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New Zealand: Wanaka before Christmas

New Zealand: Wanaka before Christmas


20.12.2015 – 23.12.2015

Just before Christmas my friends C&K invited Kate and I to spend time with them down in Wanaka. I’d joined C down there in Wanaka a number of times before and always had a wonderful time, and I wanted Kate to see some of the South Island – we readily agreed. Wanaka is a great wee town with wonderful weather, sitting on the shore of Lake Wanaka in Otago. To get there quickly we opted for the most direct route – a jet to Queenstown, a hire car and an hour’s drive north from there.


The planes fly up a valley to get to Queenstown airport – what a welcome!

As we picked up the hire car, it was like being in Britain – only about 1 in 10 of the tourism industry staff over summer are New Zealanders, the rest were from the motherland! Through the trip it was nice though, to see so many young travellers from all over the globe having a great time together, even if they worked in hospitality and their English was shit. It gives the whole region that happy vibe.

Before leaving Queenstown, K wanted to jump off a bridge (you can’t blame her, she lives in Australia). Fortunately around Queenstown you can do this without death, at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy. While C, Kate and I scoffed down hot chips and rolls, K lined up along the historic bridge, waiting her turn to be one of the screaming tourists falling 43 metres to the waters below.

It was a slick operation with professional video equipment capturing the event from all angles, far better than we spectators could do with our meagre offerings. Never-the-less we entertained ourselves trying, and then it was K’s turn. Splash!

K mid-leap, urgh!

K mid-leap, urgh!

The road from Queenstown to Wanaka is alright, but my mate C knew a short cut – a small winding road leading up to the ski fields of the Cardrona valley and north to Wanaka. I say short cut, and it would have been, if we weren’t stuck behind oblivious tourist drivers going 25kmph. They wouldn’t pull over, we had no option – we just had to enjoy the views. Fortunately they were lovely. We saw some paragliders too – it must be amazing floating around in the mountains!

From the Cadrona valley road

From the Cardrona valley road

Finally we arrived in Wanaka, and the view from our accommodation was simply sublime:

Above Lake Wanaka

Above Lake Wanaka

What a spot. We wanted to just sit and look out the window. The beers wouldn’t buy themselves though, so we headed out to the Wanaka Beerworks to try the local tipple. Last time we visited we tasted the beers under the watchful eye of the man-on-the-taps, but they’ve moved a wee cafe in and provide tasting flights – a welcome change, as it allows you to really let rip on your thoughts with friends, without risking the insult of the proprietor.

Tasting flight at the Wanaka Beerworks

Tasting flight at the Wanaka Beerworks

Unfortunately the beers were all a little to bland for our tastes – it’s a hot area and all about refreshment in Otago over summer, but we still wanted some hops; more hops, more action! So with only a small amount of guilt, we went to the supermarket to stock up. We spent the rest of the evening watching that amazing view change as the sun dipped, enjoying quality time with friends.


Those amazing views – this is from an alleyway!

In the morning Kate enjoyed pottering about a different kitchen and made a big fry up for four. So hearty was said fry-up we promptly decided to go for a small hike, north west along the shores of Lake Wanaka in the Diamond Lake Conservation Area. After a short climb with the mountains all around we reached the wee Diamond Lake.


Diamond Lake

We carried on up steep stairways, through beautiful bush with lovely birdsong from Tui (who sound different down there, more melancholic) and always with the great mountains all around:

The lake appears more circular from above

The lake appears more circular from above


Lake Wanaka in the distance

Lake Wanaka in the distance

It was a scorcher of a day, floating around 25°C. With no wind, it was a hard slog getting up there. So upon our return to the house, we thought we could do with a refreshing beer. But alas, one refreshing beer turned in to two refreshing beers. Two turned in to three. From the detritus in the morning I can assume we had many more after that.  The problem was C was running a ’25 beers of Christmas’ beer review blog at the time, and I suggested we film it. Then we all wanted a turn. Then we wanted to do it like a panel show. I’ve got it all here, but I’m not posting it. We also watched Love Actually at some point, it being Christmas – but who knows when!

Mmm, crisp on the palette

C’s beer review – ‘mmmyes, crisp on the palette’

In the morn we decided to hike up Mt Iron, a jut of rock beside the Wanaka township. We hadn’t slogged far up the hill when Kate’s hip decided yesterday’s hike was quite enough thank you, popped out and made our decision easy – we’d chill out. C&K went on ahead and met us an hour later down the road at Puzzling World.

Puzzling World is ‘Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness‘, a great wee complex exploring and testing the mind with puzzles, illusions and a human-size maze. I like that it has nothing to do with the natural spectacle of the area, it’s just a neat attraction. Purely man-made, it could be anywhere. Kate and I enjoyed a cuppa and some puzzles before venturing in to the ‘hall of illusions’. There’s a room on an angle where your mind is tricked in to thinking gravity is moving upward, there are great holograms, illusions and tricks of the mind. Well worth a look!

Some visual trickery we played with (Lord of the Rings used similar)

Giant me and tiny Kate – some visual trickery we played with (Lord of the Rings used similar)


We lost Kate for hours in this wee puzzle.

We lost Kate for hours in this wee puzzle.

Around the complex sits the human-size maze. All of us started together, competing to complete the maze first. Things started off well, but Kate likes to know where she’s going. A maze isn’t the best place for that. As the irritation increased, only the possibility of winning kept the beast in check. Fortunately for all concerned, I got us out just in time to sacrifice a bread roll to the hunger beast and our mates individually took the ‘escape route’ shortly after.


Don’t go that way. Never go that way… (the side of Mt Iron in the background)

After a few afternoon brewskies (we were mostly there to hang out, not do much!) we toddled down to Amigos, the Mexican grill of Wanaka. It’s a bit of a tradition to go at some point. Though Kate, C and I were keen to just sit about drinking beers, K had the foresight to research and got us in for the earlybird specials. We got two entries, four mains and eight drinks for $90, and it was all great!

After dinner I finally acquiesced to having my hair straightened.

So beautiful.

So beautiful.

Then we wandered around the reserve behind our digs. At no point did any of us ever stop saying ‘what a spot!’


The evening mountains around Wanaka

It had been a bit blowy the previous few days – too blowy to get out on the lake. Our final morning was different though, waking up to the crystal clear still waters. The view really never stopped changing.


Don’t go changing Wanaka

After a tidy up and a hiding-of-bottles we packed up and headed back to Queenstown, to all fly our separate ways. Kate and I were lucky enough to have another day of beautiful clear weather all the way back to Wellington, so were treated to the Southern Alps, Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough stretched out below us. We simply must spend more time in the South Island, it’s JUST SO GREAT.

Larry's a 30-something chap interested in travel, being a dork and changing the world via less boring training.

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