The Tasman River & Lake for Sunrise

tasman river and tasman lake for sunrise

Shadowed by Mount Cook and the Hooker Valley, the Tasman Lake is often skipped by tourists. I saw photos of it at sunrise though and I knew I just had to see it with my own eyes –  it was simply gorgeous! The Tasman Lake walk was easy and short with incredible views at the end (especially for sunrise!) This blog is all about the Tasman Lake walk as well as how to best experience the view of Tasman River and Lake for sunrise. 

Watching the Sunrise at Tasman River & Lake

At 5 am my cell phone alarm clock went off. I quickly turned it off hoping not to wake the 10 or so other people in my dorm room. I was staying at the YHA Hostel in Mount Cook National Park. Although we were on holidays, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the sunrise over Tasman Lake so that unfortunately meant an early morning.

We got ready quickly before heading to the van. It was a cold winter morning, the van had ice covering it and the windshield wipers were stuck to the windshield. We waited as the van heated up a little bit before racing down Tasman Valley Road to start our Tasman Lake Walk in the dark.

tasman river walk

The Tasman Lake is often photographed at sunrise, the sun creates a reflection on the lake of the mountains and the icebergs in the lake add to the effect. We knew that the best time to take in the view of the Tasman Glacier and valley would be sunrise so with our camera gear in hand we head down the trail to get what we hoped would be amazing photos.

Where is the Tasman Lake Walk

Just outside of Mount Cook Village on New Zealand’s South Island there is Tasman Valley Road. Drive along this road until the end where there is a car-park.

Here, there a few different trails that are all signposted. Follow the signs towards Tasman River. Yes, RIVER, not lake, The signs that direct you to the river actually will bring you to where the river meets the lake and this is the magic spot.

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the tasman valley walk

How Hard is the Tasman Lake Walk

The Tasman Lake Walk is easy, it is mostly flat with a clear path. The only difficult bit comes at the end. You will be on top of a hill with a great view, but if you want that perfect reflection off of the lake you will have the literally climb over huge rocks to get to the lake shore.

The walk from the car-park to the viewpoint only takes about 15 minutes.

Since the trail is fairly easy, doing it in the dark before sunrise with just a head torch was safe.


Finding the Perfect Photo Spot

After finally reaching the car park the sky started to glow and we knew our time was limited until sunrise. We started walking very fast down the trail towards Tasman Lake. When we got to the end and we looked out onto the lake we realized that this wasn’t “the spot”. What I mean by “the spot” is the spot were the reflections on the lake are amazing.

The sun was coming and we were running out time. We quickly scrambled back up the hill and then took a left down a different trail. At this stage we started running, we didn’t want to miss the golden hour! We had no idea if this trail was the correct one or not, but it was worth a try.

Sure enough, five minutes later we were up on top of a hill and down below us at the lake shore was a line of photographers. We found “the spot”!

photographers at tasman lake
The other photographers were the only other people there, this is how we knew we found “the spot!”

This somewhat famous photo is taken at the lake’s edge, just to the right of this spot is where the river connects with the lake. Therefore, if you want to find this magical spot for yourself you will need to follow the signs to the Tasman River, not the lake.

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The Photographer’s Spot

This spot is popular with photographers. When we were there, there was a handful of photographers setup with tripods and fancy gear. But that was all. There were no groups of tourists or tour groups. Just us and a few other photographers. We chatted quietly with some of them that morning, but other than that it was peaceful and quiet. I’m not sure where all the tour buses go, but it isn’t to the Tasman River for sunrise, that’s for sure.

view of tasman glacier
No wonder so many photographers come to this location, it is simply stunning!

Other Places in the Area

After you are done checking out the mouth of the river, it is worth walking around the lake a bit for another perspective. You can also walk back out towards the car-park the way you came and turn right at the sign for the Blue Lakes.

The Blue Lakes Are rather underwhelming in my opinion as they aren’t even blue, but if you keep walking after the turnoff to the Blue Lakes up the stairs you will get an awesome viewpoint of Tasman Lake. I would recommend doing the climb to the viewpoint, it is pretty special.

tasman lake viewpoint
The viewpoint looking over Tasman Lake
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Was it worth the 5 am alarm?

Absolutely. Watching the sunrise over Tasman Lake was mesmerizing. It was peaceful and gorgeous. We stayed for over an hour just enjoying the scenery. This is a walk we will definitely do again in the future.

If you are travelling more in New Zealand’s South Island, be sure to check out some of our other blogs on great travel destinations:


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