Lake Manapouri is the deepest of the southern glacial lakes with a depth of 1,468 ft; the lake is 600 ft above sea level which means that the bed is 870 ft below sea level. Lake Manapouri is smaller than Te Anau, being 59 sq. miles in area and 18 miles long, but with its extremely irregular shoreline, countless islands, and steep forested mountain ranges, often snow capped, it has earned the description “the loveliest lake in New Zealand.” The shoreline is indented by the South, West, North, and Hope Arms, and except for a few miles along the eastern side is entirely bush clad. A small village and accommodation house near the outlet at the east end of the lake caters for tourist needs, and there are launch trips, boating, fishing, hunting, and other out-door sports. Some very fine launch trips are available, commencing from a natural boat anchorage in Pearl Harbour on the Waiau River at the outlet (1,363 cusec discharge). The most impressive trip is that to the head of the lake, past Channel Islands, Hope Arm, and Pomona Island, and finally to the mouth of the Spey River where an 11-mile walking track leads to Doubtful Sound. Occasionally charter flights can be made from Manapouri and these reveal a wealth of impressive and beautiful mountain scenery.
The concluding stages of a hydro-electric scheme, whereby the lake waters will be diverted through a tunnel to Doubtful Sound to generate power for an aluminium industry, have now been reached. Future development may involve the raising of the level of Manapouri and, possibly, of Te Anau to a considerable height and this will undoubtedly cause great changes in the appearance of these lakes.
The first Europeans to reach Lake Manapouri (in 1852) were C. J. Nairn and W. H. Stephen. Exploration was carried out intermittently after 1888, in which year Professor Mainwaring Brown, of the University of Otago, lost his life in the ranges west of the lake. Toward the end of last century, the Government cut tracks and built huts between Manapouri and some of the western fiords, but through lack of interest these were neglected for many years. In 1921 Leslie Murrell reopened the track through Wilmot Pass (2,100 ft) to Deep Cove at the head of Malaspina Sound and for many years he conducted tourist walking trips from Manapouri to a lodge on the Sound. In recent years this track has been improved and further huts have been built by the Manapouri-Doubtful Sound Tourist Company. This route was originally discovered by R. Murrell when searching for Mainwaring Brown in December 1888, and its possibilities were confirmed in 1897 by E. H. Wilmot who surveyed much of the surrounding country.
The ancient name for the lake was Moturau, “Hundred Islands”. The present name is a variation of Manawapouri, which is usually translated as “Lake of the Sorrowing Heart”.
by Alexander Russell Mutch, B.SC., A.O.S.M., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.