Mou Waho is an island on Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island. Take a dip in the chilled waters of Arethusa Pool and discover the rare flightless bird, the buff weka. 

Highlights

  • See fearless ground-dwelling birds and giant alien crickets
  • Enjoy a boat ride on crystal clear Lake Wanaka
  • Views for miles
  • See a lake within an island, within a lake, within an island!

Meet The Buff Weka

I hold my breath. 

A large scruffy chicken with huge feet is eyeing my apple. 

He’s not bothered by my bright pink rain jacket flapping about in the wind, or my kids squealing excitedly behind me. 

In fact, this chicken is not frightened of much at all – he has no natural predators here and can waddle around this tiny wind-hammered island as he pleases. 

Unfortunately, it’s this curiosity and fearlessness that has landed New Zealand’s buff weka birds in strife. Extinct on the mainland since the 1920s, the buff weka is a chunky ground-dwelling bird, flightless like so many other species endemic to New Zealand.

 

 

Whilst his more common weka cousins are plentiful throughout the South Island, this particular apple-hungry buff weka is descended from a group of just 30 individuals, relocated to Mou Waho in 2004 to escape large scale decimation by introduced stoats and ferrets. 

Mou Waho Island is a hidden gem that’s just a stone’s throw from the adventure playground of Wanaka, on New Zealand’s South Island. 

Journey to Mou Waho Island

To meet this red-eyed chicken-kiwi hybrid and explore his breathtakingly beautiful home, take a water taxi from Wanaka, scooting around the lake’s rocky coastline and across a choppy strait, to reach Mou Waho.

Translated from the Māori as ‘outer island’, Mou Waho is also known as the lake within an island within a lake within an island (zoom in on Google Maps for a visual!). 

The high point of Mou Waho is reached via a short uphill climb through dense, wind-swept scrub. On the way, pause at Arethusa Pool – an Insta-worthy lake that serenely sits 150 metres above Lake Wanaka. Carved out over millennia by glacial activity, this glistening pool is a magical swimming spot in the warmer months.

 

 

Keep your eye out for little wooden boxes on the side of the trail – these are motels for mountain stone wētā, another NZ oddity that looks like a giant prehistoric cricket.

Climb further, and you’ll reach the ruggedly beautiful summit, with 360° views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountain ranges, capped with summer snow. 

 

But Where Are The Buff Wekas?

Well, they’re everywhere! They’re chilling on the beach when your water taxi lands. They’re waddling ahead of you on the stone path. They’re being blown sideways on the summit, ignoring the howling winds that whip across the mountains and blow their feathers into little punk hairdos. 

 

 

Thanks to conservation efforts, the buff weka population has recently ballooned from 30 to 200 on this quiet haven. Mou Waho is blissfully free of feral pests; far enough from the mainland that enterprising rats and stoats can’t swim across. 

Reintroducing individuals to the mainland is a work in progress and the ultimate goal of the Department of Conservation. But for now, seeing these guys living it up on their beautiful island home is a brilliant experience and a must do when you visit Wanaka.

 

Essential Gear

  • A packed lunch
  • Seasickness tablets if you’re not good with boats
  • The weather is changeable so bring a jacket and a raincoat

How To Get There

The water taxi will take you 15 kilometres up the lake, which takes upwards of 30 minutes – much longer in choppy conditions.

Activities

  • Wild swimming in a glacial lake
  • Seeing endangered native birds up close
  • An easy hike
  • Magic photo opportunities

Skill Level

Beginner

Duration

The island’s only accessible by boat, so book a local operator at Wanaka jetty and they’ll return you safe and sound after 1.5 hours of exploring the island. Allow 3 hours all up, and note that water taxis usually depart twice daily in the morning and afternoon.