A photo of a herd of cattle in a Canterbury high country lake is a public relations disaster for the country's clean, green image, Fish & Game says.
A holidaymaker took the photo of the livestock from a Department of Conservation (DoC) camping ground beside Lake Taylor, in north Canterbury's Lake Sumner Forest Park.
The man who took the photo told RNZ News he saw the cattle freely roaming in the water every day while he was staying at the campsite.
Cows should be kept out of water to prevent degradation of water quality and protect the health of the ecosystem.
Fish & Game spokesman Don Rood said his group was organising talks with the farm's manager.
"Having these cattle wandering around in a lake, in a high country lake, right next to a DoC camping ground right at the height of the holiday season when the camp is full - it just shows a basic lack of awareness of what should be done and what should not be done."
The Canterbury Regional Council said it had not received any complaints about stock in the lake, but its monitoring and compliance team would look into it.
Mr Rood said better monitoring of waterways was needed nationwide.
"I don't think ignorance is an excuse. You can see in the photo the landowner has spent time and money putting up a fence to keep out the public but they have done nothing to keep out the cattle. It defies logic.
"Since we [Fish & Game] put the photo on social media we have had lots of people come forward and say they have seen stock in waterways all over the country, so this is not a one-off situation," he said.
In 2014 the government made it mandatory for all dairy farms to be fenced from 2017 to prevent stock accessing waterways.
At the time the government said about 90 percent of all dairy farm waterways were already fenced.
Mr Rood said although the cattle in Lake Taylor were not dairy cows, allowing them into the lake showed the message that waterways needed to be protected was not getting across.
Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN) said it had not received any complaints about stock in the lake, but its monitoring and compliance team would look into it.
Does New Zealand have a freshwater crisis?
The Choose Clean Water Tour is a group of conservationists and filmmakers travelling the country, documenting the state of the nation's waterways and aiming to draw attention to New Zealand's diminishing water quality.
The group is travelling down the east coast of both islands, then up the west, finishing the journey in Waitangi on Waitangi Day. They will film their travels, during which they talk to locals to find out about what's polluting streams, lakes and rivers, and what people are doing to restore them.
Tour spokeswoman Marnie Prickett said water quality in freshwater lakes and rivers was reaching crisis level.
"If we spent a year travelling around the country rather than a month, we still wouldn't have enough time to get to every river and lake. The problem is bigger than we could have imagined."
"We constantly hear that 95 percent of our rivers are fenced off (but) we've been driving around the country and it is clear that is not the case."
Ms Prickett said the main problem was that there is no protection under legislation for waterways.
"The lowest standard is wadable, which is abysmal, we want the lowest standard to be swimmable."
During the tour a petition calling for legislative change has been signed by nearly 2000 people, with another 3000 signatures online.
Ms Prickett said the petition would be presented to Parliament at the end of March.
"People have told us the stories about their local waterways, how they grew up swimming and fishing from them, and now they have either dried up or are too toxic to even touch," Ms Prickett said.