Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Lake Wakatipu is the South Island’s second largest lake after Lake Te Anau. It is Z-shaped, has a total length of 77 kilometres, and covers 293 square kilometres.
It is surrounded by steeply rising mountains. Ice-age glaciers carved it out. The deepest point is 378 metres.
The lake has a natural rock dam, lying at Kingston at the southern end of the lake. The terminal moraine blocks the flow of water into the Mataura River valley.
You can observe an interesting phenonemon at Lake Wakatipu, called transverse seiche. Due to wind or atmospheric pressure variations the level of the lake alters by as much as 15 centimetres. You can observe this best at Bob’s Cove, a place on the way between Queenstown and Glenorchy.
However, I am not too much impressed by this. Everybody talks about it, but many guides who tell you have not really watched it. Given that the wind can be very strong and that two rivers feed the lake near Glenorchy, this observation does not take my breath away ;-))
The word Wakatipu means “Place where the Demon lies”. According to Maori legend a giant demon kidnapped a Maori chief’s daughter and took her to his home in the mountains. After walking against a strong nor’easter (wind) he lay down to sleep, with his head near Glenorchy, his knees at Queenstown, and his feet at Kingston. The girl’s lover who had followed their traces set the sleeping giant on fire, and the burning fat carved its way into the earth. That is why Lake Wakatipu has its Z-shape. The variation of the lake’s level were said to be the demon’s pulsating heart.
Although I am a lover of such legends I must really wonder about this one. If the giant was burnt why should his heart still be pulsating? And if he was 77 kilometres tall when lying down, it should not have taken him more than five steps to cross the South Island, wherever he kidnapped the girl… So why should he have been exhausted after those some steps against the strong wind and needed a rest?... Hubby says I am a spoilsport... ;-)
Anyway – this is the explanation where the name comes from.
You might notice a meandering one-line plaque on the quay wall along the Queenstown lakeside, between the Kawarau Jet Wharf and the Boardwalk. It is called: “Waipounamu: The Lakes District”. It is a poem, written by David Eggleton, who is a NZ poet and reviewer. He has written for quite a number of different formats: for dance, landscape photography, for installations, walkways, and film.
This one on the shore of Lake Wakatipu is hommage to the beautiful landscapes of the Lakes District, and if you are patient enough to read from the meandering tiles and around people who cover some of the writing, you will read many places you have been or want to go to, about Wakatipu, Glendhu Bay, Glenorchy, even the Kingston Flyer.
Thanks to Naomi Castle from Destination Queenstown who provided me with the poem, so I did not have to invest an hour into copying it from the quay wall :-)
by David Eggleton
Hoisting history on his back like a sugar – sack,
The swagger strides along greenstone trails.
All night the crib creeks are humming home,
And drowned towns float in their canvas shrouds.
They are just the ghosts of their original selves,
An emotional investment looted by snow-melt for,
Schemes to answer the question of illumination.
To tap this yearning for a golden age,
Singing shepherds held wisps of tussock
Which curled like lighted Chinese joss-sticks
On the fan – tan tables of sly-grog dens,
Frozen in that glacier known as the past.
In the forgotten graveyards, hair grows into grass
While wind sifts the sweet vernal over ands over,
Like diggers letting gold dust pour through their fingers.
The Kingston flyer is chuffing
On the great Northern Railway to Wakatipu,
John Turnbull Thompson cut the run holders loose
With a panoramic survey and the confidence of a faith healer
In the middle of Queen Victorias royal century,
When the boom-time harvest of celtic place names
Seeded central like a nouveau-Hiberian dialect
From Balclutha to Glimmerburn to Glendhu bay.
Winter arrives on time in a glitz blitz of powdery snow.
The hoar frost in a Quartztpoils of ice crystals
Turning weeping willows into frozen chandeliers.
Some strung the coils of number eight into fences
As trail bikes took to the state highway with a roar
And the rain shower passed a plume
Over small towns that are hardly seen for hills.
Tarns prickle with bubbles from upland soakage
at the start of Wakatipu on mounts Humboldt and Forbes.
Pasture stands four- square
To the intersection of lakes Hawea and Wanaka, from where
Nat Chalmers shot the gorge in a flax raft with his guides
After descending Mount difficulty in flax sandals,
The first Pakeha to see Lake Wakatipu, for which he paid
Reko and Kaikora a three legged pot – Te Kohoa!
Viper’s bugloss is the honeyed heart of the hive and veranda shadows are dark as delphiniums.
The four-fold path of the farmer leads to hot and cold taps, the meat-safes a Muslim bag, but the kerosene lamp’s gone
The way of aunt Daisy’s and uncle scrim’s voices on the wireless
Or goals from the boot and pine-tree when rugby took a capital.
Braids of rivers run dreadlock plaits from a taniwha’s
Stone head, so his blind eyes spurt waterfalls
and his chest is the sucking valley of a mudslide,
when swollen rivers heave against mountain flanks
and sinkholes laden with silt roar old man floods here!
He’d ride the whaleboat molyneaux from its tributaries
To the sea, or disgorge the matau of its spears and hooks,
If they hadn’t drained the hydro-electricity, way back.
Rivers rule our lives, gurgling, puddling, dripping,
Working the lake country round like a greenstone,
Turning out a tiki of interlocking curves flowing
Into Waipounamu, which breathes its green glow,
Of purple grape froth trickling a ripe roses scent
And beetroot palate into our salad day memories.
Views of the lake in its many moods: sometimes quiescent,
Like a windowpane stippled with rain, behind which
Cucumber leafage and swollen twigs revolve, and you
Can imagine fridge-fulls of rare home brews,
Or spiced-plum brandy, tots doled out to travellers;
Sometimes waves snapping fierce enough to whip out
All the tent pegs in canvas-town, with a wind able to upturn a wedding marquess’s trestle tables tomorrow.
Days of wooden coach wheels bumping out of Ida valley on the old Dunstan road in journeys of the pioneers.
Days realising meteorological balloons into a delicate apricot sky
In this landscape we invent, as it invents us –
From rock flake and spring water, from a skiff of froth
Tumbling over a weir into the after glow of the Aurora
Lake Wakatipu is S shaped, 90 km long and 3-4 km wide.
Road access allows sailing in all conditions and for all abilities.
Good for windsurfing, kitesurfing, waterskiing, kayaking, boating etc.
Fondest memory: Frankton Beach
Access: Right in the main town, there is a campground, toilets, BBQ, rigging and parking areas.
Wind: NW = onshore. On fine days wind builds from afternoon Westerleys 5-10 knots to evening Southerleys 10-25 knots.
Water: Flat - small chop. Shallow in most of the bay.
Watch: Other lake users - a popular spot.
Access: 10 minutes drive from Frankton down the south arm of the lake. is the windiest place on the lake. Camping facilities, parking and grass areas.
Wind: On fine days, a strong Southerly blows from 3.30pm onwards.
Water: Wind swell builds up to 1.5 metres.
Watch: Your gear is safe - there are 5km of cliffs before the next landing beach if windsurfing/kitesurfing.
The One Mile
Access: Exactly one mile from the centre PO in Queenstown in the direction of Glenorchy. There are toilets, a car park and a pebbly beach.
Wind: NW, W, SW can reach up to 25 knots and more. 90 knots recorded
Water: Wind swell builds up to 4 ft.
Watch: Ferry and yacht traffic in the channel.
Southern end, good sailing in northerly cond. A few km towards Queenstown access via roadside reserves/beach/boat ramp gives good sailing in southerly thermals which build up to 20 knots in hot afternoons.
5 Jardines Woolshed
"J-Bay" locals catch evening thermals here. Access across Dick and Gillian Jardine's station. Permission required before driving down to beach. See Windsurf Mania in Queenstown. Good in southerlies, sometimes too strong (how strong is that?), chop can reach 2m with dumpy shore break.
Many people don't get down to the lakeside of Wakatipu. But I found it to be very beautiful, just a little different to the town beauty.
You just need to drive or walk towards the lake from the main road, right in town, or in the leadin to town, and you find scenes such as these.
This is something you can do walking, and it doesn't cost a cent!!
Quiet place to walk and read!
Fondest memory: The nice view of the lake and mountains helped me to relax and feel rested.