a small country, New Zealand has a heck of a lot of stunning places people don’t know about. We love visiting places off the beaten track and share them so that you can enjoy them too!

Lake Tennyson

Lake Tennyson, Canterbury

In my job as a Climate Scientist at a New Zealand research organisation, I have been lucky enough to be involved in some field expeditions to amazing places around New Zealand. While researching climate change over many thousands of years, we would work in kauri forests, timber yards, swamps, and in the middle of bloody nowhere.

It was one of those middle of nowhere places that stole a piece of my heart – Lake Tennyson.

Lake Tennyson

Lake Tennyson and Mt Southey

It’s a seriously spectacular place that hardly anybody goes to, even though there is road access. It’s these off the beaten track places that are what makes New Zealand so special – that you can be in the middle of nowhere, all alone, and have this amazing landscape all to yourself.

Lake Tennyson, Canterbury

Lake Tennyson, Canterbury

Lake Tennyson is located in the St James Conservation Area in northern Canterbury. This is a huge tract of conservation estate that is owned by the government, and it is drop dead beautiful. High snow-capped mountains, tussock as far as the eye can see, and an old glacial landscape make the area an interesting place to visit. While doing field work there, I was lucky enough to see the area by helicopter – one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had! It’s one thing to see a beautiful landscape from ground level, yet another entirely to see it from the air.

You can access the area from two points. The southern entrance is from the small town of Hanmer Springs in northern Canterbury, along the Rainbow Road (about 1 hour). The northern route comes from St Arnaud in Nelson Lakes National Park (only open December-April). Both roads are gravel and can be driven in a 2WD vehicle, although I’d recommend a 4WD if possible!

There is a small, free campsite with limited facilities on the southern shore of the lake.

Tennyson campsite is on the far side of the lake

Tennyson campsite is on the far side of the lake

Another lake, albeit less accessible than Tennyson, is Lake Guyon in the Wairau River catchment to the west of Tennyson. There is a 4WD track that runs down the valley to the lake, or you can access it by helicopter like we did. There’s a great old hut near the lake, and stepping inside feels like a 50-year-old time warp!

The Wairau River heads south from near Lake Guyon to close by Hanmer Springs. It’s an impressive sight from the air, with terraces and multiple channels winding down the valley. For a geography and landscape nut like me, there’s no better way to see the Earth than from above.

So there you go. Next time you’re in Hanmer Springs or St Arnaud, consider heading cross-country to Lake Tennyson. It’s well worth the drive!

5 comments

  1. Wow, how lucky to see this magnificent view from a helicopter! I went tramping in this area with my family when I was younger and remember it being truly spectacular – your photos definitely show that it is still as beautiful as ever!

    • Petra
      Author

      Thanks Christie, yeah I was very lucky to go in the chopper! An experience of a lifetime for sure. It must have been amazing to go tramping there, it’s such an amazing part of NZ.

  2. You are right about New Zealand having so much to see in such a small area. We did a road trip there several years ago, but I don’t think we made it to Lake Tennyson, Canterbury. Looks like we missed out!

    • Petra
      Author

      Lake Tennyson is beautiful – but I’m sure you saw many amazing places on your New Zealand road trip! We’re lucky that it’s such a small country with lots of landscape variation, not like others where you can drive for a day or so without seeing a change in scenery!

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