My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Wanaka”

Spring Roadie – Te Anau to Wanaka

Waking up to grey skies made my brother and I appreciate our fortune from the day before even more. To have had sunshine for our visit to Milford Sound had been glorious. My brother had arranged to take a boat down Lake Te Anau to visit a glowworm cave. Having done this trip on my last visit to Te Anau, and having seen hundreds of glowworms whilst caving in Waitomo, I stayed behind and mulled around the lake side. A giant takahe sculpture represents the conservation work of this rare and endangered bird that is going on nearby, and from here I followed the path along the shoreline, meandering through the trees towards the small marina. I had plenty of time to kill so admired the boats for a while before heading back. I decided to pop to the small cinema at the back of the settlement to watch their film about the local area. I had watched it 3 years prior and had been blown away by it so was happy to sit through it again. Despite looking a little dated now, it was still as spectacular as before and worth watching.


When my brother returned from his trip, we reunited for lunch in a cafe at the back of Te Anau before heading off north. We’d driven this road through rain a couple of days prior but had it dry this time round. I drove first to Lake Manapouri a little along the road, where the distant mountains that mark the divide between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound were shrouded in cloud, and from there we continued onward, eventually returning to the lake side of the enormous Lake Wakatipu. Without the rain though, we were able to stop in places and actually enjoy the view. Despite being a Sunday, the roads were steady enough with traffic as being November, we were into the tourist season and so there were plenty of motor homes around. The view at Devils Staircase was one of the most impressive on the drive where, even on a grey day, the winding drive along the lake edge was pretty. Further north just before the road left the lakeside, we parked up and walked down to a small pebbly beach and this gave us a view almost all the way down the southern arm of the lake. After passing some time here, it was back on the road, returning to Frankton and continuing north before taking the turn-off for the Crown Range.


I’d previously only driven up the first few bends of the Crown Range many years before with my partner but the conditions hadn’t allowed us to take the full drive. So this was to be my first time on this road which is the country’s highest sealed road. The weather was thinking about brightening with glimpses of sun trying to break through the cloud, but there was also a bit of wind up high adding a slight chill. The first viewpoint was at the top of the switchback which allows a rapid gain in altitude. Further along there was a scenic lookout which overlooked the Gibbston Valley below and from here it was clear to see how the planes flew low over here when on approach to Queenstown airport. After more bends and a final push in altitude gain we pulled in at the Crown Range Summit where a lot of people were milling around and an old-fashioned car was getting a lot of attention. A plaque marked it as the highest point on the road, and a walk set off from here which I would have loved to have done on a clearer day.


From the summit it was a long descent through the Cardrona Valley to eventually reach Wanaka, one of my favourite parts of the country. Unfortunately it is another place who’s popularity is threatening the very virtues that I love, but nonetheless I was still more than happy to be there, and I drove straight to the waterfront to show it off to my brother before we checked in. The surrounding summits were mostly visible although the cloud was threatening to hide them. We took a wander along the path by the lake as the sun dropped low, eventually finding ourselves by the crowds at the lake’s most famous tree. ‘That Wanaka Tree’ amuses me greatly. When I first visited Wanaka in 2012, few people gave the little tree in the lake a second glance. I myself walked past it daily whilst I was there and never even acknowledged it. Suddenly it started popping up on social media more and more and when I returned to Wanaka four years later in 2016, it had its own Instagram plaque and it was forever surrounded by a frenzy of people trying to photograph it. My brother felt obliged to take a photograph of it but was then more intent on photographing the crowd of people that was gathered. A non-social media user, he was greatly amused by the scene. I thought it spoke volumes about the role of social media in modern society.


The next morning we were back to sunshine again, and the blue sky overhead made the lake sparkle. My brother chose a route for us to walk and so after breakfast, we returned to the lake side but this time followed it in the other direction. Following Roys Bay towards Bremner Bay, we had an uninterrupted view over to Roys Peak, one of my favourite walks in the area. The summit was hidden from view but as time passed on as we walked, the cloud here, as well as that towards Mount Aspiring National Park on the far side of the lake, gradually dissipated.


The main town of Wanaka has changed since my first visit and the main beach can get very crowded in peak season, but round the lake at Bremner Bay, it feels more secluded and this is where I would love to live if I was ever able to move here. The views across the lake here are absolutely stunning and also remind me of Scotland. Continuing beyond here, we eventually reached the lake outlet where the first signs of the development that has occurred since that first visit became evident. We found ourselves in a holiday park that wasn’t there before and we cut from here along a new road past new housing developments to reach the back of Albert Town which had expanded outwards in my absence.


Our destination was Mt Iron, a distinctive hill which offers a great viewpoint over the area. There are several routes up depending on which direction you approach from and we found our way up to the top via a route I wasn’t aware of. Our view on the way up was over Albert Town which I could now see had grown so much. From the summit, the view away from Wanaka looked the same, the flat plains spreading away towards the surrounding mountain ranges. It was as we crossed over the summit and started the descent down on the Wanaka side that I could really appreciate how much the town had expanded. An entire new estate had appeared, coming right up to the bottom of the hill and a new car park and new toilet block sat at the bottom of the trail. The facilities are much needed with the increase in tourist numbers but it highlighted the fact that the once quiet Wanaka was losing its peacefulness. I don’t enjoy Queenstown because of its busyness and brashness, and I can only hope that Wanaka never completely gives in to the same folly.


We ate a late lunch in a cafe near the lake, and although initially disappointed with my brother’s desire to now do nothing despite several good walks in the area, by the time I’d finished sucking lemons, I found myself give into the laziness very quickly as we sat on the pebbled beach by the lakeside. My brother people watched whilst I snoozed in the warm sunshine. I’m normally an active person on holiday, always on the go, always wanting to pack as much in as possible. I don’t like sitting still, or being lazy or sunbathing. This can make me a frustrating person to travel with, or equally makes me frustrated to travel with other people, which is part of the reason I often enjoy going solo. But every now and again, and usually without forward planning, I’m either forced to or give in to being lazy and just being still, and on those rare occasions I actually enjoy it. As such, I ended up being very glad that my brother was happy to just sit there for a while, and I was very glad to rest my feet and relax.

Another sunny morning greeted us for the long day that we had planned ahead. It was time to say goodbye to Wanaka and head west through the Haast Pass. With a lot of driving ahead for me, I was to be grateful for the afternoon’s relaxing the day before. Before leaving the town behind, we took a quick trip up to the war memorial, the car park of which offers a nice view across the lake. Wanaka is such a long drive from my home city of Christchurch, that I knew I was leaving it unclear of when I’d next return. So I absorbed the view as best as I could to retain the image as a memory, before we had to head on.

Weekend Adventures

It took four years, but finally I made it back to one of my favourite parts of the country. It was one of the first places I explored in the South Island when I first arrived in New Zealand in 2012, but it took barely a minute to fall in love with the place when the bus pulled in to the lakeside on a gorgeous sunny day. After a 5hr drive south-west from Christchurch, my partner and I arrived in Wanaka on the shore of the lake of the same name, on an equally sunny day and instantly I was happy and excited for the weekend ahead.

The drive itself is beautiful. Apart from several roadworks, and the common incidence of tourist drivers that raise your blood pressure with their extremely bad road sense, it is an enjoyable drive with plenty to look at. We took the back road to Geraldine and on to Fairlie where we stopped at the bakery which has a local reputation for exceedingly good pies. After an early lunch, we continued on to Lake Tekapo, a quaint little town which is always good for a stay or a break to stretch the legs. On this occasion, we pressed on, and soon we were swinging past the expanse of Lake Pukaki which has the most brilliant blue water you have ever seen. In the distance, at its northern end, the domineering peak of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook stands proud on the skyline. Across the barren landscape to Omarama and then the winding route through Lindis Pass, the landscape seemed dry and brown. Even on the other side, as we covered the final kilometers to Wanaka, everything appeared as if in drought, until finally the water of Lake Wanaka appeared glistening behind the town.

After checking in to our motel, we headed down to the waterfront and had a leisurely stroll along the lake shore. Being the weekend of Waitangi Day, a national public holiday, the town was packed, and the beach was crammed with people enjoying the sunshine and the water. Across the lake, the mountains tower over it, from Roy’s Peak on the near shore, to the expanse of Mt Aspiring National Park in the far distance. Though my partner doesn’t agree with me, Lake Wanaka and its surrounds always make me think of Cairngorm National Park in my home country of Scotland, and that is partly why I feel so at home here. It is a fantastic spot for relaxation as well as outdoor pursuits and there is so much to see and do in the region.


Since I was last in the place, a flurry on Instagram has resulted in a particular tree on the lake becoming famous. Google image ‘that Wanaka tree’ and thousands of photos of it appear. What amused me more was when we walked to go and see what all the fuss was about, there was even a sign marking it as a photographic hotspot. When I was there four years prior, I would have walked past that tree without showing it any added attention. It’s funny what catches the international eye sometimes, and there was a regular stream of tourists trying to photograph it. All that aside, it is very photogenic: a lone tree within the water near the lake edge, which is framed either by mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, or the town of Wanaka, depending on how you frame it.


After a pleasant meander back into town, we were excited to discover that Patagonia, our beloved chocolate and ice cream store from Queenstown had opened a branch in Wanaka. This place makes the most amazing ice cream, and we have both previously sickened ourselves gorging on it before. There was no way we were not going to indulge in some again this time round. Nearby, we enjoyed outdoor dining in the sunshine at one of the local bars, soaking up the happy vibes that swirl round the town. The next day, after breakfast in one of many cafes in town, we readied ourselves for the event that we were in town for: a friend’s wedding. It was a stunning affair, in the gardens of a hotel complex on the lake side, under a blistering sun, and it was immense fun.

I’m not a regular drinker, so I woke up the day after the wedding a little bit under the weather, but that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying the region. After a much needed breakfast in town, we took the scenic drive past nearby Lake Hawea and on towards Haast Pass. This road eventually leads to the west coast and then upwards to Fox glacier, and I am yet to reach the pass and see some of the many sights along the way. But I had heard about one of the sights worth seeing on the Wanaka side of the pass, and that was where we headed. First up the side of Lake Hawea then crossing over to flank neighbouring Lake Wanaka, it was a gorgeous drive.


Nearly an hour away, we reached a packed car park that marked the start of the walk to the Blue Pools. Descending through thick forest for about 10 mins, the path breaks out the trees at a suspension bridge that crosses the crystal clear waters of the river below. From here, we could see a lot of people further along the path, and not far ahead, a second suspension bridge crossed another river, and from here, we could see why the pools were so named. Glacial fed, the water was crystal clear and had a blue hue to them. The amount of people lounging around on the shore and wading through the water was deceptive – it was freezing cold! It was so cold that when I stood in it to have my photo taken, it was actually really painful on my feet. Still, it was a lovely spot, and although there were a lot of people around, everyone was spread out enough over the stony river bed that it didn’t feel in the least bit crowded. As we were leaving though, a bus load full of tourists were heading down the path, so we were glad to be leaving when we did.


After stopping for a snack on route, we headed back down the side of Lake Wanaka and across the divide back to Lake Hawea where we had a couple of stops to soak up the view and take some photos. The road and the pull-ins were quite packed with tourists and parking was becoming difficult. In the town of Hawea itself though, it felt like there wasn’t a soul about, and it was peaceful and tranquil. Wading in the water was lovely, and we both wished we had brought our swimwear with us, as this would have been the perfect spot to have a relaxing swim in the lake. Instead, hungry and keen for a dip, we headed back to Wanaka.


Unfortunately, Wanaka was still packed and the beach beside the lake had no spare shade and barely a spare spot in the sun either. There was noise and people everywhere, and the water was full of boats, jetskis and paddleboarders. We tried to lie for a while, but I for one was finding it all too much, kicking myself for not having had the foresight to allow us to go swimming in Hawea. In the end, I had to follow the lake for some distance, ending up back at ‘that Wanaka tree’, just to find a free spot in the shade to zone out. Lake Wanaka is actually very shallow for some distance out, so even after wading out quite a distance, the water wasn’t even at chest level. It was deep enough to swim though, and the water temperature was perfect. It was a lovely way to relax and unwind.


After meandering back in to town and climbing up the hill to the lookout, we stumbled upon a hidden cluster of restaurants down a back street for dinner, and ate out at Cows, another Queenstown favourite that has opened up a Wanaka branch. There was live music in the courtyard and it was perfect conditions for enjoying an al fresco meal.


I had read in our motel guidebook about a local short walk that I hadn’t heard about before, and with other people from the wedding have done the walk whilst we were at the Blue Pools, we headed off on the 20min drive the next morning. On the road to Treble Cone ski field towards Mt Aspiring, it is a nice drive to the poorly marked car park to reach the walk to Diamond Lake. It is possible to walk just to the lake itself, but there are a few longer walks from here up the flanking hills to get a view point of either Diamond Lake or Lake Wanaka. It is a nice wee lake, although the lake itself is quite well hidden by vegetation for large sections of it on the circuit, but hiking up to the lower of the two viewpoints, it was possible to see the lake in its entirety (which is not actually diamond shaped). The circuit and viewpoint took about an hour, although this was at a very rushed pace due to having to make the drive back to Christchurch that day.


Heading home following breakfast in Wanaka, we retraced our steps back towards Christchurch, marvelling as always about the astonishing blue of Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo along the way. I adore Lake Wanaka, and now also Lake Hawea, and hope that it won’t be quite so long next time before making it back.

Roys Peak

I could live my whole life in New Zealand, and still have explored only a mere sample of it. There’s simply an overwhelming choice of places to go. As an avid hiker (or tramper, depending on where you’re from), I love getting out into the countryside, no matter where I am in the world. I may have only been there once, but Wanaka in New Zealand’s South Island, remains one of my favourite parts of the country. It is a place of paradise for outdoor lovers. On the bank of a large lake, it is near mountains, glaciers and ski fields. Year round, there is plenty of choice for adventure, whilst remaining much more quiet and idyllic than its better known neighbour, Queenstown.


The town of Wanaka lays subtly sprawled along the shore round Roys Bay and Bremner Bay and the vista from the waterfront is spectacular. The water sparkles, and the mountains rise up from the far side and as you inhale the air around you, the freshness invades your pores and brings a glow of total happiness to your body.

Looking round the western side of Roys Bay, stands Roys Peak at 1578m, my favourite hike to do in the area. By car, heading round the western edge of Lake Wanaka on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road, a car park will be found on the left from where the hike up begins. But even without a car, it is accessible from the town itself.

Lake Wanaka

Roys Peak


For me, I had arrived by bus, and was keen to explore the area on my own two legs. Following the shoreline promenade, a path takes you through the edge of a resort and along the Te Araroa trail which eventually becomes the Waterfall Creek Track. This track follows the lake side all the way round to Glendhu Bay, but long before this, a sign directs you up another track across private land to the road across from the car park which marks the start of the hike.

The path itself for a large part of it is broad enough for a vehicle to drive up it, and livestock can at times be wandering around the area. It gains height in zig-zag fashion, resulting in a steady gain in altitude without a severe gradient. Behind and to the side of you as you work your way up the mountainside, Wanaka gets smaller and smaller, and more of the lake and its surrounding mountains spread out for miles around. Eventually the town disappears out of view and the long main stretch of the lake is visible in its entirety.

Lower Roys Peak

WanakaPath leading along the lower ridge line


About two thirds of the way up, a path leads across a lower neighbouring ridge line and from here, as well as near the top where the path skirts round the northern aspect of the summit, the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park become visible on the horizon. In every direction the view is unbelievable, and even rounding the summit edge, and reaching the top, it is breathtaking. The lake, the mountains, the town, and pastures spread out around you, and the day I was up there, two peregrine falcons mobbed each other, dipping and diving around those of us at the summit. With a fresh layer of snow on the distant mountains, there was a nip in the air at the summit, but it didn’t deter me from spending a long time up there breathing it all in. It was a popular walk that day, and well worth the effort. On such a clear day, I could see for miles.

Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka

Glendhu Bay from near the summit

Lake Wanaka Panorama


I was exceedingly reluctant to leave, but at least on the way down, I was staring out at the changing vista the whole way, and there was a steady stream of people to smile at and say hello to as they worked their way up. I even followed the spur track along the neighbouring ridge line as well. Down at the car park is the only toilet on the whole walk, but retracing your steps takes you back down to the lake side, and back into town for a well earned drink at the pub of your choice.

Lake Wanaka from the ridge line spur track


The view on the way down

The bottom of Roys Peak

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