Lake Hawea is the most northerly of the glacial lakes in Otago, is some 19 miles long, up to 5 miles wide and is 46 sq. miles in area. It is some 1,133 ft above sea level and 1,285 ft deep. The lake is drained by the Hawea River (2,240 cusec discharge), a short tributary of the Clutha, and is enclosed at its foot by a moraine wall deposited by the glacier that formerly occupied the lake basin. The only large river draining into Lake Hawea is the Hunter River at the head; two smaller tributaries joining the lake from the east are Dingle Burn and Timaru Creek. Most of the 567 sq. miles of drainage area is mountainous with peaks between 6,000–8,000 ft high. About two-thirds of the area is forested, and the remainder in the vicinity of the southern end of the lake is clothed with tussock or, on the lowlands, with pasture.
The lake affords excellent water sports and fishing (brown trout and salmon) and the surrounding countryside carries game such as deer, goats, chamois, quail, chukor, ducks, and geese. The area has a pleasantly dry climate, very warm in summer, and is suitable for walking and mountaineering trips. There are no commercial launch services on the lake. There is a small community of holiday houses around the south end of the lake, and a small hotel near the outlet caters for tourist needs and can be reached by a first-class road which continues northward beyond Hawea through Haast Pass to the west coast. The lake level was recently raised about 50 ft when a small control dam was constructed for water storage for hydro-electric purposes. This promoted an increase in the fish population of the lake.
The lake is named after the early inhabitants of the district, the Hawea sub-tribe which was an offshoot of the Waitahas and, more latterly, of the Ngati Mamoes.
by Bryce Leslie Wood, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.