Lake Wakatipu

Top choice lake

in Queenstown

Shaped like a cartoon lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is NZ's third-largest lake. It reaches a depth of 372m, meaning the lake bed actually sits below sea level. Five rivers flow into it but only one (the Kawarau) flows out, making it prone to sometimes dramatic floods. The lake can be experienced at any number of speeds: the classic TSS Earnslaw steamboat trip, a spin with KJet, below decks in the Time Tripper, or a shark's-eye view with Hydro Attack.

If the water looks clean, that's because it is. Scientists have rated it as 99.9% pure – you're better off dipping your glass in the lake than buying bottled water. It's also very cold. That beach by Marine Pde may look tempting on a scorching day, but trust us – you won't want to splash about for long in water that hovers around 11.5°C year-round. Because cold water increases the risk of drowning, local by-laws require the wearing of life jackets in all boats under 6m, including kayaks, on the lake (and all of the district's lakes).

Māori tradition sees the lake's shape as the burnt outline of the evil giant Matau sleeping with his knees drawn up. Local lad Matakauri set fire to the bed of bracken on which the giant slept in order to rescue his beloved Manata, a chief's daughter who was kidnapped by the giant. The fat from Matau's body created a fire so intense that it burnt a hole deep into the ground.