Maori legend says that when the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep as punishment for stealing the chief’s daughter, his burning body scorched a massive hole in the ground and melted the ice and snow of the nearby mountains, creating Lake Wakatipu. In reality, the lake is melted water collected in a glacial trench created during the last ice age – but either way, the lake is a stunning example of New Zealand’s exemplary natural beauty and a must-see for anyone visiting the South Island.
Lake Wakatipu is a large inland lake, 80 kilometres long and some 100 metres below sea level at its deepest point. It lies in the shadows of The Remarkables mountain range, whose sheer cliffs rise steeply from the southeastern banks. Queenstown is wedged between the two, and is the major base for travelers in the region, however Kingston, Glenorchy and Kinloch are also well worth a visit.
While it is beautiful to look at, most come to Lake Wakatipu to play in the clear blue water. The beachers are popular for swimming, and kayakers often have early starts to venture out across the deep lake as the sun rises. For the more adventurous, jet skiing and wakeboarding is popular, with many outlets in Queenstown offering lessons and equipment hire. Parasailing is also available for those wanting to get the adrenaline pumping. But water sports enthusiasts should remember they’re swimming in melted water, so expect water temperatures to peak at about 10 degrees Celsius, even on a hot summers day – make sure you have a warm towel waiting when you get out! For those preferring to stay dry, cruises across the glassy surface of the lake are a must-do. The restored steamboat TSS Earnslaw, bright red with a startling white hull, offers daily cruises on Lake Wakatipu. Called the ‘Lady of the Lake’ by locals, the paddle steamer is an icon of New Zealand. No matter if you’re here to admire the scenery, have a lazy day by the shores of the lake or get your heart racing with a bit of adventure sports, Lake Wakatipu will be sure to satisfy.