19 Mar Falling Irrevocably in love with Wanaka
(Or that time I choked on duck’s poo)
I’m ashamed to admit that Wanaka wasn’t on our radar. When we started putting together our New Zealand road trip itinerary, our initial plan on the South Island was to go from Queenstown to Franz Josef
Then, we stumbled upon this post by Young Adventuress, and it was as if Liz and the universe didn’t want us to miss such beautiful sights.
“A wise man changes his mind sometimes, a fool never.” Right?
Once we were putting attention, we realized a lot was being said about this town. Mountains, a lakefront quaint village, a river, sophisticated restaurant and bar scene, and endless outdoor activities, it seemed like Wanaka had it all. Kind of like Queenstown minus the adrenaline-crack.
Picnic by the Lake
They day after Milford Sound, desperate for some sunshine, and having slept only 3 hours, we drove our Jucy Camper and headed to have a perfect summer day in Wanaka. We went straight to the lake to have some breakfast. We cooked oatmeal in the camper’s small stove and sat on the rocks to enjoy it, while listening to the waves formed by the early-morning kayakers crash against the shore. If I’m being honest, our breakfast was nothing more than cold mush, but who cares when your kitchen/dining room looks like this?
The sun got stronger and I could (finally) take off my sweater. I mean, I had been told it was summer. I was starting to think I’d been lied to. A little warmer, it was a perfect time for a hike.
We drove up to the entrance of the Diamond Lake Conservation Area and began our hike to the Wanaka Lake Viewpoint. The DOC description marked it as a 2-hour return hike. It was a gentle climb to the lake up an old dirt road. Diamond Lake is hidden behind lush forest so its beauty didn’t strike us right away. When we got a peek, the first sight we noticed was the reflection of Wanaka’s mountains on the lake, exuding solitude and peace. We couldn’t help but feel like we were in on a secret that only a few got to experience. Silly, I know. But still true.
After the Diamond Lake lookout, things got tougher. The road became steeper, rockier, and way more slippery. Still, the winding track framed by trees, and the teasing glimpses we got of the view we would be rewarded with, kept us going. And we made it!
When we finally reached the top we sat down at the edge, feet dangling, and we took it all in. Here it was, Lake Wanaka in its out-of-this-world glory. The steep climb was definitely worth it.
Paddleboarding to Ruby Island
Revitalized, we headed back to town and straight to Wanaka Kayaks. There was no time to waste. We rented the SUPs for 2 hours with the hope of making it to Ruby Island in that amount of time. I’ve been passionately in love with SUP since the first time I tried it because, to me, there’s something incredible about standing on the water, being able to take in the scenery from a different angle, being part of it instead of just witnessing it form the stands.
The water was smooth and the destination clear, but these conditions quickly changed. The closest we got to Ruby Island, the harder the wind blew against us, pushing us farther and farther away. Waves formed beneath our boards, making it rocky. Each paddle took strength and got us nowhere. We kept on paddling, fighting against the howling wind but Ruby Island seemed as far as it did in the beginning.
At the hour mark, we started to worry that we weren’t going to make it. We stopped talking and paddled with all our might. Suddenly, our purpose changed. It wasn’t even about the destination anymore. It was about accomplishing what we set out to do, about reaching our goal.
When we had only 45 minutes to return the SUP’s, we had to turn back. I hated it. I felt defeated. Isaac estimated that we only had about 800ft (245m) to go. So close, but still so far.
The wind was such, it practically carried us all by itself back to shore. 30 minutes later, we were back on land with 20 minutes still on our clock. If only we’d known, we could’ve had perfect time to reach Ruby Island. But hey, guess we’ll just have to come back and some way or another, get to the freaking island.
Swimming with Ducks
To celebrate our non-accomplishment we walked to the wharf to jump into the lake. Kids were diving in and out, all laughs, and gleeful screams, so I didn’t suspect just how cold that water was going to be. Ducks were also swimming around and I sooo didn’t want to land on them, so we waited until our jumping space was clear. We ran, stepped onto the dock and threw ourselves into the water. The cold pierced me. It took me by surprise so I gasped and swallowed a mouthful of ice-cold water. You know that peculiar smell of duck poo? Well, that’s EXACTLY how it tasted. I sputtered and kicked to the surface. In a coughing fit, I swam to shore while Isaac laughed his wits out. No dinner for me, thank you very much.
That Wanaka Tree
With the sunset approaching, we drove to what is probably the most famous tree in New Zealand. So famous, in fact, it’s got its own hashtag #thatwanakatree. Ever since Isaac saw a picture he’d wished to photograph it. So we stood there, watching the tree as the perfect photo moment came along. Even though it’s framed by the spectacular Southern Alps, this lone willow has its own personality. It has an inner strength that’s only mirrored by its outer elegance. No picture could ever do it justice, but we just had to try.
We found a secluded spot at the end of the beach to watch the sunset. As the sun went down, we remembered how we almost skipped Wanaka. The pity it would’ve been to miss out on this gorgeous, laid-back, yet sophisticated, fun town.
I guess it’s true: Wanaka does have it all.
Have you ever been to Wanaka? What are your favorite sights/things to do? Have you paddled out to Ruby Island? For the love of God, someone tell me what I missed.