There are a lot of beautiful walks on the South Island, all with breathtaking scenery and mountainous backdrops. Most of these you’ll have to share with other visitors and nature lovers, but that’s not the case with the Moke Lake Loop Track.
Thanks to spending a little extra time around Central Otago, we heard about Moke Lake in Queenstown (and its secret lookout spot) from a few locals and made it our mission to head over there before the snow started to settle on the Crown Range. If you’re in Queenstown looking for a secret place to escape the city and stretch your legs, here’s why you need to add the Moke Lake loop track to your to-do list.
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Where is Moke Lake?
To say hardly anyone knows about it, besides the locals that is, Moke Lake is surprisingly close to Queenstown – only 20 minutes outside of the city centre!
If you leave the city in the direction of Glenorchy, after less than 10 minutes you will see a right turning for ‘Moke Lake Road’ – it’s on a corner so you’ll almost miss it if you’re not looking out for it.
Take this turn and continue until you reach the end of the sealed road. It’s at this point you’ll probably notice the sign that says ‘4WD needed in Winter’ and begin to wonder what wild goose chase I’ve sent you on. Don’t worry and keep going.
For us as the start of winter, the road was perfectly fine but we perhaps wouldn’t continue on this road without 4wd or snow-chains if there’s a noticeable amount of ice or snow around. We have it on good authority that even bus-campers have made it up this road when the weather is good.
Moke Lake is another 10 minutes from this sign and unsealed road past a slightly smaller lake.
The Road to Moke Lake Camping + Walk
Moke Lake Loop Track
Thankfully, the start of the Moke Lake loop track is just as easy to follow as it is to find.
Once we pulled up at the car park, there was no mistaking which way we needed to go. This is a well worn, well-marked track and there was only us and one other car here.
Crossing the wetlands on the small wooden bridge, the Moke Lake walk slowly follows the edge of the lake in a 2-3 hour loop route. Although if you’re anything like us, you’ll probably need more than 3 hours to allow for photo stops!
Before you turn around the first corner and head along the far side of the lake, walk down to the water’s edge and check out the mirror-like reflections or ice layer if it’s been pretty cold and say hi to the ducks!
Moke Lake Loop Track Route
For the most part, the track is relatively flat until you reach the centre peninsula on the Southern end of the lake. Here you’ll have a steep climb 200m up the hill to what the DOC says is the best view of the lake – this isn’t necessarily the case if you find the secret spot, but we’ll talk you through that soon!
From this lookout, you can see the unique horseshoe shape of Moke Lake, framed by the surrounding mountains. If you decide to camp at Moke Lake, this is a really nice spot to sit and watch the stars or the milky way and is quicker to reach from the roadside of the lake if you don’t fancy walking the Moke lake loop track again.
Moke Lake Loop Track
Moke Lake Secret Lookout
Full disclaimer – we didn’t make it to the top of this lookout because of how icy and wet the track was. DO NOT try this in winter. You need a dry day to be able to make it to the top of the Moke Lake Secret Lookout.
Now that’s out the way. Where exactly is the Moke Lake Secret Lookout?
We were told about this ‘track’ by someone we met in Wanaka. It’s a local favourite but not for the faint-hearted. Please remember that this track is steep for the entire walk and very slippery when the slightest bit wet.
Follow the Moke Lake loop track from the car park, keeping a keen eye on the farmer’s fence that follows the track on the right. When this fence stops and turns right, follow it for 400m.
This will take you away from the lake, but that’s ok. We’ll be going up that peak in front of you soon so keep your eyes open for a viable track – don’t take the first one you see as it’s likely the wrong one.
After roughly 400m (just after the tree that’s very close to the fence), you’ll see a very faint track winding its way up the peak. Follow this track as closely as possible – we strayed a little off track for an easy route, but you’ll get the basic directions.
You need to continue up this steep track for 45 minutes, after which you’ll eventually reach a flat clearing. This is the secret Moke Lake Lookout.
We only made it 10 minutes up before deciding to turn around but the view from there was still beautiful. The track is hard, but not impossible if you take the right track. If you’re feeling like it’s impossible and the track looks dangerously steep up ahead – you’re on the wrong track and perhaps need to follow the fence for a little longer.
Once again, don’t try this track in bad weather or while the ground is still wet.
The view of Moke Lake loop track from the secret lookout
Moke Lake Camping Facilities
Moke Lake doesn’t have to be a day trip from Queenstown. You can actually camp here too!
The Moke Lake Camping facilities are very basic, with only long drop toilets and one water tap, but that’s the fun of camping, isn’t it!
In the middle of winter, the camp gets ‘closed’, with the toilets getting locked and the water being turned off but you can still stay here. No booking is required.
Moke Lake Camping is currently $15pp, but you can get the latest prices and details from the DOC website.
Moke Lake Valley from the secret lookout
Other Accommodation Near Moke Lake Track
If Moke Lake camping isn’t what you had in mind, but would like to stay in the area a little longer, you have two options – Queenstown or Glenorchy. However, there are a lot more options for all budgets in Queenstown.
What to take with you for the Moke Lake Loop Track
We always recommend taking plenty of bottled water with you when you go walking. Even though the Moke Lake Loop Track has a water tap at the campsite, this is often frozen during the colder months if not switched off completely.
Be prepared for our little bitey friends, the sandflies and mosquitoes, to pay you a visit too! The best protection we’ve found so far has been Aeroguard fly spray, let us know if you’ve had success with any others!
If you’re doing the Moke Lake Loop Track in summer, you’ll definitely want to take sun cream with you. There’s very little shelter on this walk and the sun in NZ is a lot stronger than anywhere else we’ve been. Even on a slightly overcast day, you’re likely to burn without some type of protection.
Don’t forget your camera/phone!! On a calm day, Moke Lake has mirror-like reflections of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great photo opportunity
Things to do After the Moke Lake Walk
Moke Lake is in its own little world, hidden in the valley below the mountain ranges. But there’s a few other activities that you can do here, besides walking.
Kayaking and fishing are allowed in Moke Lake – just remember to get your reflection photos before you disturb the calm waters!
You can also cycle the Moke Lake Loop Track if you fancy a challenge on the 200m incline.
Once you’ve done all this, and you still want to hang around this area for a little longer, there’s a decent walking track that takes you back towards Lake Wakatipu passing Lake Dispute. This track is even quieter than the Moke Lake loop tack so it’s a really good option if you want some quality ‘me time’ in the mountains.
Moke Lake from above. Image by New Zealand DOC
Photography Tips for Moke Lake
There are plenty of photo opportunities around Moke Lake, but the best one is when the lake is still and you get the perfect mirror reflections from the clear water.
If you visit Moke Lake on one of these days and want to ensure you get the perfect photos, we suggest using your widest lens and finding a spot at the lake’s edge that gives you a good angle of the lake.
Somewhere near the middle is good as you can get reflections of the central peninsular then too, but there’s also a nice corner by the far side of the lake that has reeds and a fence – these would make really good foreground subjects for your reflections.
Once you’ve found your spot, play around with the height of your photo. Don’t just stand and snap form eye-height. Sometimes a photo looks better when taken from ground level, especially if you want to include the taller mountains in your reflections.
If you have a polarizing lens, toy around with having that on and off. Sometimes reflection photos can look really nice with part of the water polarized, especially if there are some cool rocks on the lake floor. Here’s a guide to how to get the most out of your polarizing filter, if you’re unsure.
View of Moke Lake from the central Peninsula
Overall we think the Moke Lake Loop Track is a must-do for anyone passing through Queenstown. We’ll be covering a few other walks from this area in the near future, so if you’re a keen hiker be sure to subscribe to get our updates straight to your inbox!
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What a beauty spot! Such an incredible landscape for a hike as you suggested. I especially like the photography tips you shared. I can see why you would need to use a wide angle lens to capture these epic views. Is this a hidden gem, or well known in New Zealand?
This is fairly well known to Queensland locals, but people passing through don’t really know about it. It isn’t well signposted either so unless you were looking for it, you wouldn’t stumble on it.
Gee, you’re pretty good with mirror lake photos! Mine were rubbish! I didn’t have enough time in Queenstown to discover this track but it looks amazing. I found the Ben Lomond track to be reasonably hard but this looks a bit easier. So beautiful, even with the grey clouds!
Aww, thanks Delphine! It’s easy when the conditions play nice. Yea Moke Lake loop track is ALOT easier than Ben Lomond, but the hike to the lookout is more of a scramble than a track.
The natural beauty of New Zealnd always amazes me! This loop looks so stunning and definately like somewhere I’d like to visit.
Would love to take the track one day. Looks unbelievably pretty.
I am hoping to go back to New-Zealand in January to visit Queenstown area I completely skipped a few years ago. I had never heard of Moke Lake and this trail. It seems to be an absolute gem I can’t wait tid visit. cheers!
Glad to hear it has been added to your itinerary. Thanks for reading, Jenny!
This really does look like a hidden gem, I’ll definitely add it to our list for when we (hopefully) get to New Zealand next year. Thank you for sharing such a detailed and informative post!
You’re welcome, Helena! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your trip next year!