Island Sanctuary

If you haven’t heard of this place already, there is a reason for that. Mou Waho is a sublime, still-undiscovered secret in the middle of Lake Wanaka, NZ.

It’s tucked away, out of sight from town and out of reach of the campervans, so its whereabouts remain mysterious even for many locals. I headed out to the island with Chris Riley, the chief storyteller of Eco Wanaka Adventures, and a boat full of excited travelers unsure of what we were about to experience. It’s an absolute stunner of a day. It takes a scenic twenty-minute boat ride across the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka to the start of our walk, which gives us time to imagine how an island, in a lake, on an island, in a lake, on an island in the ocean could actually exist. Is there such a thing? We were about to find out.


Chris eagerly sets the scene at the shoreline explaining the conservation work they are doing out here, the wildlife and the rare native birds to look out for. This is the only tour company licensed to head out this way, an island sanctuary under special protection by the Department of Conservation. Along the way, we are greeted by Buff Weka, a moving sight of a rare flightless bird that has been extinct on the mainland since the 1920’s. This now predator-free island is one of only four in the South Island to still breed them, and there are now around 40 living here on Mou Waho.


Another short hike up to the top of the hill and we encounter Weta (an insect that’s also endangered) and geckos along the track. At the first picnic stop, we took in the elevated views while the birds sang. Here we are on an island in Lake Wanaka, and we are greeted by another lake with its own tiny island in the middle.  Of course, we dove straight in. The water was perfect, a warm layer on the top and cool underneath. I stop to breathe it all in, then dive into the tea and biscuits – high tea, literally!


We then continued up to the top to find a fitting place to plant a native tree, one of the hundreds Chris has planted since first coming here more than 20 years ago. Everyone was involved from the picking of the spot to the watering to the cheering. It also gives everyone the chance to look back at Wanaka, at the mountain ranges and the world below. As it enveloped us for those couple of minutes, we looked out in triumph at the beauty of this place.


There’s a mystical quality to our journey here that I won’t forget in a hurry. You just have to believe somewhere like this exists. And lucky for us, it does.

Article by

  • Phone
  • Visit our website