From the frosty mountains of Franz Joseph, we crossed the southern alps into the warm, dry, golden land of New Zealand’s Otago region to our next destination: Lake Wanaka.
As we drove the length of the lake, the sweeping views gave us a warm welcome to this next leg of our journey.
We were drawn to Lake Wanaka for some relaxation after traveling non-stop for a few weeks. Our accommodation was a room in our host’s tiny rustic cottage 30 minutes from Wanaka; it was in the middle of nowhere. One morning, I went running on the main road nearby which was blanketed in farmland and nothing else for miles. I ran by a herd of cows who watched me with leery gazes, and then stampeded to follow me across their field as I ran along the road. (Terrifying). We were staying in a place where you could accidentally herd cattle while going out for a run. It was rustic, for sure.
We also woke up one morning, ready to make some PB&Js for the day’s adventures ahead, and found that our entire loaf of bread was eaten by some animal(s) in the night. (Our host left her doors open). All that was left was the shredded plastic bread bag. It was a relaxing place, but a wild place, too. The dead rabbit hanging from the fence as we drove up the driveway should have been a clue.
Though we stayed there out of necessity – all affordable accommodation in Wanaka proper was long gone by the time we booked a month ahead – we loved the privacy, the darkness, the quiet, and the slow pace of life out in the fields. Since we’re at the height of summer, the sky finally fully darkened around 10:30 at night; we had plenty of daylight to enjoy our surroundings.
We spent a fair amount of time relaxing and hammocking by the lake, but we also did an awesome day hike up to Roy’s Peak, which overlooks Lake Wanaka and the mountains we’d just come from.
It was an unrelenting three hour hike up a steep but well cleared path; the kind of hike where zero thinking is required – simply a commitment to just. keep. going.
As is always true in New Zealand, the views were well worth the effort.
After the hike, we got some beers in town and looked upon Roy’s Peak with some serious satisfaction.
Wanaka is my favorite New Zealand town yet. (Taupo on the North Island is a close second). The lakefront always has plenty of room for all the people who flock to it. Though there are only a handful of commercial streets, there’s just enough ice cream stands and eateries to give you a fair bit of choice. There was even an organic, local vegetable market where we filled up our grocery bag on our first evening there and finally got our hands on some kombucha! The area is surrounded by 360 degrees of mountains, so you’re in a constant state of awe whenever you take your eyes off the road, sidewalk, or shops. It’s a pretty incredible place and we’re talking of coming back on a proper vacation someday. It’s simply idyllic.
One morning we decided to get up early to watch the sunrise (always quite the struggle) and arrived at the lake just as a brilliant double rainbow was fading away.
There was a lavender farm on the long road between Lake Wanaka and our house, so of course we had to stop by. One of the things I miss dearly about home in Boston is my tiny porch garden, full of resilient lavender. We bought some locally made Thyme honey (strange and delicious!), inhaled some lavender ice cream, then walked the rows of various lavenders and greeted the alpacas and sheep as well.
And Nate found the loudest sheep to pet…
We left Wanaka after four days, heading further south for Queenstown. On the way, at our host’s suggestion, we stopped at the historic Cardrona Hotel, built in 1863 when the town was growing as a gold mining center. Now, “the town” is basically just this hotel, but it’s cute nonetheless.
And as we drove over the mountains, we caught our first glimpse of Queenstown in the valley ahead. More adventures coming up!