Nelson’s Blue Lake and Its Magical Māori Connections

To take your mind off the difficulties experienced across the world at the moment, we wanted to provide you with a little bit of escapism. So, here’s our first post of a series we’re doing all about our favourite places in New Zealand. Grab a cuppa and dive into the magic and wonder of Nelson’s Blue Lake…

New Zealand is indeed one of the most magical places to visit on earth. In a land so full of history and culture, it’s hard to know where to start when you embark on your New Zealand adventure. Māori culture is steeped in tradition and folklore and wherever you turn, you are faced with an ancient monument or a stunning landmark that is sacred to its people. One such place of wonder is Nelson’s Blue Lake.

Where is Nelson’s Blue Lake?

Nelson’s Blue Lake or Lake Rotomairewhenua, is found in the Tasman Region of New Zealand’s South Island. The Lake sits in Nelson Lakes National Park in the northernmost reaches of the Southern Alps. 

This lake and National Park are definitely worth taking time out to visit – any well-planned New Zealand holiday that includes a visit to the South Island should include this breathtaking trip.

How do you get to Blue Lake NZ?

“Fantastic! Let’s take a trip out to visit the lake”. Easy now – accessing the lake takes a minimum of two days tramping to get there from the park edges! 

The shortest route to Nelson’s Blue Lake

Nelson’s Blue Lake is tucked deep within the backcountry. The shortest route to the lake is via water taxi from Lake Rotoroa jetty to Sabine Hut. It’s then a mere 5 hour walk to Sabine Hut West. After a stay over, there is another 3.5 hour walk on to Blue Lake Hut with 16 bunks and room for around 700 trampers. 

The Travers Sabine Circuit

For the more adventurous and less faint of heart, there is an 80km route called the Travers Sabine Circuit. This route incorporates stunning views of Alpine Scenery including Mount Travers, Travers Waterfall and of course Nelson Lakes National Park with its forests and the D’Urville and Sabine Rivers.

Undertaking the Travers Sabine Circuit can take anywhere between 4-7 days – a real adventure! As mentioned earlier, this is not an option for the less able of us and is an advanced tramping track. Weather conditions are changeable on this route, and the route itself is often unmarked, steep and unstable. Trampers are advised only with moderate to high level backcountry skills and experience, which basically means a good level of fitness, navigation and survival skills. A good pair of trainers is not going to get you through this one!

If you are undertaking this route during the summer period (late November – 30 April) you will have to book at huts and campsites – at other times it is first come first served.

If all this tramping sounds like a lot of effort, or you have difficulty accessing such routes, then a fantastic arial view from a helicopter is the next best thing – imagine hovering over such a beautifully pristine lake and being able to see to the bottom… from the air!

It seems only appropriate that one of New Zealand’s natural treasures is so hard to access, and probably plays a part in how it has managed to stay untouched all this time.

Why is Blue Lake so clear?

The main attraction of Nelson’s Blue Lake is the incredible crystal clearness of the water. Extensive studies and testing on the lakes’ waters reveal that it is as clear as distilled water! Rainfall can cause the water to go murky temporarily, but after a few days, it goes back to its pristine state. But why is the water so clear? 

Scientists think that the reason the water is so clear is down to the fact it is filtered underground on its passage from Lake Constance, removing nearly all the particles from the water. All of this water originates from springs that have already filtered down through the Southern Alps. Double filtered!

Pure water has a natural blue tint (the deeper it is). This paired with the algae and plant life in the lake, gives the lake the blue-green colour it is famous for.

Nelson’s Blue Lake & Māori Culture

I know what you’re thinking – “Oooh, I could just dive right into that crystal clear bliss…” Well, not so fast I’m afraid!

Blue Lake lies within the Rohe (tribal area) of Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō. In Māori culture, the Iwi (tribes) consider the lake as Tapu (sacred), and therefore people are not allowed to enter the water. 

The lake was traditionally used in ceremonies to cleanse the bones and release the spirits of the dead, so they could begin their journey to Hawaiki*. During these ceremonies, Blue Lake was used for males only, and neighbouring Lake Constance was used for females. The Lake’s Māori name Rotomairewhenua means ‘the lake of peaceful lands’. 

*Hawaiki is what Māori and Polynesians refer to as their ancestral homeland (that is, the dwelling place of the ancestors) and the underworld, which is also the dwelling place of ancestors and the spirits. The dead are undertaking their journey back ‘home’.

So, if you are visiting the South Island and want to wander off the beaten track and really go in search of hidden treasure, we recommend Nelson’s Blue Lake. It is a real sense of accomplishment to hike there and a privilege to see such natural beauty in one of the most unspoiled parts of the Island. Few people will get to see this sacred water, and it feels like you are immersed in a mystical fairytale – you can see why the Māori believe this lake is the doorway to Hawaiki.


If you’d like to discover the magic and mystery of Nelson’s Blue Lake first hand, and you’d like to find out what options are available or how you can add an excursion to your trip, just give us a call, we’re always happy to help.

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