Discovering Mou Waho Island and Lake Wanaka with Eco Wanaka


Last month I was in Wanaka, enjoying a fabulous four day autumn retreat in this beautiful town. The leaves of the trees along the lakeshore had already turned a brilliant gold by the time we arrived, and the bright blue skies and sparkling sunshine were an incredible backdrop. Every time I put my camera away, I’d have to pull it out again in a vain attempt to capture this special corner of New Zealand.

One of the best trips we did during our stay in Wanaka was an excursion with Eco Wanaka Adventures out to Mou Waho Island nature reserve. Chris Reilly was our Guide for the day, and he regaled us with fascinating insights into the history of this nature reserve. Mou Waho is about 20 minutes by boat from Wanaka. It was a beautiful ride, and we were surprised to see how long Lake Wanaka is. From the town itself, you don’t get an appreciation for how far north it runs, and for all the bays and cliffs that edge the lake. We drove past Mou Tapu, a striking and sacred island where the Maori buried their dead, and then pulled up to a little jetty on Mou Waho.


The first thing we noticed was the beautiful bird calls drifting down through the bush: we could pick out bell birds, fantails and wood pigeons. Chris showed us examples of native plants on the way up to the top of the island – mistletoe with little yellow berries (a favourite with the wood pigeons) and fuchsia, whose purple flowers are adored by bell birds (the little green birds end up with purple faces from the pollen of these flowers). Chris also showed us some wineberries, and explained how the wood pigeons love to over-indulge in these small red berries. On a hot day, the wine berries ferment in the pigeons stomach, the pigeons get drunk on the berries, and you can see them swooping crazily up and down the island. Chris told us about how he nearly got hit in the head by one drunken pigeon a few years ago.

Another lovely aspect of this trip is that every group of visitors gets to plant a tree on the island, to give something back to the island, and to New Zealand’s environment. We planted a totara tree, and have already planned to go back and visit in a few years time, to see how it has grown. Another memorable part of our visit to Mou Waho was our interaction with two of the delightfully curious Buff Weka, a flightless bird that has been extinct on the mainland since the 1920’s. Sally (one of the Weka’s whose territory extended to the lake on the top of the island, where we stopped for morning tea) wandered around our legs while we sipped our tea, and was very calm and accepting of our presence. We got some fabulous photos and videos from very close up.

The view from the top of Mou Waho looking back over Lake Wanaka and up to the surrounding mountains was absolutely stunning. The light breaking through the clouds and the imposing mountains all around was a dream for any photographer. Every corner we turned looked out onto new breathtaking vistas which I kept trying to capture. A highly recommended trip for anyone wanting to experience New Zealand’s birdlife and native flora with a fabulous guide, and for anyone wanting to see this beautiful part of the country from a different perspective.

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