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The legend of Lake Wakatipu

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Lake Wakatipu legend

Long ago, before the promise of gold brought Pakeha to Otago, the Maori roamed the land, hunting for moa and greenstone and eels. Manata and Matakauri, two star-crossed lovers, lived in a village in the area. The couple were not allowed to marry as Manata was the daughter of the chief, and Matakauri was a commoner.

One night, a giant taniwha named Matau stole into the village and kidnapped Manata. He carried her away to his lair in the hills and tied her to him with a magical cord.

Manata’s father was distraught. He asked the young men of the village to go and save Manata, offering her in marriage to whoever brought her home safely. The young men were afraid, but Matakauri, who loved Manata with all his heart, followed the nor-west wind to the still-young mountains where the giant lived. He found Matau asleep, with Manata lashed next to him.

When Matakauri was unable to cut the enchanted cords, Manata begged him to go, fearing that the giant would wake up and kill him. Matakauri refused to leave her; but as Manata began to cry, the love in her tears dissolved her bonds, and they escaped.

Matakauri brought Manata back to the village, and the couple were allowed to be married. Later, fearing that Matau would return to cause more trouble, Matakauri went back to the mountains where the monster lived. He found the giant sleeping, lulled by the warm wind, and he set a great fire around him. The hot wind caused the flames to roar violently; the taniwha’s body burned so long and so hot that a trough hundreds of metres deep and 75 kilometres long was created.

After Matakauri left, the rains came and filled the newly formed valley with water, which is now known as Wakatipu, the trough of the giant. Although the giant has been dead for many long years, his heartbeat can still be seen in the steady rise and fall of the beautiful lake that is his resting place.

According to the legend, Lake Wakatipu rests in the trough formed by Matau’s burning body, Glenorchy at his head, Kingston at his feet and Queenstown resting on his knee. His ever-beating heart – the only part of him remaining – is under Pigeon Island and causes the seiche which makes the level of the lake rise and fall regularly and rhythmically.

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