What people say about nothing worthwhile coming easy is really, really true. Views like these sure aren’t easy.
To me, Wanaka is the poster child for the power of social media (specifically Instagram) in popularizing a destination. I’m sure Wanaka Tourism Board has used other marketing and promotion channels and I obviously don’t know all the ins and outs, but from my perspective as an outsider its social media campaigns (with influential travel bloggers plugging Wanaka on their accounts and websites) sure have yielded good return on investment. That is how I came to know about this place. I decided to visit Wanaka even before I decided to visit New Zealand, if that makes sense to you.
Before I visit a place, I usually browse through Internet photos, all of which, you know, usually show that place in its best light. With Wanaka, when I visited the spots I had seen in photos, I wasn’t let down. Not even once. The town in real life is just as picturesque and vibrant, if not more, as how it is captured in photos.
Wanaka, thank you for over-delivering.
I came to Wanaka from Mt. Cook by way of Twizel (still with Intercity bus. If memory serves me right, there is no direct bus from Mt. Cook to Wanaka. You will have to stop over at Twizel). The entire journey took about 5 hours, the last two of which were a feast for the eyes, as everything that the bus passed by- mountains, trees, farms, and lakes- was bathed in the afternoon warm golden light. When the bus pulled into the parking lot, I barely could keep my excitement in check.
Wanaka is situated in a glacier carved basin on the shores of Lake Wanaka. It is a small town, but quite lively for its size. For me, that was a very welcoming change, especially after a few days in the sparsely populated Mackenzie region where there wasn’t any real good food or coffee.
I allocated four days in Wanaka. It surprised people I met a little bit, because it’s a tiny town and people usually spend a day or two before moving on to their next destination. Wanaka itself doesn’t offer that many things to see and to do, but the surrounding region is a treasure trove of attractions and activities. Mt Aspiring National Park is a prime example.
The sad reality, however, is I didn’t get to experience a lot during my stay either due to…budget constraints 🙁 I didn’t have a rental car, so my only option was organized tours. I love guided tours in New Zealand, since they can be quite informative, but heaven knows they are also prohibitively expensive. Like, I wanted to go on one of Eco Wanaka adventures, but the prices got me 🙁 Fortunately, everything I was able to see was gorgeous and surpassed my expectations so it remains a memorable experience at the end of the day.
Now, without further ado, let me show you what you shouldn’t miss in Wanaka.
If there were a contest for the best-est free activity to do in Wanaka, I’d wholeheartedly vote for this. With one caveat!
While it’s free of charge, it will cost you a hell lot of calories. People could describe the hike in the most vivid, flowery words, but the simple truth is you just climb a mountain from the base to the top. It’s not the distance (11 km in total), but the steepness (almost 1,600 meters), that makes this track grueling. You don’t have to be an athlete or a seasoned hiker to complete it, but you have to be in good health.
But the views along the way are sensational and only keep getting better. The climax is when you get to the summit with a panoramic view of Lake Wanka, the surrounding peaks and Mount Aspiring. There are two summits to conquer; most people will stop at the first. I conquered both, and while I felt a tad more accomplished, you don’t have to do the same. The first one already will drive you crazy!
(Remember to bring more than enough water and some snacks. The track begins at the parking lot 15 minutes drive from the town center. If you don’t drive, you can try hitchhiking (which is time-consuming and not guaranteed), or take a taxi for NZD 20.)
They will cheer you on 😀
I always wonder when a track is said to take a certain number of hours, does that duration already take into account breaks? For me, it usually takes 2-3 hours more than what is estimated; I pause a lot. Not because I’m too tired, but because I need to absorb what’s in front of me and take photos. I’m not weird, right?
I genuinely feel New Zealand is one of Mother Nature’s most favorite children
I love this view unreservedly!
Here I am, at the very top. Listen, who looks this stoic and dresses like this going on a steep, knee-killing 7 hour- 16 km long- 1600m high hike up the mountain? I do, haha. Why? Because I’ll be shivering, de-hyrated, and out of breath when I get to the top no matter what, and so I’d want to be all of that (and I indeed was) in something that makes me feel I’m in my element rather than in, say, Northface or Columbia. Not that there is anything wrong with Northface or Columbia; it’s just that I’m not a windbreaker & sweatpants kind of person so I don’t want to pretend to be what I’m not, you know 😀