Wanaka: Lake and Mountain Town

by Skimming

I spent two days and three nights in Wanaka, and it was totally worth it, and the perfect amount of time. The weather was gorgeous, and I got in some good hikes and walks, and I also got to relax quite a bit.

Wanaka is a small town, about 8,000 people, right on the edge of Lake Wanaka, the foothills of a part of the Southern Alps called Mt. Aspiring National Parki. So there are stunning views of the lakes and snowcapped mountains everywhere you look. Well, the mountains are snowcapped now because it's still spring, but the snow will be melted by summer, I supposed.

There's a cute town center with cafes and little shops and a supermarket and library (no wi-fi, sadly). People come here to avoid or get away from Queenstown, which is the big city for adventuring and sports (skiing, bungee jumping, long treks and tramps, partying). I wanted to avoid Queenstown and read that Wanaka was quieter and beautiful, and I was not disappointed. I don't think I'm missing out on Queenstown, but who knows.

I arrived at Wanaka Bakpaka on a rainy late afternoon and just basically hung out at the hostel until the weather let up, and then went into town to explore, shop for groceries, and get dinner. I ate at The Spice Room, recommended by my taxi driver, a cute little Indian restaurant. There was an early bird dinner special, so that was nice– this whole spread for just $20NZD (about $16USD). After dinner, I just came back to the hostel, read, admired the views, and went to bed.

The next day, I took a hike up Mt. Iron, the local big hill. It's an hour and a half round trip (or “return,” as they call it), a steep climb to the top, and a steep climb down the other side. There were morning clouds but plenty of sun and blue sky, too. It was a bit of a huffer-puffer going up, but totally worth it at the top. I've noticed that NZ hills and treks generally don't have a lot of switch backs or gradual ups and downs, they just go a pretty direct route and it's pretty steep. And this was considered an easy trek.

After taking a long break at the top to soak in the view, I came back down and sat by the lake and had my cheese-humus sandwich, nothing fancy. It's been wonderful to just take my time, breathe in and out, enjoy the scenery, and not be on a mission to the next landmark or activity. I didn't want to push myself too hard, so that was all I did– walked around the town, breathed in and out, and relaxed.

I treated myself to a nice latte and piece of shortbread. Cost $7NZD, so not exactly cheap, but a nice treat. I miss my regular coffee.

After my day's activities, I came back to the hostel to relax some more (noticing a theme here?) and then proceeded to make dinner with ingredients I had bought that day. I endeavored to make rice and black beans, but ran into some snafus:

  • I didn't realize that I had picked up mixed beans, not black beans, so that was strange. Not that it tastes any worse, but I just wasn't expecting a bean medley!
  • The hostel kitchen didn't have any shared cooking oil or salt and pepper, and I realized how much I rely on those to do things like saute my garlic and onions for good flavor or to add flavor to my meal in general.
  • I'm still learning how to make rice in a pot, and my rice ended up being a little undercooked. I miss my Zojirushi rice cooker. Sigh.

So I tried to improvise a bit by adding my little bit of leftover curry from my dinner the night before, some peanut butter (which was unsalted! Darn!), and some rosemary from the herb garden. But it ended up being a bit flavorless. I did have some spices (curry and cumin), but without the salt, it fell a little flat. My first bad meal of my whole trip (except for my first night in Auckland where I had bowl ramen– but at least that was tasty!!). I guess it had to happen at some point. All about saving some money.

I ended the night with more reading (I just bought The Princess Bride and am reading it for something like the fifth time. What a great book! And I've been thinking about “farm boy” as a term since I've been on farms with nice looking boys. Haha.)

My second, and last, full day, I went back up Mt. Iron in the reverse direction which was nice because you don't realize what's behind you unless you're always looking backward, so this way, I got to see what was behind me on my hike up the day before. Not a cloud in the sky on this gorgeous day, so I got a few comparison shots from the day before when I couldn't see the snowcapped peaks as well because of the clouds. A lot of locals use Mt. Iron as their daily exercise– running up and and down the hill. It would be a nice workout and way to see the changing seasons of Wanaka from high up.

I came back down and it was still only mid morning, so I headed out on a shoreline walk for a few hours. This walk was pretty straight and flat, and it followed Lake Wanaka on the shore opposite from the hostel. It was such a nice walk, seeing the crystal clear water of the lake, seeing the mountains, and being reminded totally of Lord of the Rings scenery. It could not have been a better day– probably mid to upper 60s, slight breeze to keep me cool, and sun sun sun. I had my lunch (another cheese-humus sandwich) at my turnaround point, and then came back to the town center by 2pm-ish.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing, sunning myself and my sockless feet, and iMessaging with friends back in the states. What an amazing thing, iMessaging: my way of staying connected to the world back home. I heard about Frankenstorm shutting down New York and Boston.

I had the bland leftovers for dinner. And that was a full day. I don't think I said but 20 words all day, mostly “g'morning” on my morning hike to other walkers… and maybe that was about it! I get very introverted and antisocial at these hostels. More on that in another post.

I left the next morning for Franz Josef, a glacier town. Definitely recommend Wanaka if you like small, scenic towns with hiking trails around, nice restaurants and cafes. It helps to have a car to be able to make the hikes that are farther away (and probably really nice).