Mou Waho Island - Where is it and why should you visit?

Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka has a lot going for such a small place - find out what's unique about Mou Waho and why you should visit. by Andrew Wells.

Mou Waho Island is accessible only by boat from Wanaka, one of the most beautiful regions of New Zealand.  There is also a lot more than just the views to Mou Waho which make it a must-visit for anyone interested in conservation.  There’s so much that makes this little island so special, here are five reasons why you should visit  Mou Waho.

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

Sounds complicated we agree, but once you are there it will all make sense.  On the island of Mou Waho there is a small lake, actually near the peak of the island (Tyrwhitt Peak) which takes about an hour or so of gentle climbing to reach and where you stop for morning tea, right next to the lake (called the Arethusa Pool), with 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 Aruthesa Pool, Mou Waho island itself, Lake Wanaka and the last island in the lineup, the South Island of New Zealand - the island, in a lake, in an island, in a lake, in an island in the ocean.  Something you don’t see everyday and guaranteed to 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 enjoys 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.  The pests are not native to New Zealand and most New Zealand birdlife have no natural defenses against hunters like the stoat and therefore 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 these island sanctuaries is quite simple, once cleared of pests it is much easier to control visitors to areas with only boat access, therefore 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 bellbird, fantail, falcon, wood pigeon, tomtit, grey warbler, wax eye and weka are common and can be seen easily at close quarters on Mou Waho.

Another interesting project on the island are 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.  Even with introduced pests being eradicated from the Island, threats still exist and 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.

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

To visit Mou Waho means a boat trip from Wanaka, there is no other way and as there are no scheduled boats or ferries to the island so you will have to join a tour, which has the added benefit of a knowledgeable guide.  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 location itself is tucked behind the mountains so it’s not visible from the town at all - in fact when you are on Mou Waho Island you cannot see any evidence of human habitation.  No roads, buildings, power lines, nothing at all - 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, was carved by a glacier in the last ice age 10,000 years ago and borders Mt Aspiring National Park and surrounding high country stations, 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, our favourite view from the island (in the photo reel above).  This is looking north a few minutes walk from the high point of the island - pretty special, I’m sure you will agree.

5. Lend a hand - Plant a Tree.

As part of 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 the second part of 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, 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 reestablish 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 hundreds of native trees have been planted.  You can even help dig the hole and place the tree in the ground if want!

How to visit Mou Waho Island

Mou Waho Island hiking is the highlight of day six of our fully guided small group New Zealand tours which start in Christchurch and offer 11 or 13 day options to finish in either Queenstown or 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 four star accommodation and the best local food and wine.  Highlights are day walks on the Hollyford, Routeburn and Milford Tracks plus at Arthurs Pass and Aoraki Mt Cook national parks.  As well as the best walking in New Zealand, you will love these classic activities included in the tour - TranzAlpine train, Fox Glacier hiking, Nile River glow-worm caves, Okarito lagoon sea kayaking, Queenstown wineries, Fiordland helicopter flight, backcountry jetboat, Mt John observatory and of course Mou Waho island.  There is no camping or staying in crowded huts on this tour, your accommodation is to a four star standard.

For more information please contact us now or download our brochure here.

by Andrew Wells - New Zealand Trails

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