Friday, January 10, 2014

Of Wandering Islands and Sleeping Giants

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (June 2, 2008)

The New Zealand's south island is not just an interrupted chain of mountains. There are valleys, of course, which were created by the glaciers when Earth was an all-white ice-age snowball. Once the glaciers retired, the scarred valleys were filled with water, which formed lakes. Not just some lakes, 3,820 of them, if you count just the ones with a surface area larger than 1 hectare.

Lake Hawea
Being New Zealand, these lakes have a lot of legends about them. One refers to the lake pictured above, and goes like this. There was once a man that lived in Wanaka. He had a fishing station at the lake with the same name. One day he was fishing on the shores of the lake when the finger of land where he was standing, with a loud noise like, broke off and floated away like a water-bird. What happened is that under the grass where he was standing there was a tipua, which was something like a water spirit. Maybe it was a kappa, like they have in Japan? Maybe, but in any case the poor fishermen was so scared that he forgot to jump on the shore before it was too late, and was transported to the newly created floating island, Taki-karara, which is still wandering around the lake with its unlucky occupant.

Another Maori legend has a more happy ending, but concerns a place that is not pictured in this blog. It is about lake Wakatipu, an S-shaped water body near Queenstown. The tale is told by Amanda in her "A Dangerous Business" blog. It is a forbidden-love story. Her name was Manata, and she was the daughter of an important chief. His name was Matakauri, and he was a dashing poor commoner. They were in love, and wanted to marry. Not so fast, said Manata's father, as poor Matakauri was not what he had in mind for his daughter. Well, things never go according to plans, not even if you are a big chief: before he could find an appropriate groom for Manata, she was kidnapped by Matau, a giant monster living in the mountains. Manata's father declared that whoever would succeed in freeing his daughter, he will have her as bride. Clearly a perfect opportunity for Matakauri, who entered the lair of the monster while he was sleeping at night, found Manata and brought her to safety without waking the sleeping giant. He clearly did a much better job than a certain hobbit that could not even steal a gem without waking a dragon. This was not the end of the story, though, because Matau was kind of pissed and wanting revenge. So Matakauri had to go back and hunt the monster, before the wretched creature could lay waste of Manata, her father and the whole village. Ever the sleepy head, Matau was caught again in morpheus hands, curled in between the snowy mountains. An easy prey for Matakauri, that set him on fire. The fire burned intensely for many days, until it melted all the snow of the mountains. The water rushed to occupy the space created by the charred monster, and formed lake Wakatipu, which in Maori means "The Hollow of the Giant".

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (June 2, 2008)


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