“The lack of crowds; the freedom to do what you love; the scenery; the space among the like-minded; the welcome from people who understand; the energy and the daring; the crystal water… it’s about the time to breathe, take it all in, feel carefree, full of life, and realise it’ll stay with you long after you’ve left.“
That’s how the Wanaka Tourism Board describe being there, and I really couldn’t put it better myself. So I didn’t.
There are some nice places to eat and a modest night scene, with happy hours to keep the backpackers smiling, but the thing we enjoyed most about being in Wanaka was the go-with-the-flow atmosphere, strolling along the shore of the 45km lake and breathing the clean air. It’s a pleasant place to wander around and recuperate from your travels, preparing for a couple of decent day hikes in the surrounding countryside.
Journey from Christchurch
Strangely enough, one of the best things about visiting Wanaka is the journey there. If you’re heading in from Christchurch then you’ll likely make a couple of stops at Tekapo and Twizel. Although the food is generally overpriced and a bit crap at these rest stops, they’re home the most incredible turquoise lakes:
The Rob Roy Glacier Hike, in the Rain
One of the most popular things to do from Wanaka, as with most Kiwi towns, is to satisfy your wanderlust with a trek. The Rob Roy Glacier trek is 10km of diverse hiking through windy-swept valley floors, heavily forested mountains and icy streams.
The track begins with about an hours drive along an un-sealed gravelled road through the
Matukituki Valley, which leads you into Mount Aspiring National Park. After rainfall the road has several streams which you’ll need to ford – we managed this in a knackered old hatchback but you may want to try and find a jeep.
Once you arrive at the car park (there is a toilet and small shelter here) make sure you layer up. You’ll warm up on the hike but he first section, although beautiful, takes you across the valley floor where it’s incredibly windy.
The climb takes about 60 – 90 minutes, depending on your speed. It’s not enormously challenging and although a lot of the walk passes through forest, there are some sight-seeing gems along the way.
Once you reach the end of the marked track, you are really at the mercy of the weather. On a clear Summer’s day the views are spectacular, or so I believe from looking at the photographs. We weren’t quite so lucky:
We admitted that the elements had bested us and decided to head back down the slopes dreaming of hot chocolate and praying for better weather the following day, for our mini-hike up Mount Iron.
Walking the Mount Iron Track
From atop the 250m peak of Mount Iron, you’ll get 360° views of The Pisa range, the Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of them, I hadn’t, but they’re still pretty to look at.
The track is a very easy 4.5km loop, up one side and down the other. You can get there by following the main road in/out of Wanaka, after about 2km you’ll see the start of the track on the left.
There are dozens of great tracks around Lake Wanaka, ranging from 2 to 22km, easy to medium in difficulty. There’s even a custom made bike track if you prefer to tackle the tracks on two wheels.
We chose the Mt. Iron walk for the views of the National Park, but the outdoorsy type could spend weeks in Wanaka hiking to their hearts content.