Las Vegas is a must-see destination, luring visitors from around the world with its bright lights, gambling and flamboyant shows.

But even the most diehard revellers can be worn out by the never-ending party on The Strip.

Two of the top destinations for Vegas visitors who need a break from the action are just 30 minutes to the southeast, at the Arizona-Nevada state line: Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Here's a rundown of what you will see at these popular tourist destinations.



Built beween 1931-36, Hoover Dam is an architectural marvel, considered one of America's seven modern civil engineering wonders.

The dam spans 379 metres across Black Canyon and rises 221m from the Colorado River.

Like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, Hoover Dam is a sight — albeit man-made — that descriptions or pictures do not do justice; it has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

The view from the road is unimpressive but once you look over the edge to the sliver of river below, expect your breath to be taken away. The view from the O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge above the dam — accessed from a parking lot on the road to Hoover Dam — is spectacular and looking back towards the deep blue water of Lake Mead is not bad either.

The visitor centre offers interesting details about the dam's history but to get a true appreciation, take the tour to see the inner workings.

The large elevator can be crowded and there are warnings about claustrophobia. The trip is short, though, and the friendly guides tend to ease the tension during the 161m descent.

The 30-minute guided power plant tour includes viewing the 9m penstock pipes, which control the flow of water, and the massive generators. The hour-long tour includes exploring the various tunnels and peering out of the air vents towards the downstream face.

Further details: See No one under 8 is permitted and the site's not accessible for wheelchairs. You can pay for parking in the parking garage, or there are free spots a short walk away.

Hours: Visitor centre is open 9am-5pm, tickets must be purchased by 4.15pm. Last dam tour is 3.30pm, last power plant tour is at 3.55pm. Open daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving.


At full capacity, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. It has not been at capacity in decades, though, with water levels dropping more than 60 per cent because of drought conditions in the Southwest.

Even with low levels, Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country — and there is plenty to do.

"Once you get to the water, nothing has changed," says Kevin Turner, interpretation and education operations chief at Lake Mead National Recreation area.

"The water is just as fun to be in and there's a lot of it out there. Even though we're down, it's still a huge reservoir."

During the summer, the main attraction is the water: boating, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming, fishing, house boating.

 Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country. Photo / 123RF
Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country. Photo / 123RF

This is the desert, so it gets very hot during summer. Park rangers urge people not to hike after 8am and to bring plenty of drinking water.

The lake has nine developed areas, though the boat ramps at Las Vegas Bay, Government Wash and Overton Beach are closed because of low water levels. Las Vegas Boat Harbour, Callville Bay Resort and Temple Bar Resort & Marina have boat rentals, stores and restaurants. The park has nine wilderness areas and numerous camping grounds dotting the shoreline.

Though most of the nearly seven million visitors come during summer, other times offer hiking, biking, off-roading, camping and fishing.

The low water levels have revealed new beaches and coves, along with a few new sights, including the ruins of St Thomas, an Old West town that had been submerged. Divers can see the remnants of a B-29 Superfortress that crashed into the lake in 1948.

Further details: See


Getting there:

flies from Auckland to Las Vegas via Los Angeles.