Elisabeth Easther explores a small South Island town famous for its glacial lake.

Origin of name:

Named for a local tribe, a branch of the Waitaha people, and Ngati Mamoe.

Population: 2172

Deep thoughts: Lake Hawea is the most northerly glacial lake in Otago, it's 35km long and 8km wide with an area of 125sq km, sitting up about 348m above sea level, it's 392m at its deepest.

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Rising damp: In 1958, the lake was raised artificially by 20 metres; not only did this up the hydroelectric dam's output, it also increased fish stock.

Best website: lakehawea.co.nz
Big business: Tourism and farming, with lots of locals commuting to Wanaka for work

Famous locals: Bridget Brady, once an actress, she's now famous (with husband Adam) for her sweet Lake Hawea honey. Rodeo legend Pat McCarthy and Lydia Brady the first woman (and first New Zealander) to summit Everest without oxygen.

Town fiestas: The Lake Hawea Festival is six days of fun, held each New Year and based at the pub, this annual institution features music, games, even an eating competition. Plus there are various sporting events including fishing competitions, a gymkhana and the Lake Hawea Epic, otherwise known as New Zealand's ultimate mountain-biking challenge. Or for good old-fashioned fun, Town v Country held each Waitangi Weekend is a family-friendly community sports day.

Highlights: Lake Hawea is grand for fishing (brown trout and salmon), boating and swimming. It's also a short drive to three different skifields, so a handy winter base.

Kids love: The bike park by the school has jumps and mounds and mud piles - cycling is super round here, with easy trails from the school to the heart of the township and along the river. Pony Club is also popular.

Best walk: Lake Hawea has 12 phenomenal walking tracks right on its doorstep. The Kidds Nature Reserve Bush Track is an easy half-hour loop that sets off from the DoC camping ground; the Lake Hawea River Track is also mighty fine. Or you can do hearty all-day hikes up to Glendene and Hawea Stations, staying overnight in huts. The latest addition to the walking menu links Lake Hawea to Wanaka, part of the Te Araroa Trail, it's 15km of pure beauty, lake views and even includes a swing bridge. Almost all these tracks can be used by mountain bikers.

Don't just sit there: On still days, paddle-boarding is delightful, and on windy days (and the wind sure knows how to blow) kite-surfing is all the rage.

Best view: Everywhere. Surrounded by mountains, this natural wonder of a region is just gorgeous every which way you look.

Best place to pull over: Driving towards Makarora be sure to stop at The Lookout, the highest point on the road where you can look across the entire lake, over to the township and into The Neck, the small inlet that was created when the lake level was lifted.

Best swim: The lake has several good swimming bays. Scotts Beach at the front of the township has a designated swimming area with a pontoon. Around towards the motor camp there's another wee bay where you can launch your boat; this also has a shallow roped-off area especially good for little ones, as the lake gets very deep very quickly. And you'll want a wetsuit, even in summer, unless you're part seal.

Nice arts: Diana Turnbull-Anderson of Wyndrok Pottery fame has her studio in Lake Hawea and she welcomes visitors who wish to view her wares.

Home grown: There are quite a few local honey producers and backyard chooks, so keep some change handy for honesty boxes if you want to buy eggs or honey

Top shops: The township has a service station, a general store that sells icecreams, a couple of eating places and a pub.

Cream of the coffee: The pub does an excellent cup of coffee when you're craving your caffeine fix. Plus they whip up a batch of muffins most days.

Best food: Sailz, the licensed restaurant above the general store, is very good, with a range of hearty meals for vegetarians and carnivores. Their chips are legendary and downstairs you can get takeaways and impressive pizzas.

Wet your whistle: The Stag's Head Pub has been done up beautifully, with a welcoming atmosphere, pool, darts, a good-sized garden bar for summer and a blazing fire in winter. Be sure to check out the photographs depicting the area's history and have a meal at their restaurant too.

Best mountain biking: All the walking tracks are mountain-bike friendly -- and if you're into MTB you'll want to give The Lake Hawea Epic a go. Not for the faint-hearted, this annual event takes riders between five and nine hours and if you don't care about winning, you can stop halfway at The Dingles for a scone.

Best adventures: Lake Hawea Hunting Safaris -- whether you want to shoot creatures with guns or cameras, Chris McCarthy is the ideal guide. Or engage the services of one of the area's many fishing guides

Wildlife: Tahr, chamois, wild deer, rabbits, red stags, geckos and skinks including the endangered Grand Skink. Birdlife flourishes too, with kahu (Australasian harrier), tauhou (silvereye) and piwakawaka (fantail).

The verdict: Pretty close to paradise.

Checklist

WHERE IS IT

on the road to Makarora, 15 minutes drive from Wanaka.