The Maori Legend of Lake Wakatipu starts long before Europeans arrived and found gold before turning Queenstown into the adrenaline capital of the world.
Maori were known to travel through the area on their way to the West Coast in search of Pounamu (greenstone) and to use seasonal hunting grounds. As they travelled the area stories about the land, mountains, lakes and forests were passed down through the generations.
This is the story of Lake Wakatipu and like many good Maori legends it begins with a beautiful Maori Maiden, Manata, who lived in a quiet village in the area. A young man in the village, Matakauri, was in love with Manata but they were not allowed to be together as Matakauri had not yet proven himself worthy and had not gained favour with the chief.
One day a giant Taniwha named Matau came to the village and kidnapped Manata taking her back to his lair in the mountains. The village and the Chief did not know what to do, many of the men were too scared to confront the Taniwha to save Manata but Matakauri was determined to save his star-crossed lover.
Matakauri set off into the mountains to seek out Matau and eventually he discovered his lair. He found Manata tied up with the Taniwha Matau asleep and so Matakauri was able to cut Manata free and the two of them escaped back to the village where the Chief was so pleased to see them both that Matakauri was allowed to marry Manata.
Matakauri was happy however he knew that one day Matau would eventually come back to the village to seek revenge and so Matakauri set off back into the mountains to confront the Taniwha once more. When he arrived at the monster's lair he again found Matau sleeping and so Matakauri decided to build a huge fire around the monster and burned Matau in his sleep!
The fire burn for so long and so hot that it made a trough hundreds of meters deep and melted all the snow from the surrounding peaks which filled the trough and created the great Lake Wakatipu, The trough of the giant!
Matakauri returned to the village a hero however there was one part of the monster body that lives on, his still beating heart. It is possible to see evidence of this on the lake and if you look at the level of the water you'll see that it raises and lowers throughout the day. If you look at a map of the lake you’ll see that it resembles a person, or monster, lying on its side, Queenstown sits in the middle of the lake near the knee with Glenorchy being the head and Garston at the southern end of the lake Matau's feet.
Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake at 80km in length and it is this that causes the rise and fall of the water level. There is a natural phenomenon known as a seiche that causes this and is something that happens on a number of lakes around the world because the atmospheric pressure at both ends of the lake can be dramatically different which causes the water to gain a swaying motion.