What Made Me Fall In Love with Wanaka

Processed with VSCO with e1 presetWhat 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.

1. Roys Peak Track

Multiple eye-gasms!!!

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 😀

Bonus for completing the entire track: the sunset that hit all the right notes!

2. Glacier Landing Scenic Flight by Aspiring Helicopters

I’d like to add: Things that are worthwhile never come easy, or cheap.

This is why I wasn’t able to do as much as I had wanted in Wanaka.

This is my biggest splurge since I started traveling 4 years ago. I paid a total of NZD 450 (350 for the flight itself + 100 for the taxi from Wanaka. It’s roughly USD 330) for 35 minutes. Damn it, it might easily be the most expensive thirty minutes of my life!

However, was it worthwhile? Hell to the yes.

Scenic flights are extremely popular in New Zealand, and with good reasons. The landscapes are so incredible that they deserve to be seen from every angle. Also, some of the places are quite remote and treacherous that the only way to see them are from helicopters. I had never been on a chopper before I came to NZ and was going be on it to see glaciers, so I WAS BEYOND THRILLED.

You all have looked out the airplane window so you know very well how magical aerial views are. Except that when you fly a helicopter, you get to see everything closer and in its totality. From the chopper windows, I saw valleys carved out by thousand year glaciers, and we also landed on glacier, which is probably the highest and most pristine place I have ever set my feet on.

I have to forewarn you, though, that you will most likely feel slightly disoriented when it’s over, because 30 minutes will have never gone by so fast. For real. I said to myself, Oh man did I just step onto the chopper mere minutes ago? Before I managed to register in my mind what was going on, I was already back to the company’s office 🙁

My sincere advice is if you have the financial wherewithal, go for the option with two landings. It lasts longer and offers even more magnificent views.

Here is a short video I made for you guys. I suck at making videos, but I hope the soundtrack will put you in a good mood 😀

Hanging on the edge of glory

I asked the pilot if this view ever got old to him (because obviously he’d seen this plenty of times) and he said No. I trust him!

Tell me the truth, does this look like something from a fashion campaign about inspirational jet-setting lifestyle? 😀

Processed with VSCO with e2 presetI’ll be honest with you guys. I had multiple eye-gasms around the clock while I was in NZ. HAHAHA!

Mother Nature’s brilliant handiwork

I’m fervently in love with this scene. So vivid and mesmerizing, especially the river.


It is Wanaka’s greatest hit, right?

People may come to Wanaka and leave without climbing Roys Peak or visiting Mt Aspiring National Park or doing any kind of adventurous activities, but no one leaves town without paying this lone tree at least one visit. As I type this, the thatwanakatree hashtag on Instagram has more than 5,500 posts. I went 3 times, each at a different time of day. Oh and I was very enamored with the colors of the tree. Autumn FTW!

I have heard people complain about the crowd, about how there are always so many people around that it has become New Zealand equivalent of the Mona Lisa painting in the Louvre. However, I didn’t find it as bad as people have made it out to be. There were not so many people when I was there, and like me, they were just trying to take a photo or two in a polite (albeit cheesy at certain points) manner. Don’t let the bad rap deter you; see it for yourself first!

This was taken at around 7.30AM. The air was fresh and crisp, and the soft morning light gave the scene such a soothing feel.

This was taken at around 10.30-ish AM on my last day in Wanaka. It was an overcast day. The floating clouds added a melancholy touch, don’t you think?

Colorfully melancholy. Does it make any sense? 😀

I tell you, this Wanaka sunset verged on insane

IMG_3585Not that Wanaka tree, but still pretty nonetheless.

Hardcore sunset porn


Processed with VSCO with q1 presetI think these are pine trees? Wanaka is basically a tree heaven

So…that’s about it for Wanaka. I don’t deny that it is a touristy place, but its natural beauty more than compensates. If you are about to visit, I hope you find this helpful. Next up on the blog: Queenstown 😀

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