15,000 years ago during the last ice age, a huge glacier moving from the north west carved out what is
now Lake Wakatipu. The lake is relatively thin, but the mountains run straight into the lake, forming a
deep canyon, 399m at its deepest point.
is the second largest lake in the Southern Lakes District, covering 290 square km. At its widest point Lake
Wakatipu is five kilometers wide, and the total length is 84km.
The Maori legends state that the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep
after he abducted a chief's daughter, burning a massive hole in the ground and 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, at the north of the lake, and his feet south in Kingston.
Queenstown sits on Matau's knee.
One of Wakatipu's mysteries is the rise and fall of the lake by about 12cm (5") every five minutes. Legend
states that a Giant's heart is impossible to destroy, and causes this rise and fall, while science says it is
due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures. But across the lake from the town below Cecil Peak is a little
island visible only from up close, from above, or from a different angle. Some say Hidden Island is the still
beating heart of the Giant Matua...
The Maori people first inhabited the area in a search for food, ponamu or greenstone, and the flightless
Moa. The north of the Lake is
one of six of the country's main sources of
Queenstown's famous "Lady of the Lake" 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 beautiful steamship was refurbished in 1984, when the 12m high funnel was painted bright red, and the
hull a brilliant white. And living up to the town's name as being fit for the Queen, in 1990 the Earnslaw
carried Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.