Queenstown, New Zealand (geomorphological legend)


Thanks to Vicky who sent this card of winter in Queenstown, on the South Island of New Zealand. The picture shows Lake Wakatipu surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range.


Landsat image of Lake Wakatipu and Remarkables Range (Credit:NASA)


Māori legend tells of how the lake was formed by the slaying of a fierce giant as he slept on his bracken bed. The giant was called Matau and his bed had been set on fire by the  Māori chief whose daughter the giant had kidnapped. The daughter was called Manata and she was in love with a man called Matakauri. Matakauri tried to rescue Manata, but could not untie the ropes that Matau had tied her with. However, Manata’s tears dissolved the ropes away and the pair escaped together from the giant’s lair. They married and, by all accounts, lived happily ever after. Meanwhile, Manata’s father felt  the situation was unresolved and set out to kill the giant once and for all. He killed Matau by setting fire to his bracken bed in the valley between the mountains. The fire was so intense that it burned a great hollow in the valley, and melted the glaciers that surrounded it.

The only thing that survives of Matau now is his heart, and as his heart continues to beat the water of the lake rises and falls by around 20cm, every half an hour.

Geography Cat believes that this may explain “the breathing lake”, although there are other explanations. For example, the shape and size of the lake very strongly resembles a ribbon lake, formed by glacial erosion, and this area was glaciated around 15 000 years ago. Also, the rising and falling water could be a seiche. A seiche is a wave across an enclosed (or partially enclosed) body of water, like a lake or a harbour. The wind-driven wave pushes the water from one side of the lake to the other and it appears as a wind setup:



From NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.


Geography Cat likes the way that humans are always trying to explain things.