The Mirror lakes in New Zealand are a collection of beautiful reflection ponds and lakes on the way to Milford Sound. Therefore it is a perfect stopover to stretch the legs and enjoy the fresh air of Fiordland National Park. On a calm day the lakes are truly like a mirror, reflecting the Earl mountains and showing the sunken tree branches. Via a short boardwalk you get to the viewing platform that looks out over the lakes. Here you can take in the beautiful scenery. There are a few things you should know to get the perfect circumstances at the Mirror Lake though. We have been to the Mirror Lakes on 3 different different occasions and in different seasons. So in this complete guide you’ll find all our tips for your perfect visit to the Mirror Lakes.
How to get to Mirror lakes New Zealand
The Mirror Lakes are located along Milford Road in Fiordland National Park. You will pass the Mirror lakes on the way to Milford Sound from Te Anau so it’s an easy stopover to stretch the legs and breath the fresh air. It is exactly halfway located so many people choose this spot to have a break. But because it’s a come and go it won’t be too busy. And otherwise a little patience can make a big difference.
There are some parking spots available but it’s not a huge parking lot. So if it’s full with cars you have to be a bit creative. Make sure to park your car somewhere safely and take other road users into account.
From the car park it is just a minute walk to the observatory platform to see the Mirror lakes. When we’ve visited the Mirror Lakes the last time in May 2023 there was a lady selling coffee! Such a great idea, as everyone visiting in the early morning can use a warm drink and caffeine shot.
When you’ve booked a Milford Sound tour by coach you will most likely make a stop here as well. And otherwise you can always ask your guide to have a quick break at the Mirror lakes.
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
A slip during hiking is made before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Best time to visit Mirror lakes New Zealand
The best time to visit the Mirror lakes is on a calm day with no to little wind. Only then you will be able to see the reflection of the Earl mountains in the water. Generally the wind is most calm in the early morning or around sunset.
There are more reasons to visit the Mirror Lakes in the morning though. Because during midday under bright sunlight there will be unattractive glares from the sun and harsh shadows in the water. This makes it more difficult to see the reflection, let along capture them with your camera.
Also, in the early morning you will have better chances of mist in the valley, which creates a magical vibe. We were very lucky to see the mist on out third visit to the Mirror Lakes after two failed attempts. Don’t they say ‘Third time is a charm?”
I also found the Mirror Lakes most magical with fresh snow on the peaks. Of course you can’t control this, but if you’re lucky enough to visit after a night of snow, you will be in to see the jackpot!
The Mirror Lakes on a beautiful morning with fresh snow
The Mirror Lakes during a moody sunset
The Mirror Lakes on a rainy midday with no reflection at all
What to expect at Mirror lakes New Zealand
The Mirror lakes walk is without a doubt some of the most short walks in Fiordland National Park. Therefore it is easily accessible for everyone and the wooden boardwalk is even wheelchair friendly.
A stop at the Mirror Lakes is a must during your day trip to Milford Sound and can be easily combined with other short stops along Milford Road such as Lake Gunn, Eglinton valley and Milford Valley lookout.
A fun thing to know is that the Mirror Lakes were created when the Eglinton River shifted its course many years ago, leaving these two river bends behind to form what is known as ‘oxbow’ lakes. Together with the Eglinton River they form part of the largest system of inland waterways in New Zealand.
Other Mirror Lakes in New Zealand South island
If you didn’t had the luck to see any reflection in the officially called ‘Mirror Lakes’ of New Zealand, then luckily there are some other spots where you can have another try.
Here a short summary of other Mirror Lakes in New Zealand:
- Milford Sound shore on a calm day
- Key Summit tarns in Fiordland
- Lake Marian in Milford Sound
- Sealy Tarns walk in Mount Cook National Park
- Lake Matheson in Franz Josef
- Moke Lake nearby Queenstown
- Pouakai Tarns with Mount Taranaki reflection
What causes a reflection in still water?
A reflection in still water occurs when light waves from an object in front of the water’s surface bounce off the surface and back into our eyes. The surface of the water acts as a mirror, reflecting the light waves and producing an image of the object. The reflection appears clear and undistorted when the surface of the water is perfectly still, without any ripples or waves that would disturb the light waves.
The reflection is caused by a phenomenon called “specular reflection,” which is the reflection of light waves in a smooth, shiny surface. When light waves hit a smooth surface at a particular angle, they bounce off at the same angle, producing a clear reflection. This is in contrast to “diffuse reflection,” which occurs when light waves hit a rough surface and scatter in different directions, producing a blurred or distorted reflection.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Must do tours in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is some of the most beautiful National Parks in New Zealand. Known for the glacier-carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford sound and home to beautiful alpine lakes, ancient rainforests and huge waterfalls. With plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do, it is highly recommended to spend at least three to four days in Fiordland National Park. Three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are in Fiordland, known as Kepler track, Milford track and Routeburn Track. But if you’re not prepared for multi day hikes, then there are also plenty of day walks options and other fun activities to do. Here are some tours we highly recommend to do in Fiordland National Park.
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
This is without a doubt the most in depth Milford Sound day tour. Discover the natural beauty and wildlife of Milford Sound during a cruise that includes admission to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. Besides seeing the impressive landscape of Milford Sound, you will also see the aquatic world through the windows of the observatory. Lunch, as well as onboard coffee and tea are included.
Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Fly alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks before returning to our Milford base during this 20 minute flight.
See the magical natural phenomenon of glowworms in the caves of Te Anau. An informative guide takes you on this underground adventure starting with a cruise across Lake Te Anau. Once arrived at the caves you can marvel at the shimmering illumination of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the quiet darkness of this magical underground world.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
Step into a powerful Fiordland Jet boat and cruise down the mighty Waiau River on this roughly two-hour adventure into the heart of Fiordland National Park. You will pass some famous landmarks and Lord of the Rings filming locations along the way. Departure is from Lake Te Anau with morning, afternoon and evening trips.
Book this full day Milford Sound hiking tour including cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along the Milford Road from Te Anau and enjoy panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Then you will enjoy a relaxing boat cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea. Gaze over soaring clifftops and plummeting waterfalls while learning more about the environment. Afterwards you will go on a short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.
Marvel at the majestic views of Fiordland wilderness on this luxury sunset cruise. Including champagne and canapés, this tour on the impeccably-preserved 1930s sailing yacht is a unique experience. You can watch the sun set over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise.
Where to stay near Mirror Lakes
The best way to explore the most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option as the Milford Sound Lodge. If you have a self contained campervan then you have the option to stay at some camping sites.
Te Anau on the other hand has more options for accommodations and facilities such as restaurants and supermarkets. However, from Te Anau it is 80 kilometre drive to Lake Marian trailhead. If you’re planning to explore Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound for a few days, then having your base in Te Anau is a great idea. With the ever changing weather circumstances in Fiordland National Park, it is always a surprise to see how the landscape changes. And with so many places you can explore along Milford road it is a great day trip into Fiordland National Park.
Milford Sound Lodge
Milford Sound Lodge is some of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. The mountain and river view chalets look out over the mountain peaks with waterfalls pouring down along the cliffs. Truly some of the most mesmerising views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here two nights and highly recommend booking a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. You are not only close to the action of Milford Sound cruise and the hikes you can do. But you can also fully recharged in your cosy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant.
Radfords on the Lake Te Anau
Radfords on the Lake is located across the road from Lake Te Anau with stunning lake and mountain views. The fully self-contained suites offer everything you need during your stay. From cooking utensils to a desk and comfortable bed, Radfords on the Lake in Te Anau is your home away from home. With lovely staff, daily cleaning and it’s central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Mirror Lakes New Zealand. Make sure to put this beautiful spot in Milford Sound on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.