Now, I don’t know if it’s cruel to make a post about this wonderful corner of the world in the midst of a global pandemic, or if it’s a kindness in bringing to light such a magical place. Somewhere you should put down on your bucket list!
I ended up in Wānaka by accident. My partner and I were cruising around New Zealand in our campervan when we ran low on money and decided we needed to work to save up some more before getting back on the road. The next stop on the map was Queenstown, a city full of adventure in the South Island of NZ. Queenstown was already bursting at the seams with fellow Brits, as well as other nationalities. All looking to work and live in the small, lively city. After two weeks of struggling to get even an interview with any of the companies hiring there, we decided to move on to a town just over the mountain range – Wānaka.
And let me tell you, as soon as we drove in and saw the views, the dynamic of the town and the laid back people, we knew we weren’t getting back on the road anytime soon. We found jobs, and an apartment. Four years on, and we are still here. We have found better jobs, upgraded from a small apartment to a cosy little house just outside of town, and adopted a fur baby. So if it’s not clear – we do not intend on moving away. In fact, we are currently saving up to buy a piece of this beautiful land.
This place is an adventurer’s playground. There is something for everyone here, and I want to give you a little look at what goes on in and around this small town, and why it’s so special.
There are plenty of places in the world with amazing views. And coming from a small coastal town in Wales, surrounded by mountains, lakes and rivers, this place shouldn’t surprise me… but it does. Just look at this view FROM MY LIVING ROOM! (below, left)
This place is referred to as Paradise for a reason.
Wānaka is a lakeside town that is the gateway to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. It’s surrounded by these mighty snowcapped mountain ranges, and is even close to a couple of glaciers.
Adventure for all
You don’t have to love the outdoors and extreme activities to have fun here in Wānaka . Whether you are a “go hard or go home” kinda person, or an introvert who prefers the indoors, I’m confident you’ll find something to love.
For the people who aren’t interested in extreme sports, there are many gentle walking tracks here with breathtaking scenery. And if you have a dog to take with you, then the lakeside walks become ten times as fun. There’s also a lovely Lavender Farm to visit which is one of my favourite places in town. When the lavender is in bloom, it makes for a wonderful day out; walking through the rows, hanging out with their beloved animals and enjoying a cup of tea at their quaint tearoom.*
On the more thrilling side of things… Hiking is one of the most popular things to do here, as there are endless trails to explore. Some take days to walk, meaning you stop to sleep in the sleeping huts provided, and possibly won’t come across another soul on the journey. Other trails only take a few hours to walk but offer incredible views (e.g popular Insta spot Roy’s Peak), these ones are a little busier.
To name a few other fun things to do here; bike rides, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, swimming in the lake and rivers, horse riding, wine tasting, paragliding, rock climbing, boating, jet boating on the river, surfing, skydiving, helicopter journeys, and even skiing.
Yep, in winter, the ski fields open up and Wānaka is packed with skiers. I haven’t tried skiing or snowboarding yet but it is on my to-do list.
Wānaka is a peaceful town, despite all the action. It’s hard to describe exactly the vibe it gives off, but it is a laid back place that feels out of touch with reality sometimes. Living here feels like you are living in a bubble.
You won’t find any fast food eateries in this town, or high street shops that seem to take over most other places. In Wānaka, we have a small selection of locally run boutique shops. There’s also a great recycling centre called Wastebusters where you go to recycle, and find anything and everything from clothes to kitchen appliances to skis for the winter season.
The town has a great community feel, with a lot going on for people of all ages. The community centre and art centre both hold different kind of events, from theatre shows to casual brunches. And there is a personal gallery around every corner, as it is the perfect place for artists. Not to mention, there isn’t much crime in the area, either (unfortunately though, this is changing; the crimes mainly being vehicles being damaged, or tools being stolen from building sites).
Queenstown is just over the hill
Another perk of living in Wānaka is that it has such easy access to even more adventure! Bungy jumping anyone?
Queenstown is jam-packed with cool things to do for all ages; bungy jumps and skydives, more ski fields, karting, trampolining, mini golfing, wine tasting, fruit picking, lake activities, hot pools and even an option to take a gondola up to have a skyline dinner, overlooking their Lake Wakatipu, and the impressive Remarkables Mountains.
It’s so handy to have a city only an hour’s drive away so you can grab all the things you can’t find in Wānaka.
There is also an international airport here! So whether you’re jetting off on holiday, visiting home on the other side of the world, or making small domestic trips, you don’t have to go far to hop on a plane.
There is always more to see
You could never claim to be bored here in Wānaka, ever. Because even if you’re not into all the activities the town has to offer, there is still more to see.
To the South, over the hill and closer to Queenstown, there is an interesting place called Arrowtown. It’s more of a village really, small but very cute. It’s a historic gold mining town, and its river once contained an abundance of gold. When you visit, you can borrow a pan to have a go at finding some in the riverbed yourself. It’s like jumping back in time, from standing in the river trying to find your own flecks of gold (or nuggets, if you’re optimistic), to the aesthetic of the buildings themselves.
On the opposite side of Wānaka, about 50 minutes North, sits the small community of Makarora. It’s a great place to camp overnight, or head for the day to see the incredibly blue waters of the Blue Pools. And if you carry on that way, you’ll end up at the opening of the West Coast, Haast.
Then, heading East, you have the Mackenzie region, known for the darkest skies in the world! This is the region that showcases Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo (two massive lakes that sit parallel to each other). A stay next to one of these lakes is anything but your normal camping trip… look up and you’ll see the milky way clearly, or if you’re lucky, the Aurora Australis might even put on a display for you. Oh, and for the nerds out there, this is where you’ll find multiple Lord of the Rings filming locations!
What would be the first thing you did when you got to Wānaka?
Until next time,
*UPDATE: I am now a supervisor at this amazing lavender farm! How great is that? It’s still my favourite place in town.