Lakeside heaven in all seasons
In a glacial valley in the Southern Alps of New Zealand lays a long finger of deep blue water, its western shores flanked by mountains, more than 2000m high and often white with snow.
To the north lies the World Heritage Area of Mt Aspiring National Park and amongst it all, nestled at the southern end of this stunning lake, is the township of Wanaka.
Sitting on the shore of New Zealand’s fourth largest lake, I manage to tear my eyes away from the views long enough to consider the clutch of maps and leaflets in my hands.
Wanaka may be a relaxed and intimate town, but it’s hard to know where to start when setting out to explore everything within its reach.
The region is jam-packed with things to do and a visual feast for those who prefer to do nothing at all.
Stunning scenery is the major draw card and most attractions are based on exploring the great outdoors, but if the weather isn’t playing ball there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself indoors
In winter, the township is dominated by the puffy down jackets and brightly-coloured beanies of skiers and snowboarders, returning from a day on the slopes of nearby Cardrona and Treble Cone.
In summer, it’s all hiking, biking, boating and ice-creams on the lake shore. Visit in autumn and you’ll witness the dazzling colours of poplar trees turning gold, while in spring snow-capped mountain views sit amongst blue skies with generally settled weather.
And, as if all this wasn’t enough, every two years the town plays host to Warbirds Over Wanaka, the largest warbird airshow in the Southern Hemisphere, with 2018 marking the 30th anniversary of this spectacular event.
Explore the many flat, lakeside tracks that stretch for kilometres from the township, or walk a 90-minute loop on the Mt Iron Track for excellent 360 degree views of Wanaka.
The region is heaven for hikers with tonnes of incredible trails on offer. Roys Peak Track climbs 1538m to the summit of Mt Roy, giving stunning panoramic views of the lake and surrounding peaks. At nearby Mt Aspiring National Park, hike the three to four-hour Rob Roy Track with its stunning glaciers and waterfalls, or wander through the Matukituki Valley to Aspiring Hut.
Such a dazzling landscape of mountains, lakes and glaciers deserves an aerial view. Go by helicopter or light plane for a scenic flight, or take a longer journey that will deposit you on a glacier for a little exploration.
Wanaka has an extensive network of trails to suit all riders. Rent a bike and enjoy the changing view as you cruise the gently undulating trails around the lake edge, or connect to the Outlet track alongside the emerald Clutha River towards Albert Town.
National Transport and Toy Museum
Housing a huge and eclectic assemblage of items, it’s one of the largest private collections in the world. Here you’ll find cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes sitting alongside dolls, teddy bears and battery-powered toys from times past. Whether or not this is your passion, you can’t help but be impressed.
CinemaSeeing a movie in Wanaka is a real event. Head to Cinema Paradiso for its mismatched seats, cosy bar and huge, freshly-baked cookies (still warm from the oven) during interval. Or try Rubys Cinema and Bar, set amongst red velvet and chandeliers which creates a luxurious, old-time feel.
There’s nothing like escaping the masses in your own little boat to explore the peace and tranquillity of Lake Wanaka. Take a picnic lunch and settle on Mou Tapu island for a while.
Spend a few hours getting lost in a world of holograms and optical illusions that will challenge your concept of reality and thoroughly mess with your mind.
Warbirds over Wanaka
Around 50,000 people travel from across the globe to see some of the world’s most-iconic Warbird aircraft flying over the spectacular landscape of Otago. Aircraft such as the Spitfire, Corsair, P40 Kittyhawk and P51-D Mustang pull manoeuvres alongside modern military aircraft, and in 2018 organisers are also hoping to secure the return of the mighty Catalina Flying Boat.
Next year’s program will be bigger than ever to mark the 30th anniversary of this event, with festivities starting on Good Friday with a free lakeside airshow. On Saturday and Sunday, the entertainment shifts to Wanaka Airport where the aerobatics, skydiving and sport aircraft displays will continue, backed by world-class pyrotechnics.
On the ground, you’ll find static aircraft displays, aviation trade stands, food stalls and plenty more. The theme for 2018 is helicopters, big and small. Be sure to book accommodation well in advance.