Cruising across Lake Wakatipu on a restored steamship is a blissful way to appreciate the magnificent alpine scenery.
Shaped like a lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is the third largest lake in New Zealand. The Dart River flows into its northern end; the Kawarau River, beginning near Queenstown, handles its outflow.
The lake occupies a single, glacier-carved trench and is bordered on all sides by tall mountains, the highest of which is Mount Earnslaw (2819 metres). Settlements around the lake shore include Queenstown and the villages of Kingston, Glenorchy and Kinloch.
Because of its unusual shape, Lake Wakatipu has a 'tide' (more correctly, an unusually large seiche or "standing wave"), which causes the water to rise and fall about 10 centimetres every 25 minutes or so. Maori legend links this phenomenon to the heartbeat of a huge monster named Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake.
The T.S.S. Earnslaw cruises the lake every day. Complete with a bright red funnel, white hull and kauri timber decks, this vintage steamship is a New Zealand icon.
Lake Wakatipu offers year-round trout fishing - the mouths of the Greenstone and Lochy Rivers are particularly rewarding. In summer, the lake's beaches are popular for swimming.