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About 10,000 years ago, while the Tasman Sea was rising and the islands that would become New Zealand were being reshaped, depressions in the late Pleistocene sand compacted and filled with rainwater. Three of the resulting basin dune lakes became known as the Kai Iwi Lakes. Ringed with white sand and full of clean, clear water, the lakes have been providing Northland New Zealanders with fish and a place to play for thousands of years.
Lake Waikere, Lake Taharoa and Lake Kai-Iwi make up the Kai Iwi Lakes. At 586 acres, Lake Taharoa is by far the largest. In fact it is the third largest dune lake in New Zealand, and with a maximum depth of 121 feet it is also the deepest known dune lake in New Zealand. Lake Waikere covers 86 acres and is 98 feet deep. At just 52 feet deep at its deepest point, 82 - acre Lake Kai-Iwi is much shallower than the other lakes. Lake Kai-Iwi and Lake Taharoa are connected by a narrow channel, but none of the lakes have inlets or outlets. Their water comes primarily from rainfall, so lake levels are very dependent on the climate, fluctuating as much as two feet over the course of a year. Both Lake Waikere and Lake Taharoa are considered oligotrophic and their water is some of the cleanest and clearest on the North Island.
In Maori, the language of New Zealand's native people, "kai" means "food" and "iwi" means "tribe." There is evidence of a Maori settlement and burial grounds around the Kai Iwi Lakes. By the late 1870's the lakes had become a gum digging area. Gum is resin from the Kauri Trees. The huge trees are only native to New Zealand, and much of the Northland used to be kauri forest. The resin piled up under the trees and was eventually covered over. An industry grew around digging and selling the gum for among many things, the manufacture of varnish. In the early 1900's, an attempt was made to drain Lake Kai-Iwi for a gum operation dropping the lake's water levels by six and a half feet, but by the 1920's most of the gum digging was over. In 1928 land on the east shore of Lake Taharoa was dedicated as a scenic reserve and by 1968 all three lakes and the surrounding land had become the Taharoa Domain.
Today the Kai Iwi Lakes and the Taharoa Domain draws people from all over to fish, swim, sailboard, dive, boat, and play. There are campgrounds and picnic areas, and the lakes are surrounded with white sand beaches. The northeast side of the lakes is covered with pine plantations, and there are miles of trails winding through them and around the lakes. The Kai Iwi Lakes are less than two miles from the Tasman Sea, and there is a trail through the domain and across private farmland to the coast.
All three lakes have boat access, but each has different rules regarding the use of motorboats. The Kai Iwi Lakes Ski Club makes its home on Lake Waikere, and the New Zealand Water Ski Championships are often held at the Kai Iwi Lakes. There is no water skiing on Lake Kai-Iwi. The Northland Fish and Game Council stocks both Lake Waikere and Lake Taharoa with fingerling trout, and the rainbow trout fishing in both lakes is excellent. Trout are the only sport fish in the lakes and they are not present in Lake Kai-Iwi. Native species include the common bully and dwarf inganga which evolved from the salt water inganga after becoming landlocked.
The Northland has been called the "spiritual birthplace" of New Zealand. New Zealand's founding documents were signed in Waitangi, a coastal town near Russell. The Northland extends from Cape Reinga south to Kaipara Harbour. It is a narrow finger pointing into the Tasman Sea with inspiring coastal views and quaint villages. Visitors can wander through seaside villages, eat in one of the local restaurants, and browse the shops. At the end of the day, return to spend the night at one of many vacation rentals and watch the day close over Kai Iwi Lakes.
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