Visit Lake Wakatipu With A Dunedin Hire Car

Lake Wakatipu is renowned for its epic scenic beauty and is an ever popular holiday destination for outdoor enthusiasts.  Water sports, adventure activities, walking and mountain biking tracks are offered in abundance throughout the region. 

Lake Wakatipu Via Road

Surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and scenic vistas Lake Wakatipu offers rewarding year-round fishing, popular swimming beaches in the summer months, and a large number of tramping/hiking tracks both around the Lake and in the surrounding area.  Perhaps most importantly, the Lake provides some of the best scenic photo opportunities in the whole country, a fact well understood by film location scouts; the area has become a popular backdrop for movies including The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Brief History

Maori people first inhabited the Wakatipu area for limited periods in search of food, Moa and greenstone.  In 1860 WG Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman arrived intending to develop the region’s pastoral potential.  Not long after gold was discovered and a gold rush began, peaking in 1863 when a goldfield zone was declared.  By 1865, the Westland gold rush had begun and the miners left Queenstown to take their chances further west. 

At the height of the gold rush, the main transport to Queenstown was by boat from Kingston.  Steamships were the primary mode of transport and maintained a regular service for the sheep stations bordering the lake.  Sometime later ‘pack tracks’ were developed between Queenstown and Glenorchy as a more cost effective way of moving stock, people and goods to and from the head of the Lake.

Tourism begun to take hold in 1882, with Commercial Mountain guiding on Mt Earnslaw being offered, hotels and guesthouses were soon established at the head of the Lake.  In 1962 the Genorchy Road opened allowing easier access for tourists and locals. Two years later, the Mount Aspiring National Park was formed, and by 1990 the park was recognised as a global conservation area and had become part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. 

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Interesting Facts

Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s third largest lake and one of the deepest.  The Lake has a distinctive zig zag shape often compared to a lightning bolt, an approximate length of 80 km and a depth of 380 metres, and interestingly its lowest point sits below sea level.  Formed by glaciers many thousands of years ago (approx. 15,000) the Lake is relatively narrow, only 5 km at its widest point, and is bordered on all sides by mountain ranges, the highest of which is Mount Earnslaw standing near the head of the Lake at the northern end. 

The Lake is known for a somewhat mysterious phenomenon which is said to result from a unique set of atmospheric circumstances that effectively give the Lake a ‘tide’ like motion where the water rises and falls repeatedly.   This fluctuation is officially called a ‘seiche’ or standing wave, according to locals the best place to witness this natural wonder is Bob’s Cove.  Corresponding Maori legend says this rhythmic rise and fall is due to the heartbeat of a giant named Matau, who was burnt to death after abducting the local Chief’s daughter.  Glenorchy is where the head would lie, Kingston the feet and Queenstown the knees.  With the ever-beating heart under Pigeon Island in the centre of the top half of the Lake.


Glenorchy is situated at the head of Lake Wakatipu, roughly 48 kilometres from Queenstown nestled between the Richardson and Humboldt Mountain Ranges, overlooked by Mount Earnslaw in the North. From Glenorchy you can gain access to the Rees, Paradise and Dart Valleys, Kinloch township, Routeburn Valley and Greenstone/Caples Valleys.  The Glenorchy Township offers a good range of cafes, accommodation, shopping, and outdoor activities all set within diverse and picturesque landscapes.

Glenorchy Wharf Shed


Queenstown is widely considered New Zealand’s adventure capital, and offers exhilarating, adrenaline pumping adventure activities along with access to amazing scenic landscapes throughout the year. Situated roughly at the middle section of Lake Wakatipu, it is very popular location for tourists and definitely a must-see destination.  Within the township you will find a wide range of accommodation, restaurants, shops and an endless array of adventure activities and attractions. 

Queenstown At Dusk


Kingston is a relatively small township nestled on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by the Eyre Mountains and the Hector Ranges.  Kingston offers excellent opportunities for walking, biking, hunting, fishing and much more, with easy access just off SH6 roughly 46 km south of Queenstown. 

The TSS Earnslaw

In operation since 1912, the “Lady of the Lake” the TSS Earnslaw steamship is an excellent way to explore the Lake from a different perspective.  Originally built to carry livestock across the Lake, the TSS Earnslaw now takes tourists on scenic cruises from Queenstown across to Walter Peak High Country Station where visitors can enjoy farm tours, horse treks, heritage tours and much more.  Also worth noting, the TSS Earnslaw had the privilege of carrying Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip back in 1990 when they visited the area.

TSS Earsnlaw On Lake Wakatipu

Visitors to the Lake Wakatipu area will continue to be stunned and amazed at every turn by the magnificent alpine scenery and fantastic friendly welcoming nature of the locals.  Add Lake Wakatipu to your travel itinerary today!


Explore Queenstown at your own pace with an affordable hire car from our Dunedin car rentals depot, conveniently located close to the city centre, providing easy access to many interesting and unique attractions in the Otago region.

Drive a Dunedin hire car to Queenstown and explore the beautiful lake and mountains at your leisure.


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