A blissful escape to Lake Brunner
Serenely situated between bush-covered mountains with camera-ready panoramic views, Lake Brunner has been known as simply the largest lake in the northwestern South Island. However, with its envious year-round fishing conditions, numerous water activities and abundance of native birdlife, it’s quickly gaining popularity as one of the west coast’s top holiday destinations.
As the last stop of the TranzAlpine journey before it reaches Greymouth, the quaint lakeside fishing settlement of Moana is the perfect place to make the most of all Lake Brunner has to offer. Hop off to explore and while you're at it, why not stay awhile? Here are a few reasons to start filling your calendar now.
A Fisherman's paradise.
Lake Brunner and its out-flowing Arnold River are home to the local's favourite catch – the wild brown trout. Weighing in at around four pounds each, fishing for these buttery-brown trout is a treat not to be missed. At least that's what we hear from Brent Beadle, Moana's longest-serving local fishing guide.
With two boats under his belt ('Madeline Ruth' and the aptly named 'Sneakuponum'), Brent runs the popular Moana Trout Fishing Safari where you can take a tranquil trip on the lake with the master himself. Dry fly, nymph, streamers, spinning or trolling, there's a chance to experience it all as the mountains reflect behind you. Book in your trip with him before you go, so you don't miss out on an expedition with the lake's expert. If you're lucky, you might even beat the lake record of 29 trout caught in one day!
Water fun for the family to enjoy.
If it's not the 'big one' you're after, catch a scenic tour of the lake instead in all its glacier-carved glory. Known as the "Riviera" of Westland, Lake Brunner's expansive size makes it the perfect playground for kayaking, yachting and even powerboating. Enjoy the serenity of the water and the freedom to anchor when and where you wish. Maybe you're more of the "sit back and relax" type? Hop on board. There's plenty of boat charters to make that happen.
But it's not just the big kid in you that's sure to be pleased, Lake Brunner's calm waters are an ideal spot for the whole family. Grab the kids, grab a kayak (or two) and head to one of the lake's many secluded shorelines for a day's picnic. And if you're travelling with adrenaline-hungry teens, you'll find plenty of great options like jet boating and water skiing that are sure to entertain.
Set off on the right foot.
If you prefer to stay on land, Moana offers plenty of beautiful walks within metres of the train station. These can range from 20-minute tracks to 10-hour tramps. Whatever your fitness level, you'll be sure to experience a breathtaking variety of wetland and rainforest ecosystems as you go. Remember, Lake Brunner weather conditions can change quickly so best to check what's in store before you set off. Here are a few top tracks to get you started.
The Rakaitane Track
The Rakaitane Track is the ideal length for those looking to enjoy the sights with a relaxed stroll. But you certainly won't be missing out – at just 1.2km, this 30-minute walk packs in its fair share of picturesque views. Take in the stunning Arnold River views across a long suspension footbridge before making your way through a forest coated with a spongy floor of native moss and ferns. Protected beneath a canopy of slender kahikatea trees, you'll feel completely at peace.
Just looking to stretch your legs? This 20-minute track can be easily accessed from town and has a vibrant array of native trees and orchards to immerse yourself in. Be sure to keep an eye out as well for native birds, especially the majestic white heron. After all, Lake Brunner's Māori name is Moana-Kōtuku which means "sea of white herons."
For the experience of a lifetime, trade-in your sunnies for a head torch and hit the track after dark. Here you'll be greeted by a spectacular glow. The area of Moana is full of hundreds of bright, tiny glow worms by night and grottos accessed from the track are a great way to experience the magic first-hand.
Carew Falls Track
Like every good New Zealand trail, you'll find a mesmerising waterfall at the end of the Carew Falls Track. This moderate one-hour return walk is rich with diversity. Gently climb through a shady podocarp forest before continuing a bit more steeply to the base of the impressive Carew Falls. Bring some lunch to enjoy on the surrounding granite boulders while you take in the 30m high falls cascading behind you.
Lake Brunner is surrounded by a great selection of mountain biking and cycling trails. Hop on your bike of choice to pedal around the picturesque lakeside. Near Moana, a 130km-long circuit of the lake is a popular choice for road cyclists. So much so, that every May the town watches in anticipation of the iconic "Around Brunner Cycle Ride" which sees local cyclers start in Moana for either the 130km or 260km loop of the lake. Best of all, everyone's welcome! Take advantage of the designated, secure baggage carriage on board the TranzAlpine to travel BYOB-style (bring your own bike).
Dig into some local history
If you're looking to learn something new during your time in Moana, you've hit gold. The Brunner Mine Site is a local heritage site you won't want to miss. This relic is one of the country's earliest industrial sites where coal was mined, and coke, firebricks and other products were manufactured from the 1860s to the 1940s. You can enjoy a short walk around the historic coke ovens, brick factory and tunnel remains. If you're after a relaxing and educational excursion, this tour is the perfect way to spend a day.
Where to stay
After a long day chock-full of activities, finding somewhere to rest your head will be top of mind. From holiday parks with Lake Brunner camping to boutique lodges and cosy apartments, there's plenty of great options for you to get some shut-eye. Now comes the fun part – choosing a spot to suit your holiday style.
Country Motel & Holiday Park
Nestled near Moana, the Lake Brunner Country Motel & Holiday Park is a unique complex covering six acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, with scenic reserve as a backdrop. Here you'll have your pick of cottages, cabin lodges, campervan park or tent sites. Either way, be sure to take advantage of the hot spa pool – perfect for some night time star-gazing.
There are only three things you'll want to do at Lake Brunner Lodge – sit back, relax and enjoy true kiwi hospitality. Hidden in the rolling foothills of Podocarp rainforest overlooking the lake, this classic wilderness retreat offers the ultimate escape from it all. From specific travel arrangements to dietary requests, the Lodge's friendly concierge will take care of anything you need.
Lake Brunner Hotel & Apartments
Who can resist a hotel with direct access to one of the best restaurants in town? Located in the Moana Village just a couple minutes' walk from the train station, the Lake Brunner Hotel & Apartments boast more than just unparalleled views of the lake and Southern Alps. You'll be an easy walking distance to the King Fisher restaurant and bar.
With family favourites like burgers and pizza on the menu and an array of beer and wine on tap, this local gem is a great spot to fill up – and warm up! Tucked inside you'll find a fireplace that's almost always roaring.
The TranzAlpine train can take you there
Travelling to Lake Brunner couldn't be easier with the TranzAlpine train running daily from Christchurch. After a comfortable, scenic train ride complete with roomy seating, panoramic windows and a licensed café, you'll arrive at Moana station at 12:05 pm. Usually, passengers hop off here to enjoy three hours of exploring before returning to Christchurch. However, now that you know everything this beloved lakeside town has to offer, it should be easy to imagine three hours turning into three days. And why not? When it comes to your dream South Island break, don't just test waters. Dive right in and book your TranzAlpine journey to Lake Brunner today.