The good place

Wānaka has enough outdoor activities to fill multiple holidays, but it’s the landscape that lingers in memory.

Written by      

To stand on the shores of Lake Wānaka is a lesson in scale. Your gaze is pulled over the water’s surface, then up the sides of the silent mountains. The landscape reminds you to look to the peaks, to get some perspective. It’s fitting, then, that the town’s name comes from the Māori word for “place of learning”: wānanga.

Here, the weather brings the land to life, casting the same place in different hues from one day to the next. And, although the seasons here are markedly defined—thanks to the semi-continental climate—they don’t always obey the rules. Some days, the scene before you will be placid and gentle. A paraglider might sail down the sides of Mount Alpha, while a group of kayakers glide across the mirror-like lake. Other days, the wind will drive your whole body backwards, while surly clouds roil over the mountains, hurtling towards you on the heels of the white-capped waves. These are the days when Wānaka tests your mettle.

Many people flock to Wānaka in the winter, but skiing isn’t all there is to the town. In summer, there’s the lake and its islands to explore, and tracks for walking, tramping and mountain biking. Start by downloading the Wānaka Tracks app. Close to town is Mount Iron, a favourite of locals and visitors alike, with a 4.5-kilometre loop track that climbs through kānuka to 360-degree views. For those seeking adventure on two wheels, there’s Sticky Forest, Cardrona, and the town’s newest mountain-biking park, Bike Glendhu, a 1000-hectare playground of trails.

When it’s time to fuel up, the town has an abudance of locally owned cafes, as well as specialty coffee carts the Coffee Shack and the Little Black Caravan. If you prefer a cold one, there’s Rhyme and Reason Brewery or, which also serves kombucha and hearty food. Then there are the vineyards, the restaurants, and Wānaka’s very own distillery up the Cardrona Valley.

Wānaka locals are caring, passionate people striving for a town that offers as much as the landscape does. There’s a constant stream of events throughout the year, many focused on creativity and sustainability, and all shared in The Messenger (grab a copy from outside the supermarket in town) or on the Wānaka app. Local groups take their role as kaitiaki seriously, with community-based nursery Te Kākano running plantings throughout the year.

Come to Wānaka to learn, to be replenished: you’re always welcome in the wānanga.

More by