A visit to Wanaka isn’t usually the top of anybody’s so-called bucket list. After all, New Zealand is a long way away from everybody in the world (except for a small number of hardy locals). However, this vibrant community has been branded The World’s First Protected Lifestyle Reserve for good reason, and it’s worth making the journey from wherever you call home.
Our family visited for a week, and each of us wanted to stay longer. You too will feel the intoxicating atmosphere and helplessly succomb to thoughts of immigration. It’s not just the allure of a picturesque lake surrounded by textured mountains raising their jagged teeth into the crisp and clean southern hemisphere sky, it’s the people who make a place memorable. Wanaka is a melting pot of people on a small and intimate scale, and seems to include mostly those who are friendly and outgoing in nature … whether the few who are blessed to be a permanent resident, or the international travelers who ebb and flow through this gateway to paradise.
While Wanaka feels surrounded by mountains, it doesn’t feel claustraphobic at all; rather it’s invigorating and somehow private, like finding a hidden nugget of gold like the early pioneers so eagerly sought. The town indeed started from gold rush in the 1860’s, although I believe the greatest rewards are the views above, and not what lies buried beneath.
Queenstown is known by many as the Adventure Mecca of the World, yet Wanaka is just a short drive over the Crown Range, and in many respects is the more comfortable and relaxing of the two. The winter thrill seeker is equally close to the treeless ski slopes which overlook spectacular vistas of lake and mountain, while the more adventurous have heliski options that stretch the imagination. Four seasons provide a wide variety for the pursuit of outdoor activity and summer activities abound, although our visit was just in time for the first day of the ski season. I find myself compelled to plan another trip back, for there is so much to do and so many things to see … one week just isn’t enough, nor just one season. What are the immigration rules again?
Rent a warm house with a nice fire during the winter months, preferably walking distance from the lake (not a difficult task). Visit the Puzzling World and make your way through the 3-D maze before enjoying your favourite coffee over the mind-bending puzzles (don’t forget to look for the many optical illusions).