Top of the List: New Zealand’s Wanaka
Wanaka should definitely be at the top of your list when you visit New Zealand’s South Island. I fell in love with it as soon as I arrived. Situated in the Otago region of the South Island, at the start of the Clutha River and the end of Lake Wanaka, this quaint town is surrounded by mountains of the Mount Aspiring National Park. Skiing in winter and lake activities in summer, plus the vibrant explosion of colors in the fall makes this place intriguing at any time of the year. When you’re in town, camp at Lake Outlet Holiday Park, which has stunning views on the edge of Lake Wanaka and Clutha River.
Hiking! So many gorgeous mountains to climb, why not do them all! If you want a short hike, check out Mount Iron right in town. Not very far from the town center is Roy’s Peak, which I recently did and LOVED it. The track climbs about 1200 meters to the Peak and roughly 300 more after that to the summit. The Department of Conservation suggests it take 6 to 7 hours return, but my friends and I did it in 5 and were moving at snail speed! The trail is uphill the whole way, so 3 straight hours of uphill, never very steep but constant enough to keep us out of breath and in pain the entire time. Having to stop and catch my breathe every 20 minutes or so and regain feeling in my legs, the trek was grueling, but every break offered yet another stunning view of the lake, Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. Reaching the top was quite glorious though, holy moly what a view. Seeing something with your own eyes that you see on Google images and on post cards or in magazines is an incredible feeling, it definitely made battling my body up the track completely worth it.
Rob Roy Glacier
About an hour outside of Wanaka gets you to the start of the Rob Roy Glacier track, at 10 km the track is about four hours return which is absolutely worth it for the views of the Rob Roy Glacier. Before you even get there, the drive takes you through stunning valleys surrounded by mountains and rolling fields. Get the authentic New Zealand feel when you get road blocked by a flock of sheep or cattle and stop for up close pictures. At times, you have to drive through “Fords,” small ditches in the road that may be just rock filled or a shallow stream. When you begin by walking through the Rob Roy valley, you walk through open land dotted by cows and sheep while thundering way above you the Glacier peeks out from behind other mountain tops. The track is gradual and begins with a swing bridge over a river then crosses in alpine forest for the ascent. There first lookout offers a generous view of the Glacier but has nothing on the second lookout. The upper or second lookout completely opens up to the entirety of the Glacier and it’s neighboring peaks. The pure size of it and the quietness that surrounds it is absolutely breathtaking.
The Rob Roy Glacier track isn’t often mentioned or suggested, it’s written off as one of the ‘lesser’ phenomenal sights of the area but I highly disagree. If you have the chance to make it to this track and up to the Glacier, definitely do so.
In the same weekend my friends and I also spent a night in the famous Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. I’ve been to Queenstown twice now and have thoroughly enjoyed it both times. This time we camped at Queenstown Holiday Park which was conveniently located short walking distance from the town center. We stayed for a Friday night, so naturally we wanted to experience the unique nightlife of an ski resort looking town considered the most adventurous place to be, so we did the “Kiwi pub crawl”. Thirty NZ dollars for entry to 5 bars and a drink at each AND bar number three was the Minus 5 Ice bar, SO COOL. It was quite an experience bar-hopping through Queenstown with a group of Kiwis and internationals, definitely fun and memorable. That night was also got a late night snack at the famous Fergburger, a perfect ending to a wild night before retiring to our tent for the evening. The next morning we took off to Wanaka for the rest of the weekend.
My first experience in Queenstown included bungy jumping, the world’s biggest swing and more beautiful camping. We crashed Moke Lake campground after finishing the Routeburn Track in one day, a hike that’s suppose to be spread out over two to four days. 32 kilometers and one way, would have been difficult enough to complete in one day, but we got caught in cold, rainy, windy weather ALL DAY. We got soaked and thought the hike would never end but somehow we made it. That night we drove to Queenstown area for dinner and found Moke Lake sometime after 10pm. It was difficult to find in the dark but absolutely incredible to wake up to in the daylight. We had a site right next to the lake itself and almost 360 degree views of mountainous terrain. The sun rise lit up only bits of each mountain top and slowly worked it’s over the sparkling lake which made for a very impressive scene to stumble out of the tent to.
We spent our day in Queenstown on that trip with the AJ Hackett Bungy company and jumped off the countries highest jump. 134 meters, the Nevis bungy was the one of the most exciting few moments of my life. Swan diving towards the river and canyon below was unlike any other feeling, and nobody in our group chickened out! If you’re ever in Queenstown and you want to bungy, I highly suggest going straight for the Nevis instead of the smaller jumps. A friend and I also went tandem on the Nevis Swing, the world’s biggest swing at 120 meters above the Nevis valley and what a blast that was. After our adrenaline rushes, we came down from the high hungry for some Fergburger before heading home.
Queenstown is super fun for nighttime outings and adrenaline rushes, it’s a beautiful place (everywhere in NZ is beautiful) but definitely bring your adventurous side when you visit!
Wanaka is absolutely gorgeous with it’s lakes and mountains surrounding the quaint little town. Wanaka is my favorite out of all of the New Zealand places I’ve visited thus far and I highly recommend making time to get yourself there and hike up Roy’s Peak, you’ll love it.
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