Experiences Lifestyle Outdoors Te Anau

Escape to Fiordland’s Lake Hankinson

Written by Jenny McLeod

 A hidden lake in a remote part of Fiordland is the focus of a genuine Kiwi experience created by Fiordland Outdoors to encourage New Zealanders to see more of their own backyard.

Owners Mark and Christine Wallace saw the potential for visiting the little-known Lake Hankinson four years ago and operate their Hidden Hankinson excursion once a week to limit the impact on the environment.

“We want to protect the area and retain its unique aspect and for the same reason we only take a maximum of six people a trip,” says Mark. “ Lake Hankinson is relatively unheard of and even a lot of Fiordland locals don’t’ know about it. It’s a pretty rare wilderness experience.”

The trip starts at Te Anau Downs with a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau on the not often visited Middle Arm passing by the Doubtful Islands. Landing ashore clients walk through dense bush which opens up to reveal the idyllic glacial Lake Hankinson. A purpose-built boat which is housed in a boatshed in the bush by Fiordland Outdoors is winched into the lake to continue the tour.

“Kiwis love to explore this area and while the walk is not too tough there is a feeling of intrepidness, of going into the back of beyond,” he says. “It’s definitely a middle of nowhere feeling when you arrive at this magical lake.”

Named after Donald Hankinson who had a cattle station in the area and discovered the lake in 1877, the boat trip includes trawling for rainbow and brown trout. 

“It is not unusual to see deer in the surrounding bush or for kaka to follow the boat,” says Mark. “This is a very special escape and offers a quite different experience to Milford and Doubtful Sounds.”

At a point where the Wapiti River flows into the lake the boat goes ashore and a track leads to Hankinson Hut which was built in 1923 and is the oldest hut in Fiordland National Park.

“A bunkroom sleeping 11 people was added in the 1950s and it is one of three huts available to trampers on the challenging George Sound track. It’s a great lunch spot for our groups and we like to relax here with the pot belly stove going if it’s a cold day and enjoy the silence. Most people find it a very ‘destressing’ place to come to and love to just kick back and relax at the hut.”

Mark and his fellow company guides are experts in the bush and time is spent following lunch feeding eels in the Wapiti and checking out bird and plant life nearby. 

The Hidden Hankinson tour is available for all age groups and is an easy excursion for visitors travelling from Queenstown and other parts of Central Otago.

“We have had people in their 80s who have lived in Southland all their lives and never been able to access the lake before who have made the trip with us. Young children also love it and it is wonderful to see the reaction of all our visitors because as a family this is one of our favourite places to spend time,” says Mark. “Visiting Lake Hankinson is true escapism, a real feeling of stepping back in time and experiencing life the way it used to be. It is an absolute privilege to go there.”

About the author

Jenny McLeod