Mention the South Island and I conjure up images of mountains, reflective lakes, and snow. From an early age my family spent winter holidays touring the South Island – unlike my friends who went for skiing, my family went for my artist Mother to paint. Our holidays were spent patiently waiting down country roads whilst Mum set up easel and paints. If lucky and Dad thought it safe to leave Mum, he would drive us kids to locations where we could enjoy what winter down South offered over our hometown Wellington – jumping in ice puddles, breaking icicles and snowball fights.
Not having ventured South for sometime and hearing friends express their love for Wanaka with its natural beauty and great eating establishments, my husband and I chose Wanaka to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Landscape photography and good food are my passions so I was curious to see if it lived up to its recommendations. The last time I was in Wanaka was 12 years ago with my own children, I have fond memories of Wanaka's Puzzle World but apart from that, don't have distinct memories - at that time Queenstown was my favoured destination. These days Queenstown has grown beyond belief into a bustling, overcrowded tourist mecca whilst Wanaka seems to have remained in control and people enjoy this developing resort town with ease.
On arrival at Queenstown Airport we picked up our rental car and drove over the scenic Crown Range to Wanaka, stopping for lunch at the iconic Cardrona Hotel and a photo stop at the quirky tourist attraction, the Cardrona Bra Fence, Bradrona, then continuing to our destination - Wanaka.
Wanaka is the gateway to the Southern Alps Mount Aspiring National Park, a haven of glaciers, forests and lakes and with Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resorts nearby you can understand its popularity. Driving into Wanaka we were greeted with misty views of the lake and mountains and Wanaka's sophisticated lakefront township - I was excited.
Wanaka offers spectacular scenery as well as great food scene. Our visit was on the cusp of the ski season and although little snow on the mountains it was evident that the season was about to begin. Young people of all nationalities mingled around the popular Kai Whakapai Cafe and Bar - many reuniting after spending a season elsewhere. We chose to stay in walking distance to bars and restaurants and were delighted by our delicious eating experiences - our favourites being Kika, Francesca's, Big Fig and breakfasts at Federal Diner & Soul Food. There are numerous drinking establishments but my favourite bar was called Gin and Raspberry. True to its name you can sip Gin and Raspberries and in an elegant setting overlooking the Lake.
With only a few days to enjoy this scenic wonderland we had to be organised with our choices. Waking to cloud and limited views of the mountains was not what I anticipated but I soon realized how quickly the weather changes throughout the day and how the cloud breaks often, revealing mesmerizing images.
We started our 4.5km loop walk up Mt Iron in cloud, by the time we reached the top we were rewarded with clear views of the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka.
We enjoyed the 15-minute drive to Lake Hawea - another beautiful lake, but for those who enjoy a quieter setting. From Lake Hawea we continued 30 minutes up road to the Blue Pools Track - a 20 minute bush walk takes you to the swing bridge and some incredible clear blue/green pools. We returned to Wanaka just in time for Thursday Farmers Markets where vendors sell crafts and more delicious food.
My favourite day was walking along the lakefront to the famous Wanaka Tree. This solitary tree is a magnet to photographers, with changing weather and lake conditions you can snap stunning images.
Continuing our walk along the lakefront we treated ourselves to coffee and scones at the Edgewater Resort, and then wine-tasting at Rippon Winery. The lakefront track up to the winery has mind-blowing views over vines and a reflective Lake Wanaka - if ever there was a paradise it has to be here.
As a child I don't think I appreciated the beauty of nature - maybe those hours spent down country roads waiting for Mum paid off, I now get overwhelmed with excitement when I see scenic beauty or much to my husband's frustration, another photo opportunity. It's my husband who now waits patiently!!
A passion for photography and a love of travel - Liz now enjoys combing the two.
Mangonui to Cape Reinga