Wanaka once played second fiddle to Queenstown. It pretty much kept itself to itself, apart from the ski season when morning rush hours consisted of one-way traffic up to Treble Cone, Cardrona, and Waiorau skifields. Now more and more people are falling under Wanaka’s spell.
The township’s greatest asset is it location, on the edge of the large lake and right next to a huge mountain and wilderness area where the summers are hot and the winters crisp and cold. From here there is easy access to wonderful places such as the Maniototo, Fiordland, and other parts of Central Otago. The drive from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay and along the Matukituki Valley towards Mount Aspiring National Park, reveals some dazzling vistas of lake and mountain, and the 30km of gravel road ends at the Rasberry Creek car park. From here many walking tracks lead through the national park.
Back in the town there are sophisticated restaurants, bars, and entertainment, such as Cinema Paradiso – a quirky theatre where people can watch a movie from the comfort of old sofas (or one of three seats in a Morris Minor) and eat a delicious meal from the on-site cafe. Another is Puzzling World, a place of wildly eccentric themes and visual trickery – a giant kaleidoscope, a giant maze, a mind-scrambling tilted house, a hall of holograms, and a ‘sculptillusion’ gallery.
Along the track beside the lake frontage of the township, you will see people with their heads down as if they are looking for spiders. The Walkway is lined with tiles – 2000 of them – each representing a year and engraved with historic local and world events that happened in that year. It might be simple as the day steel pen nibs were invented, or as grand as the conquest of Peru. In half an hour you can collect enough historical facts to be in with a chance on a quiz show.
Down all the days, there is plenty going on in Wanaka.
Excellent golf courses: there are three around Arrowtown, but the most widely-acclaimed is the 27-hole (comprising three nine-hole courses) championship course at Millbrook Resort, said to be one of the most scenic golf courses in the world. Expect not only five-star golfing, but a five-star lifestyle in the resort’s spa, restaurants, and accommodation.
Lake Wanaka Cruises and Eco Wanaka Adventures: ply the water to Mou Waho and Stevenson Islands. Apart from the scenic aspects of lake and mountain, both islands have walking tracks and populations of native birds. Along the lake frontage in town there are also canoes for hire.
The Shed Winery and Cellar Door: the tussocked hills, the classical building, and the wine make a visit to The Shed Winery and Cellar Door, on a large sheep station outside Cromwell, a very Central Otago experience. The Shed’s garden is creatively designed around a stream and a pond. It overlooks Lake Dunstan and beyond to the Sugar Loaf and Pisa mountains. As well as imbibing the fruit of the grape, it is also a good place for a lingering lunch that concentrates on ‘paddock to plate’ dishes.
New Zealand Fighter Pilot’s Museum: near Wanaka Airport lives this astonishing collection, the seeds of which were sown in 1984. The museum has put Wanaka on the map as much as Mount Aspiring. Apart from the restored static and flyable fighter of the Alpine Fighter Collection, there are biographies and photographic boards covering the history and the RNZAF.
Take a flight with Glenorchy Air: based at Queenstown Airport, owner Robert Rutherford is also a LOTR fan, for he had the task of flying camera crews and stars to Glenorchy during filming. This experienced, family-run business makes scenic flights to many glaciers and mountain areas, glaciers and lakes in the area.