A cruise across the dazzling Lake Wakatipu is the highlight of every Queenstown’s trip. It is not only the perfect way to enjoy the wonderful sight of rugged mountains rising from the shore of lake, but also the most blissful way to absorb the magnificence of alpine surroundings of the whole region. The cruise, which starts from Queenstown’s Steamer Wharf also offers you a chance to get acquainted with the lifestyle of the people living in the villages located near this charming lake.
Appearing like a lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is an inland lake situated in the South Island of New Zealand. This 80-km-long lake, spanning an area of about 290 sq. km, is the longest and third largest lake of the country. Tall mountains encircle the lake from all sides, with Mount Earslaw (2819 m) being the highest.
Lake Wakatipu is known for its unique, peculiar shape. Dart River flows into the northern end of the lake, from where the lake runs about 30 km towards south. Then it turns to the east and runs 20 km further. There again, it changes its direction towards south and runs about 30 km before reaching its southern end near Kingston.
Lake Wakatipu boasts of being the proud location representing “Lothlorien” scenes in the movie “Lord of the Rings” directed by Peter Jackson. The city of Queenstown is the major settlement near the Wakatipu Lake, located towards the northern shore of the lake near eastern end of its middle section. Glenorchy, Kingston, and Kinloch are the small villages that are situated around the lakeshore. The lake serves as a popular venue for a variety of adventure tourism activities to visitors. It is also home to a variety of marine creatures including longfin eel, brown trout and rainbow trout. A large number of Black-billed Gulls are also seen around the lake.
Lake Wakatipu is known for its odd shape and an unusual phenomenon. The water level of the Lake Wakatipu rises and falls about 10 cm every half an hour due to a “tide” or standing wave in the lake. This type of tide is usually not observed in other lakes. Local Maori people associate this change in water level to the legend of lake monster Matau. This Maori legend of love and devotion tells about a beautiful lady Manata, her beloved Matakauri, and the giant Matau. According to this legend, once giant Matau kidnapped the beautiful Manata and took her to a remote place. Manata’s father, a local chief, announced that he would allow Manata to marry the person who rescues her from the giant. Knowing it was his only chance to get his love, Matakauri followed the winds and reached the spot where giant had kept Manata. He waited for months for the right time to come when the giant fell asleep. Matakuri rescued Manata, and as per promise of Manata’s father, Manata was married to Matakuri. Matakuri knew that the giant might again kidnap Manata, and therefore he decided to kill the giant by setting the giant’s grass bed on fire. The legend has that the fire produced was so intense that the snow in the whole region melted and created the Lake Wakatipu. Only the heart of the giant survived in the fire, and it is the heartbeat of that giant that causes the water level of the lake to rise and fall every half an hour.
A cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard 100-year-old steamship TSS Earnslaw is the perfect way to experience the picturesque beauty of Queenstown region. The 51-m-long coal-fired steamship, the icon of the Queenstown city, takes hundreds of visitors to the exciting and refreshing voyage of the lake everyday. The still-operational original steam engines of this steamship enable it to complete about five trips of the lake in a single day.
TSS Earnslaw was first used for commercial purpose in 1912. It was one of the four steamers which were used to serve the nearby sheep stations and the railhead at Kingston. It was also the largest steamship to ply on Lake Wakatipu. A few years back, it was completely renovated to be used for conducting the lake cruise trips.
Your cruise on board Earnslaw starts from Steamer Wharf at Queenstown. As the steamship moves on the lake, the sounds of the steam whistle echoing from the surrounding mountains create an out-of-the-world atmosphere on the steamship. While on board, you can watch the original steam engines in operation or explore the mini-museum with a large collection of historical photographs. You may even enjoy the piano music at the back of the boat. The Café and Bar on Earnslaw serve visitors with wine, beer and café-style food on-board.
Lake Wakatipu cruises are usually available throughout the day. You have the liberty of choosing a simple lake cruise, or a cruise package involving a tour to Walter Peak High Country Farm or a horse trekking tour. A cruise only trip takes around 90 minutes and costs less. Tickets are available at Steamer Wharf and the Fiordland Travel Visitor Center.