Mystery Lake

Mystery Lake

Mystery Lake is a sub-alpine lake in Hakatere Conservation Area nestled between a camel hump-shaped foothill and Dogs Range. It is one of the few areas in Canterbury where you are able to take your dog out hiking with you, however, DOC requires you to keep your dog under effective control at all times. The walk has a gentle incline taking you through tussock and rolling flats leading up to Mystery Lake. The track is smooth enough that you can ride through to Mystery Lake, however, we did find that sections were overgrown with tussock and may require you to carry your bike. If you are looking for a camping trip with your dog Mystery Lake is a great choice for you and your dog to explore more of what Canterbury has to offer.


4.5 hours


10.5 km


575 m





Sunset over Mystery Lake

In Detail

There are a number of different routes to get to Mystery Lake but since I was really keen to take Lauren’s dog out for its first overnight hike, there was only one route that allows dogs to roam, along Mystery Lake Track from the Potts River. It was also one of the most straight forward (both metaphorically and literally) routes on the map. The track was reasonably easy going with a gradual incline to the lake. It’s almost impossible to get lost with the destination in sight for almost the entire walk. It’s a perfect hike for heading out on your first backcountry camping trip.

Lauren and Pippi (the dog) soaking up the last of the sunset

Getting there

The drive to Mystery Lake is relatively straightforward. From Christchurch take SH1 (state highway one) out to Rakaia then take a right onto Thompson’s Track. At Ashburton forks make the dogleg and continue on Thompson’s Track taking a right shortly after bringing you onto Tramway Road. Make a small dogleg turn onto Ashburton gorge road which will take you through to Hakatere. From Hakatere the road becomes gravel, follow the road right the way past Lake Clearwater and Camp and pull a right into a carpark before you cross a bridge across Potts River. Here there is a large pull-off bay where the track begins.


The hike begins next to the Potts River taking you along the river bed as you meander your way through the river braids. There is a short sharp ascent to get up onto the terrace, after this, you follow a clear cut path right the way to Mystery Lake. The track is relatively easily follow through a cut track wide enough to ride a quad bike up and down. The views looking back towards the two thumb range are absolutely gorgeous as you do the return journey back towards the car.

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It’s possible to continue on the Mystery Lake track until it connects with the Te Araroa track and follow the track back but it does make for a lot longer return/approach without much gain other than a few more kilometres. There is another route from Lake Clearwater that you can walk in on, however, there is no access for dogs along these tracks, unfortunately.

Looking over towards Lake Clearwater to where the Mystery Link Track lies at dusk



Te Araroa Trail

The track follows the Te Araroa Trail along the fringes of the Potts River. From the carpark, it’s free for all as you walk up the river. Finding the best way towards the cliff is a bit of fun, there’s not much of a track to follow. When the track does distinctly reappear it ascends to the top of a small terrace. There is a tiny stream which you cross before the short sharp ascent. If you miss this part of the walk you know that you have gone too far.

Top: Lauren looking up as we made out way up the Potts River, Pippi the dog exploring the surrounds
Bottom: The track looking back towards the carpark, Two Thumb range in the distance

From the terrace, the track leads on for only a short while before you reach a junction that splits the Mystery Lake Track from Te Araroa. Ensure you taken the Northern track (go straight ahead) not the track heading towards the east (track on the right) otherwise you will have a much longer trip to Mystery Lake.

Looking back towards the carpark after climbing the bank to higher ground

Mystery Lake Track

The Mystery Lake track ascends even more as you come closer and closer towards the lake. For the entire route up the surroundings are open with plenty of room to let your dog run amongst the tussock and chase rabbits. Unfortunately during our hike in the heat of the sun poor Pippi (Lauren’s dog) had a hard time trying to keep cool. After the river, there aren’t a lot of places along the track for water until you reach the lake. Ensure that you carry enough water to for this section, especially if the weather is warm.

Lauren with Pippi at her heels as they make their way along the Mystery Lake Track

A small knoll just above 1000 meters marks close to the turning point where the track turns, flattens out as you hike across to the lake. Once you are past this point there is a steeper section of approximately 100 meters elevation to climb until the track takes a huge right turn and points you to the direction of Mystery Lake. It’s soon after this point that the lake comes into view and you can start picking out your campsite for the night.

Top: Lauren, followed by Pippi as they brush through the overgrown tussock on their way up to Mystery Lake
Middle: Looking back to where we had come from over the Potts River
Bottom: Looking right the way back from the track before it dipped down to Mystery Lake

Mystery Lake

There is quite a marshy area around the south-western edge of Mystery Lake. Initially, we planned on camping here. After further exploring, I think one of the best spots that we found was between the camel’s humps west of point 1147 which shelters Mystery Lake. There was a beautiful view out over the country that we had travelled across to make it to our campsite for the night. We could see right the way out to the Two Thumbs Range and east over to Lake Clearwater.

Top: Lauren standing outside our tent spot as the cloud continued to roll through at sunset
Bottom: Looking across Mystery Lake as the sunset continued to roll through while the lake acted as a beautiful mirror

Mystery Lake was perfect for letting Pippi finally have a long drink after the walk, and for filling up our drink bottles as well as for cooking. It was only a short hop, skip and a jump from the campsite to the picturesque lake just below. We could watch the sunset and clouds drift pass, the low cloud blanketing the scenery around us. The lake is apparently a haven for fishing with it seeing so few visitors

Top: Pippi and Lauren waiting for the cloud to pass over
Bottom: Pippi giving Nathan (Author) a few dog kisses to show her appreciation

Return Journey

The return journey is much easier going than the previous day. Follow the same tracks that you came in on back to the car. With a slow constant descent, the track takes a lot less time to cover. You can pace it back down to the car as you look out on this huge mountain range from the Lord of the Rings. Certainly a good feeling.

Top: Pippi looking out over the mountain ranges at sunrise
Lauren getting lost amongst the long tussock that had well overgrown the track
Bottom: Making ou way back to the car we had the most incredible views out over the Two Thumbs Range


At the time of completing this hike in summer, the weather was warm and days long. In winter the area can often be found coated in snow, making the journey longer and more difficult. There would be incredible views from around the area with the mountain peaks being coated in snow while the temperature plummets. Even in spring and early summer, it may still be possible to find parts of the lake frozen in places and snow it the shade.

Cloud spilling over the surrounding mountains and drifting around Mystery Lake just before sunset