Deep within central Otago on the shores of a deep blue lake and flanked by knuckled mountains, is the holiday oasis of Wanaka.
120km north of Queenstown, it has a far less commercial feel than its clamorous neighbour but no less to do.
Lake and river activities abound and within Lake Wanaka, there are many islands to explore. Ruby Island is 1½ hour round trip. There’s gas barbeque free to use, so take some sausages. Kayak’s, aqua bikes and dingy’s can be rented from Lakeland Adventures (03 433 7495) within The Log Cabin on the waterfront and provide a variety of options in getting there. Also available for rent, there are rods and lures for the salmon and trout that abound within the lake. For those wanting to relax there are plenty of beaches for a day’s lounging.
Sledging is the latest craze for those wanting to get up close and personal with some white water. Resembling bodyboards, they provide loads of manoeuvrability, are very safe and extremely buoyant, leaving you in control. To take on the grade 3 and 4 rapids of the Kawarau river get in touch with Frogz (0800 4 37649). They’ll provide the equipment and give you a tutorial on reading the river and controlling your sledge. Put your new found skills to the test against the infamous Chinese dogleg, an 800m expanse of explosive whitewater.
To take advantage of the magnificent views of this stunning landscape take to one of the 11 tracks in the area. The Mount Roy track, 5 minutes out of Wanaka, has breathtaking views out over Lake Wanaka and surrounding mountains and glaciers. Drive to Glendhu Bay along Mount Aspiring Rd and lookout for signs. The summit is reachable in 3 hours and is closed 1 Oct to 10 Nov. The track offers little shade so take protection. If you’ve got kids, take the Eely Point track at the boat ramps on the waterfront to Bremner Bay, a popular swimming area 20 minutes away. DOC publishes a Wanaka Walks brochure which can be found the Wanaka visitor centre in The Log Cabin.
For some two-wheeled fun, there are plenty of mountain bike tracks in the area. Lakeside, the outlet track runs from Wanaka to Albert Town along the Clutha River. To get there head out of town on SH84, taking a left into Anderson, right into Aubrey and left again into Outlet Rd. It’s a 5 minute drive. The Bendigo Gold Mining Area, 20 minutes along SH8 before Crippletown, offers heaps of trails down the rocky terrain between ruined buildings and deep mine shafts. Be careful. Sticky Forest, beginning near the Lake Outlet Holiday Park on Outlet Rd, has 20 tracks to choose from. Bikes can be rented from Lakeland Adventures mentioned above.
Possibly the best way to take in the surrounds would be atop a horse. 27 km from Wanaka along SH8 in the Cardrona Valley is Back Country Saddle Expeditions (03 443 8151). Well-tempered Appaloosa horses suited to the mountainous conditions provide a great ride for novice and pro alike. Western saddles and safety gear are provided for utmost comfort and confidence. There are half and full day trips departing daily for a minimum of two people.
To entertain the kids, Cardrona Adventure Park (03 443 6363) has a number of fun vehicles for hire. Children 6 and older can ride a 50cc quad bike of their own or pair up with Mum or Dad in an ATV Buggy. Drive your own Monster Truck or be passenger to a professional stuntman on an American style circuit. To include everyone in on the action, pile into the back of the ‘School Bully’, a monster school bus seating 12 that crashes over a course of obstacles and cars. All safety gear is provided but remember to wear sturdy closed shoes. It’s just before Cardrona on SH8.
For something a little lower on the action scale take them to Puzzling Word for some eccentric problem-solving fun. It’s on the way out of Wanaka on SH84. On offer is a 1.5km maze for adults and children alike, complete with exit doors for those low on patience, a hologram hall, tilted house, hall of following faces and the Ames forced perspective room. An all pass entry costs $12.50 for adults and $9.00 for kids.
Further down the road on SH6 is the Transport and Toy Museum boasting a collection of over 30,000 items ranging from Star Wars memorabilia to a Russian Mig 21 Fighter Plane. On-site is Wanaka Beerworks, a top class microbrewery brewing classic European beers from age-old recipes.
Next door at Wanaka Airport is the NZ Fighter Pilots Museum, housing WWII planes still in working order. It’s an insight into a fascinating era and there is also a collection of medals awarded to airmen for their service during the war.
At the end of it all, how about a glass of wine at Rippon Winery. It’s open for tasting and sales July through April and is the pioneer winery of the region producing Pinot Noirs and Rieslings of international acclaim. It’s up on Mount Aspiring Rd. 03 443 8084.
There’s still plenty more on offer in Wanaka. Winter’s snow opens up a Pandora’s box of further fun and where others are slowing down, Wanaka is still hotting up.