In the second episode of the first season of the television series Top of the Lake, a beautiful Maori legend is mentioned:

You know there's a,
Maori legend about this lake
That says there's a demon's heart at the bottom of it.
It beats, it makes the lake rise and fall every five minutes.

Does it rise and fall?

Yeah. Yeah, it does.
It was this, um, a warrior
That rescued a maiden from a giant demon called tipua.
And he set fire to the demon's body while it slept
And burnt everything but his heart.
And the fat melting from the body formed a trough.
And the snow from the mountains ran down to fill it to form this lake.

The setting of the series, Laketop town and the lake mentioned in the quote, is fictional. However, apparently at least some of the scenes were filmed at Moke Lake, near Queenstown.

I'm wondering if the story is based on actual Maori tales, or if it was invented by the show's writers. The Wikipedia article on tipua, the only name mentioned in the story, is not helpful.

  • Is it even a real lake? If so, what's it's name?
    – Spencer
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:46
  • @Spencer Good question. The lake is fictional, although some scenes were filmed at Moke Lake, near Queenstown. Perhaps if a real legend inspired this, it would be from the area. Updated the question.
    – yannis
    Oct 19, 2017 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


Yes, that's the legend of Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown. Wakatipu appears to the model for the eponymous lake from the TV show, despite it apparently being filmed at Moke Lake. As the TV show implies, Wakatipu is known for an unusual phenomenon where its waters rise and falls by as much as 12cm every five minutes due to atmospheric pressure.

Maori folklore offers an alternative explanation. In local mythology, a tipua called Matau abducted Manata, daughter of a local tribal chief. The distraught father promised her hand in marriage to whoever rescues her, and a hero called Matakauri answered the call. To ensure that the demon never threatens them again, Matakauri set fire to Matua. The fire burned a hole into the ground where the demon lay, which became Lake Wakatipu as melted snow from the surrounding mountains flooded the gorge.

As the legend goes, the demon's heart could not be destroyed. As a result, its powerful pulsations from within the lake causes Wakatipu's waters rise and fall every few minutes. Though somewhat contradictory, the Hidden Island (so named because it is not visible from much of Queenstown) is also said to be the heart.

It appears the TV show faithfully reproduced the traditional myth, which can also be found in various online sources such as:

  1. Hands on History Programme: Maori in the Southern Lakes
  2. Southern Discoveries Ltd.: Queenstown Blog » The Legend of Lake Wakatipu

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