One of the lessons that we are learning on our adventure is that as much as one can research on the internet, there are still the “locals’ favorites” or the things that are so buried in the web that you never notice them, or you read about something, but don’t realize what you have found; that it is fun and great and not to be missed. Of course, some trips are not ideal for this sort of travel, but New Zealand is the perfect place to show up, ask around, talk to tourists and locals and do what looks and sounds good. Our week in Wanaka was based on this model. We booked a week in the town because we found it on a “10 Best Towns on the South Island” and upon further research we learned that you’re either a “Queenstown person” or a “Wanaka person” so we decided that we should probably do some self-discovery!
Wanaka is the serious, older, quieter and better behaved sibling of Queenstown, located close by with just an hour and great bus services either connecting or separating them (depending on if you are tourist or local), and although I have no proof, I feel some definite sibling rivalry going on from the comments that I have heard floating around Wanaka. Wanaka has every bit of the beauty that Queenstown possesses, the town just isn’t as flashy, or noisy for that matter. It has more of a family vacation spot feel to it than a buzzing college scene with a never ending queue of tour busses disgorging people around every corner. Yes, that sounds a bit biased, and maybe it is because while I really liked Queenstown (and I would go back in a second), I think I loved Wanaka just a little bit because we all had a lot of fun. We slept (no sleeping in Queenstown when you live in middle of party central), hiked, played in the lake, kayaked and visited Wanaka’s own National Transport and Toy Museum.
Mt. Roy will forever hold a special place in my heart and not because it was a grueling beast of a hike. It was five miles (that’s a ten mile hike people) and 4,500 feet from the car to the summit and I was not in a hiking mood. That worked out for me though, that and while the track rose relentlessly up (there’s no better word than “up” for many of the hikes in New Zealand) the path itself was flat, even grassy in places, and in others it was like a narrow 4-wheel drive road, so the footing was good. I was behind everyone quickly and they waited at some point and then another when their stomachs began to rumble.
We stopped for a snack and here is where I made my move. I can hike slowly for a long time, it’s stopping that is my salesman of misery and deceit (I’ve always wanted to write that). I was not in the mood to stop and eat and then hike some more so I stood, ate a handful or two of peanuts and told them I’d see them when they caught up.
The beautiful thing is…they never caught up! Well, I saw Ashley running and struggling to catch up, so I waited for her and we hiked the last 10 breathless minutes to the summit and touched the post together.
Grant showed up next and my little mountain goat Scott straggled in last and not looking so perky. But, he was impressed with my effort which made me feel like I was on top of a mountain! I guess I was…and I was there first! My motivation though was to get it over and so after some family pictures at the summit I headed back down the track while they ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I beat them down too, but in doing so Grant ended up chatting all the way back down the mountain with another hiker and travel blogger! Denis the Dane, you guessed it, is from Denmark and is traveling the world to get a different perspective and do things his own way and find his own answers. We are both new to travel blogging but his is a good one, authentic, entertaining and informative and I say it’s good because it’s fun to read, he’s likable and just doing his best and attempting to find his own path while finding humor and lessons in all of it. He told me that he is still trying to find his “voice” and I can understand that. I read a lot of travel blogs and travel blog “how tos” before we started our trip and a there were themes that showed up continuously: be authentic, blog continuously to find your voice and improve your skills and self-promote (that one is hard for me).
He asked if we could drive him back into Wanaka and that was another thing I liked, I felt we were a part of the spirit of New Zealand. People come here and backpack and hitchhike and work all over the islands. It’s just the thing to do and it made Scott and I think that we get so worked up about things at home. We drove a stranger around in the car with our kids! And nothing happened, except we met a good person looking for his own truth and he was super nice to Grant and talked camera all the long, long, long walk down the mountain.
Denis the Dane takes great photos and writes about his adventures at www.heexplores.com
While Mt. Roy is notorious for its relentless climb, Rob Roy Glacier is another local favorite, prized for its beauty and the “easy walk” (These Kiwis have a different idea about the meaning of “walk”) to the base of the glacier.
Many beautiful rivers mean many “swingy” bridges and fun opportunities to make everyone crossing the bridge with Scott, sea sick. He just loves to get the bridge rocking back and forth, no matter who is on it, even the woman crossing if front of us (not this bridge) who was obviously terrified. He did only rock it a little bit that time.
The scenery can make hiking difficult.
Crossing the bridge.
The hike, although 1.5 hours to this spot, was tame in comparison to a lot of other “walks” we’ve been on lately.
The glacier was stunning and the day was perfect. We stayed and soaked in the view for a long time.
The glacier is just to the right of this beauty. There was a lot to take in.
The kids are really getting good at skipping stones on this trip and here is where I found them waiting for me near the end of the trail.
Ashley spotted this little cave on the way out and thought it would make a nice shelter. She was delighted to find an example of her idea in the heat of the day as we finished our walk.
New Zealand, of course is famous for its offerings of gorgeous hikes and it is more beautiful than we ever imagined, but we expected to be amazed. The thing that has surprised us is not the natural beauty, but the maintenance and overall ease of use of the trails. The Department of Conservation here does a fabulous job. The trails are pristine, there are maps, markings, benches, parking areas and DOC offices with knowledgeable and friendly people who want you to hike on their country’s trails and are happy to help you find the “walk” that is right for you.
Although hard to believe, we don’t just hike. Scott especially, is very good about taking the kids to do things that they would choose while we adventure. While they are happy out hiking, it is not their first choice. He takes Grant mountain biking and Ashley to different climbing gyms and in Wanaka he discovered a shooting range where one can practice on clay pigeons or targets. He took Grant first and they had so much fun that they wanted to take Ashley another day. Scott got to chatting with the owner who recommended an Eco tour which was our next adventure and a great example of those things that you just discover on the fly.
Our host and the owner, Chris Riley, who is a bona fide, extreme world explorer and absolutely passionate about his job, drove us to Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka. This island is special for a few reasons. Of course it is beautiful, but the allure is that on this island in the lake is another lake with an island in it, which of course is the perfect place to refresh yourself after the warm hike it takes to get there and it even has a great name, the Arethusa Pool or Paradise Pool. There are gorgeous views and interesting wildlife including pigeons that get drunk on berries and laze the afternoons away propped in their favorites trees.
Arethusa Pool in the foreground and Lake Wanaka beyond.
Scott and Ashley arriving at the island on an island.
We all swam in the pool, who could resist, Chris served “High Tea” and then we continued our hike and eco tour of this wonderful little place.
Ashley and Chris demonstrate the official Māori expression as a good luck wish for the new little tree.
One of the company’s missions is to replant native flora that was destroyed by the invasive Pine trees in the area. The Pine trees were removed about ten years ago, but there was no money in the budget to replant, so Chris collects seeds from the island, takes them to a local nursery to be propagated and then returns them to the island when they are big enough to survive.
He keeps his eye on the little ones for about a year, watering them until they are strong enough to survive and grow without his careful nurturing. His joy and passion for the environment and his work was inspiring.
Chris knows his island well. He found a sweet and very soft little lizard. She felt like velvet.
These are Weta, a male and female. Scientists are interested in them for their cryogenic super powers as they can survive for thousands of years frozen in the glaciers and then thaw out and go back to business as usual.
This is a Buff Weka, a flightless, fearless and curious fellow. This combination of personal characteristics and a nasty weasel called a stoat cause a lot of problems for the Weka. They are classified as a vulnerable species and Mou Waho Island has been a successful and mostly safe habitat for them.
We had a fun and informative afternoon with Chris and met some very nice people on the tour. We met another blogger duo this time. Their blog is great; they have traveled extensively and offer varied travel information as well as interviews with people all over the world and the photography is fabulous, as Dominic is a professional photographer. He is very nice as well, and made Grant’s week by allowing him to use his fancy camera equipment.
Check out Meghan and Dominic’s blog Citizens of the World
When we drove into Wanaka we passed the Wanaka National Transport and Toy Museum and after our fun museum experience on the North Island, the kids wanted to check this museum out too. I never would have imagined that my kids would be begging to spend some time in a museum, but it turned out to be one of those things that you just stumble onto and have the best time.
Remember, this is a toy and transport museum in New Zealand (that seems to add extra flair) so there are a lot of toys and vehicles of every shape and description in vast quantity at this place, parked inside a few different cavernous buildings and outside as well and then there are just the random interesting items, like a collection of vacuums for instance. I’m not sure if the mannequin/boat piece is a joke or a work in progress, nonetheless, I thought it was a priceless piece of art.
The kids had a lot of fun playing in the giant pedal cars…
…all three of them!
Here is one of those random things , a phone booth, neither a toy, nor a form of transport, but interesting, especially to a child of the cell phone era.
The kids spent hours playing in the lake, especially Ashley, who was always first in and last out.
Scott and I hiked Mt. Iron (by ourselves)! It was a great little hike, similar to a favorite hike of ours at home and offering a 360 degree view of the area. We did invite the kids, but they were happy to stay in the apartment and have some time without us.
The kids had their first experience with an internet cafe as they could not take their Spanish tests using the internet connection at our apartment. We sent them off on their own to “figure it out” and Scott wandered in to check on them after about an hour. They are becoming very independent this year and the best thing is that they both view things like being sent to deal with their Spanish Tests at an internet cafe as a fun adventure.
So, what did we learn? Are we Queenstown people or are we Wanaka people? The funny thing is that Queenstown reminded me of Ashley’s energy, very fast paced, all kinds of high adrenaline things to do and still there was the nature that she loves. Wanaka was calm and serene like Grant, but Ashley preferred Wanaka and Grant liked Queenstown! More proof that opposites do attract! Scott and I both liked Wanaka, but appreciated all of the fun that Queenstown has to offer. We loved the slower pace, the more relaxed atmosphere, and the variety of hiking in Wanaka. The contact adrenaline high in Queenstown can get a little overwhelming, but there is room for both places in life and it was a fun experiment to travel both realms and feel the difference for ourselves.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” – Douglas Adams