Southern Lake Linking
Lake 2 Lake Trail
Our Trail Story
Fiordland a paradise packed with dramatic landscapes, blessed with plentiful huts and hiking tracks including three Great Walks; yet surprisingly barren of cycle trails. Wheels of change are in motion though. As a result of the incredible efforts of the Fiordland Trails Trust the tread of my tyres can now easily explore the fringes of the Fiordland forest between the beautiful twin lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri.
Driving into Te Anau on the most perfect of mornings we parked up and began to consider our ride. While the Lake 2 Lake is a linear journey there are a few ways to enjoy this trail. Should we break it into sections, get a pick-up from a local shuttle provider at trail’s end, or ride a loop back using local roads? We decide to ride from Te Anau towards Manapouri before returning the way we had come. Sometimes I ponder how much easier it would be to already have these trails on the Great Rides App to aid in planning my trips – on the flip side it would mean I would not get to ride such incredible trails up and down the country to add them to the App I have been working on for the past few years. After these needless circular augments I attach my GPS units to my bike, strap on our packed lunch, and with my wife reach the trailhead beside the Te Anau Department of Conservation Visitor Centre.
I push play on the GPS units and we’re off to recreate in this stunning southern playground. The sun was starting to burn holes in the low cloud revealing small patches of blue sky and peaks of the Kepler Mountains that we were riding towards. Town behind us, adventure in front. This section of trail winds its way along the lake edge. The trail is wide and is shared with many hikers carrying heavy packs for their multi-day trip on the Kepler Track. We felt light and free. The flowing trail with its sweeping bends through the shrub forest soon opens up to a clearing. It is our first stop.
Here at The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary we hop off our bikes right by the wildlife enclosures which are home to rare and endemic birdlife. On our visit, the aviaries contain kea, kaka, morepork, and parakeets, while other native birds on the outside are busily fluttering around nectar feeders. The various species in this sanctuary are held in captivity because they are hurt and are either on the mend or would no longer survive in the wild. Some are also part of captive breeding programs - this is a fabulous place to stop off on the ride and see birds that are tricky to see in the wild.
I was captured by the takahe enclosure (it’s ok – I made it out again!), with fluffy chicks being fed by foster parents. If you reach the sanctuary around mid-morning you may be lucky enough to watch the daily feeding by wildlife rangers. It’s great! I find it crazy that you can turn from the enclosure towards the lake and see the Murchison Mountains where the last few remaining takahe were re-discovered in the late 1940’s before conservation efforts took them back from the brink of extinction. We leave the sanctuary behind in order to make discoveries of our own along the trail as we ride towards the lake outlet.
A few kilometres along the shoreline we reach the Lake Te Anau outlet, with control gates that act as a bridge over the Waiau River and provide access to the Kepler Track. I stop to take photos of the water flowing through the gates and note the expressions on trampers faces; the eager enter as the weary return on foot from Fiordland National Park. We do not cross this threshold as the park does not permit cyclists, instead we continue following the cycle trail on the Te Anau side of the Waiau River. We are not unhappy about being out of the park as our trail is wide, gentle and easy compared to that on the opposite bank.
Downstream we trace the clear waters of the Waiau through gloomy beech forest. The trail undulates a bit, just enough to work up a light sweat on the hills without tiring. At times we stop and appreciate the elevated views high above the snaking river. We discover as we ride that occasionally the river currents switch back on themselves.
In some cases creating nearly impossible bows beside the trail like that at Horseshoe Bend, or the crazy twists at Balloon Loop, and forgotten river depressions that now form oxbow lakes.
This is fascinating river hydrology that the trail explores. As we enter more forest we are shaded from the midday sun and offered river glimpses, while the open sections that skirt farmland offer expansive views of the mountains, to where we are heading. I love the intermingling of land cover that this trail shares.
After passing Queens Reach, an open reserve to launch angler’s boats, we climb back into the forest where the trail narrows a little and cuts into the bank aggressively to negotiate the steep terrain. Here the trail seems to intimately hug the trunks of giant trees on either side before widening as it reaches the river terrace. After passing by a placid oxbow lake and climbing another river terrace the trail descends to Rainbow Reach which is a second access point to the Kepler Track. At the Reach it’s worth hoping off the saddle for a break and walking across the suspension bridge over the Waiau River. Here the river is clear and wide, so clear in fact that with the sun on our backs I can see every submerged boulder for nearly a hundred metres downstream. Beauty abounds.
After our blissful gazing we leave the Reach and continue riding south. I relish the feeling of wilderness as the trail winds under a canopy of trees.
Then suddenly at Balloon Loop our heads turn and our mouths open so wide that we could have been mistaken for the expressions of rotating clowns heads at amusement shows.
We are in awe as the forest breaks just enough to let us catch a magnificent vistas. The braided channels of pristine water have over time cut into the massive shingle cliffs downstream at Boulder Reach, across the river is a band of forest with craggy mountains behind framed by a blue sky backdrop. We had found a perfect spot for lunch, to sit and eat crackers while taking in a cracker of a view.
The trail leads north to Balloon Loop. To link to the next section it is necessary to ride along the highway for four kilometres to Supply Bay Road. Currently the Fiordland National Park management plan does not permit bicycles – but it is under review. It is hoped with the management plan changes that overarching policy will allow cycling on designated formed tracks, which will in turn help the trails trust connect the gap between the Te Anau and Manapouri trails.
The next section of trail takes us through scrubland, with occasional glimpses of Lake Manapouri and its various headlands and islands. Abruptly the trail exits the scrub as we arrive at the lakeside village of Manapouri. You know you have reached the trailhead when you see the hydro-electric turbine and the large rock that marks the height of the lake if the ‘Save the Manapouri’ campaign had failed. There is an interesting plaque about the campaign which I stop and read.
The ‘Save the Manapouri’ campaign is a tale of geology, hydrology and environment-ology (I know ... I made it up but you know what it means!). In the mid-1950s a kiwi geologist was sent to the tiny settlement of Weipa on the top tip of Australia (the first land sighting of Aussie by Dutch explorer Willem Janzoon in 1606 was here) to look for oil deposits. What he found was bauxite – the alumina containing ore that can be converted to aluminium. It was the world’s largest find of the ore and remains the largest mine of the mineral to this day. Once discovered the prospect of NZ’s southern lakes was looked on as a potential cheap source of hydro-electric power to process the ore.
The Ministry of Works had a grand plan to tap the water from Lake Manapouri and release it via a tunnel to Doubtful Sound – to maximise the efficiencies of the power station it was proposed to raise Lake Manapouri by 30 metres! Raising the lake would have meant NZ’s seventh largest lake would be joined by the country’s 2nd largest: Lake Te Anau. The flooding would have consumed forest, settlements and created a super lake far bigger than any other on our shores.
What erupted was NZ’s largest environmental battle, protestors collected the signatures of ten percent of the country’s population. The protest and a change to a Labour government resulted in the lake level being left alone. Had the campaign failed the Lake 2 Lake trail that I rode today would could not exist … however an alternative trail on a grander shore may have been called something like the Super Lake Trail.
As I finished reading the plaque and enjoyed Manapouri’s pristine outlook I reflected on my ride. What I enjoyed the most about the trail is the ease of access between the twin lake settlements and a sense of wilderness despite an easy ride in the front country. The Trails Trust has done incredible work to bring this ride to life.
The Trust also has ambitious plans for extending the trail west as well as north and to one day reach Mavora Lakes to connect with the Around the Mountains Great Ride. Wouldn’t that be a sweet ride? As for me I make tracks; firstly by entering a waypoint, then saving my GPS data before we head home … satisfied that the southern twin lakes are not joined; only linked by the beautiful river that the Lake 2 Lake cycle trail follows along its meandering course.