Lake Wakatipu. Lake in New Zealand, Oceania

Lake Wakatipu

Lake in New Zealand, Oceania

Lake Wakatipu Photo ©

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Lake Wakatipu

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	of Lake Wakatipu From Queenstown Bay - Lake Wakatipu
View of Lake Wakatipu From Queenstown Bay - Lake Wakatipu. Photo by edwin.11
Located in the Otago region of the South Island, Lake Wakatipu is a fine example of South Island scenery, with stunning lake views set against a backdrop of snow-topped mountains.


The name ‘Wakatipu’ comes from the original word “Whakatipu wai-maori” in the indigenous Maori language.

According to Maori legend, the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief’s daughter. The inferno burnt a massive hole in the ground, melting the ice and snow of the surrounding mountains, forming the lake. The lake is a large “S” shape, like a giant, curled up and sleeping on its side. Matau’s head rested at Glenorchy (Wikipedia Article), at the north of the lake, and his feet south in Kingston. Queenstown sits on Matau’s knee.

The Maori people were the first to inhabit the area, searching for food, pounamu (New Zealand jade), and the flightless Moa bird. The north of the Lake is nowadays one of the country’s main sources of pounamu.

The first European to visit the area was Nathanael Chalmers (Wikipedia Article), guided by Maori Chief Reko in September 1853. Explorers William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann were the first Europeans to settle the area in the 1860s.

Are we Dreaming? - Lake
Are we Dreaming? - Lake Wakatipu. Photo by Eden Brackstone


Lake Wakatipu is an inland lake (finger lake) in the southwest corner of the Otago Region, near its boundary with Southland. At 80 kilometers long, the lake is New Zealand’s longest, and at 291 square kilometers, the lake is the country’s third largest. It is also remarkable for its depth, which plunges below sea level, with a maximum depth of 380 meters. The lake fills a deep valley carved into the mountains by ancient glaciers.

The lake lies at an altitude of 310 meters, located towards the southern end of the Southern Alps. At its northern end, the Dart River flows in, and the lake then runs south for 30 kilometers before turning east. Twenty kilometers further along, it turns to the south, stretching out for another 30 kilometers before reaching its southern-most point.

The Kawarau River flows from the lake, 8km east of Queenstown. Until about 18,000 years ago the Mataura River drained Lake Wakatipu. The Kingston flyer train follows part of the former river now blocked by glacial moraine.

Because of it’s unusual lightning bolt shape, Lake Wakatipu has a “tide”, that is a seiche or “standing wave”. This causes the water to rise and fall about 10 centimeters every 25 minutes or so. Maori legend links this phenomenon to the heartbeat of Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake. Scientists describe this phenomenon as due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures.

The Lake is bordered on all sides by tall mountains, the highest of which is Mount Earnslaw at 2,819 meters. The picturesque town of Queenstown is on the northern shore of the lake.


The name “Wakatipu” is believed to have originated from the indigenous Waitaha (Wikipedia Article) people. Literally, Wakatipu may mean “growing canoe” or perhaps “growing bay”.

Lake Wakatipu formed the backdrop several scenes in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, including Amon Hen. The lake also featured in the BBC murder mystery “Top of the Lake”.


The lake is home to many species of fish, including brown, salmon and rainbow trout, as well as the longfin eel. Birdlife includes the Pied Shag, the Black-billed Gull, the Mallard, and the native New Zealand Scaup.


The lake is a popular destination for adventure tourism, with skifields, paragliding, bungy jumping and hiking trails all easily accessible from the lake. In summer, the lake’s beaches are popular for swimming.

The lake is surrounded by mountains, including the Remarkables mountain range which lies along the southeastern edge of the lake. During winter months, The Remarkables Skifield has three mountain bowls covering 540 acres, with trails tailored to a variety of skill levels.

The vintage steamboat the TSS Earnslaw cruises across the lake, and is a beautiful way to drink in the magnificent alpine scenery. Known as the “Lady of the Lake”, the steamer has been in operation since 1912 when it first set off on its maiden voyage from Kingston. Originally designed to carry sheep, cattle and passengers to high country stations around the lake, today the Earnslaw runs tourist cruises to Walter Peak high country station. The boat is complete with a bright red, 12-meter funnel, white hull and kauri timber decks. In 1990 the Earnslaw carried Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Cruising daily, the paddlesteamer is a New Zealand icon.

Lake Wakatipu offers year-round trout fishing, with the Greenstone and Lochy River mouths being favorite spots.

If all the adventure has worn you out, take a break at one of the several vineyards in the nearby Gibbston Valley. The wineries, located off State Highway 6, form part of the Central Otago wine region. Varieties grown in the region include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and the highly successful Pinot Noir. Check out Gibbston Valley Wines, Brennan Wines, and Chard Farm for a start.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Jul 12, 2015

Pictures of Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu - Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu - Photo by Kate Bunker

The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu fro(8) - Lake Wakatipu
The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu fro(8) - Photo by John Doyle

Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu. Photo by Andrea Schaffer


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