How did Lake Hayes get its name?

Lake Hayes (Hays)  |  April 2015

Lake Hayes (Hays)  |  April 2015

It is a common misconception that Lake Hayes is named after the notorious south seas pirate William Henry (Bully) Hayes. Hayes did reside for a brief time in the Arrowtown, setting up a hotel to cash in on thirsty miners. His exploits were quite notorious but not of a nature to warrant having a lake named after him.

Lake Hayes is referred to as both Hay’s Lake and Lake Hays in the Otago Witness of December 1862. Bully Hayes did not arrive in Arrowtown until the very last days of December 1862 or in early 1863, so the lake could not possibly be named after him.

It is almost beyond doubt that the lake was named after Donald Hay, an early Scottish explorer.

He had been brought to the southern end of Lake Wakatipu by Donald Cameron, an early runholder and explorer, in the middle of winter 1859, and he became the first white sailor on the lake.

David McKeller, an earlier explorer, had made a moki (flax raft) but had not used it, hiding it in some rushes. Hay found it, strengthened and enlarged it, and then set out on a very brave (some would say crazy) mission to explore Lake Wakatipu.

For two weeks he zig zagged across the lake, stopping at the Devil’s staircase (he walked to Kawarau Falls from there), Beach Bay, Walter Peak (he walked to the Von river from there) and then across to the Frankton Arm. From the Frankton Arm he walked to a small lake that now bears his name. In describing his experiences he said:

'I hauled the moki onto a beach and inspected all the country to the north of the lake. I went west of the small inland lake [Hay’s Lake], north-eastwards towards a great gorge between the mountains [presumably the Kawarau gorge'. I then returned towards the lake [Lake Wakatipu], where I discovered a cave and took shelter from a heavy snowstorm.’

Fearing that he would get trapped by the storm, he set out to sail back to Kingston to complete an epic journey.

‘I had no fear while cruising in my frail bark, but I had to exercise caution, as my craft became saturated with water so that I was in it ankle deep and had to haul it up on the beach to let it dry. Occasionally my legs and feet swelled a little and the dazzling snow and glittering water made me partly snow blind; otherwise I was alright.'

Once back in Dunedin, Hay applied for the land around the little lake that he had discovered. The request was not granted as speculators had already claimed it, sight unseen. In disgust, he left New Zealand for Australia, and we lost a intrepid early explorer.

Writing in the Lake County Press in 1912, Alfred Duncan, who was a cadet with William Rees at the very beginnings of Queenstown, said when reminiscing:

‘I called the small lake near Arrowtown "Lake Hayes" after a gentleman who is said to have been the first to see it. I didn’t say that the gentleman referred to bore the name Hayes. I only said the lake was called after him. Everybody knew that his name was Hay, but the name of the lake was entered in the government charts as Hayes, and that was the whole of the mystery.’

It would be nice to think that at some stage the lake would get its rightful name in honour of this brave individual whose early exploits helped the region into farming, the discovery of gold and the development of tourism.

David Clarke


Lakes District Museum 2015