About Lake Wakatipu

Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s longest lake. Shaped like an inverted “n” it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.

Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.

The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm. -Source by Viator



The original form and meaning of the name are not known for certain. The name is believed to originate from the Waitaha people, who were later displaced by Kāti Mamoe. Taken literally, Wakatipu would mean “growing canoe” or possibly “growing bay” if the original was Whakatipu and the h elided as a result of the Southern Māori dialect. The dialect is also known for dropping final vowels, and Wakatipua or Whakatipua (Canoe/Bay of spirits) have also been recorded historically, as has Wakatapu (sacred vessel). A legend says that the lake bed was formed when a giant ogre, Kopu-wai was burned while lying asleep. Waka can also mean ‘hollow’. -Source by Wikipedia


Lake Wakatipu History

Legend of the lake

These deep waters of Lake Wakatipu harbour a legend of love, committment, passiong and murder. Manata was the beautiful daughter of a local Maori chief, who would not let marry her beloved Matakauri.

One day, Manata was kidnapped by the terrible giant, Matau. Her distraught father promised she would marry whoever could rescue her. Here was Matakauri’s chance. Knowing the warm nor-wester would put the giant to sleep, he followed the wind to Matau’s lair in the mountains beyond. But he could not cut the cords that trapped her. Magically, the love in Manata’s sobs dissolved them and together the pair escaped.

After they married, brave Matakauri decided to make the Wakatipu safe from Matau by setting fire to the giant’s bed of bracken during the next nor-wester. Fat from Matau’s huge body made a fire so intense it burned a hole more than 400 metres deep. Melted snow filled it to create Lake Wakatipu.

Legend has it only his heart survived and that its continuring pulse causes the lake to regularly rise and fall. Now you know why Lake Wakatipu is shapped like a giant curled up in sleep. There you see the grave of Matau.

First Sailing

Lake Wakatipu was first sailed in August 1859, by Socttish surveyor Donald Hay in a venture that would make many modern sailors quail. Finding a Maori reed raft where Kingston now stands, he fashioned a mast and nailed up his grey wool blanket as a sail. Pummelled by snow and winter’s harsh wind, having to frequently empty his leaking craft, Hay then explored Lake Wakatipu’s shores for two weeks in search of potential farm land.

Returning to Kingston, Hay walked the 225kms to Dunedin – only to find a speculator had already beaten him to the land’s lease. -Source by Experience Queenstown

In popular culture

  • Lake Wakatipu doubled as the famous Scottish Loch Ness in the 2007 film The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. Lake Wakatipu has many geographical similarities to ‘Loch Ness’ and was chosen as one of the main filming locations in the movie.
  • It is a backdrop for several scenes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, including Amon Hen.
  • It is the eponymous lake in BBC murder mystery “Top of the Lake”.  -Source by Wikipedia