The feeling when I arrived in Wanaka was one of coming home. Leaving behind all my friends I made on the Kiwi Explorer bus and becoming a local Wanakaite was the easy step, ever leaving was the hard part.
During the summer months Wanaka’s population is around 7,000, this more than doubles in the winter months as people from all around the world come to Wanaka to take part in the awesome winter activities that make this town a star.
When you arrive you will almost certainly pass Lake Wanaka, one of the most pristine lakes I have ever seen, and New Zealand’s fourth largest. On a sunny day, which is pretty much every day in Wanaka, you can chill on the beach, take in a spot of fishing or even hire some kayaks from the Information Office for about $18. Note to anyone attempting to tip over someone else’s kayak, you will capsize yourself and get rescued by the coast guard, who are lovely incidentally.
If you are chasing the powder you will not be disappointed, the three main peaks; Treble cone, Snow Park and Cardrona offer fantastic courses for all levels of riders and the most amazing views of the Otago region. For the more experienced powder chasers Snow Park is the piste for you, with rails, jumps, boxes and some terrifying big air jumps to satisfy even the gnarliest boarders and skiers. Who needs to go snowboarding in Queenstown when you have Wanaka.
After a day on the slope there is nothing better than to relax with a pint of local beer, and Wanaka does not let you down on that front. The newly opened Water Bar on the lake front has a happy hour that offers lucky customers 50% off their favourite brewski! Try the Lawn Ranger, a lemon and lime infused beer that’s uber refreshing. Competing just along the lake front is the pub/café Kai Whaka Pai (Māori for ‘food made good’) where the locals love the beer so much they have their names etched on personal glasses, a great beer to try here is the Tall Black a rich and delicious dark beer with light caramel notes.
Now, after all that pubbing and boarding I bet you’re full of energy, no? Well tough luck if not because you will get pulled out of bed to tramp up Mount Iron, cycle round the lake (with day bike hire for under $20), finishing with a brain training stop at Puzzling World, where getting lost in the maze is part of the fun.
Tramp up the mount for this spectacular view
If you’re tired and hungry now no problem, head over to the Cheeky Monkey for some slap up grub or if you’re just after a quick bite head to Doughbin’s bakery and order a Kiwi classic with a Mc Gregors pie. Try the Famous Mutton, a very meaty deliciously seasoned pie in flaky short crust pastry.
For me the love of this small town started long before I took part in the town’s Hāngi (Māori underground pit cooking) or before all the lifts I got when hitchhiking up the mountain, and even before I had my name etched on my own glass in Kai Whaka Pai. It started as soon as my bus rolled down the hill and I first saw Lake Wanaka lapping by the side of Mount Aspiring and the bright coloured tin roof houses in the distance.