Wanaka doesn’t make it onto everyone’s itineraries for New Zealand – but it was one of the first to go onto mine. Blanketed by mountains and set on a scenic clear lake, and with the feel of a small town but heart of something so much more, there’s nothing not to love about this place.
With its wide offering of hikes and extreme activities, it’s Queenstown’s little sister. And so many people choose one or the other – sadly for Wanaka, Queenstown is going to win that fight every time.
I loved Queenstown. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it even more than I thought I would. But Wanaka is the place I keep talking about.
I think it’s partly because it doesn’t feel touristy. Queenstown is chockablock with travel centres every two buildings, with the same activity lists on the same chalkboards and tourist restaurants and beer promotions and lakeside cafés and a tour bus going past every two seconds. It has a lot going on, whereas Wanaka doesn’t, and that’s nice.
Because why do you need everything in your face, when you have THIS in your face?
The lakeside here would easily make it onto a list of my favourite spots in the world. I spent most of my time in Wanaka here, and the thing is, I wasn’t even DOING anything. Just sitting, watching, enjoying. For value for money, this was my best activity in New Zealand.
We spent probably an hour just sitting at the end of the little pier watching the MASSIVE eels. And I mean they were massive.
Wanaka is also full of ducks… angry, angry ducks. You know, the type that do the ‘QUAAAAAAACK QUACK QUACK QUACK’ outbursts every few seconds. I think quacking is forever going to remind me of this town, which may be a contributing factor to my enjoyment of the place because ducks are one of my favourite animals. I quacked, Ash quacked, a duck would quack, Ash would tell everyone to shut the FUCK up, so I would quack, a duck would quack.
As our bus pulled away when we left, Ash’s first comment was ‘thank God I don’t have to listen to that racket any more!’ We then heard furious quacking FROM THE MOVING BUS.
Although we didn’t actually do any hikes, we did do two of our favourite activities here.
For me, it was my sky dive. There are many, many places in New Zealand where you can sky dive, but I am still convinced that this is the best – possibly even the best in the world. Can you guess why?
Oh, I mean those mountains were alright, really.
This was actually my second sky dive, having done one in England a few years ago over exciting terrains of fields after fields. I had been absolutely terrified on that one, partly because I was jumping out of a bloody plane and I never thought I’d do it, and partly because it was a cloudy day and I had to watch my best friend disappear into the clouds within a second.
This time, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
My camera man even went in for fist bumps! You can see the look of concentration as I try to find his other hand hahahaha.
Best experience ever, seriously. If you are looking to do a sky dive in New Zealand (and I highly recommend that you do, if falling towards the ground at speed is your thing), DO IT IN WANAKA. It’s worth it for the flight up alone. It costs $330 for a 12,000ft one ($430 for 15,000ft) but I managed to get it on Bookme for just $259! Keep an eye out for deals.
Our other main activity was the whimsical Puzzling World (bookme also has deals for that, otherwise it’s $20 for both areas). Puzzling World is split into two sections – the illusions and the maze. The illusions are a lot of fun but it doesn’t take long to walk through the whole exhibition.
But they’ve got a tilted room. They have 3D optical illusions with images and objects. They have a room where you appear huge or small. They have a room full of famous people watching you and then their faces turn inside out. (anyone watch that episode of QI where they had the mould of Einstein’s face that looked 3D but then you turn it around and it’s actually inverted? Too obscure a reference? Well that was one of them, anyway) It’s all a bit of fun.
The main attraction, though, is the maze. It’s touted as the first “super” maze in the world of its size, and looking at it from above I thought, ‘really?’
Then we got lost a few times, and yes, really.
The average person walks between 3 and 5 kilometres, and there are only 1.5km of passages! The aim is to get to all four corners of the maze, and just when you think you’ve got there, BAM! You realise you need to be in the next row over and you have to go RIGHT back to where you started to get to it. Not before a whole load more dead ends, though.
I never thought I’d have so much fun in a maze! We did the “basic” one where you can do the corners in any order – you can also choose to do them in their specific listed order, which I reckon would be pretty hard!
Then there’s the outside of the building where you can take all sorts of silly pictures with the Leaning Tower Of Wanaka and wonky buildings, or sit in the café area trying out all the wooden puzzles which it turns out I am really, really rubbish at. I couldn’t solve many of them at all! It really was a fun morning out, especially considering the weather wasn’t great.
And really, there’s probably not a huge amount else to do (yes, I realise I am seriously overlooking scenic flights and hikes and lake activities) – but you don’t NEED a lot to do to enjoy your time here, and that’s what makes it so great.
Whatever you do, don’t skip over Wanaka. It was my favourite place in New Zealand, and while I’m sad that Queenstown takes all the glory, maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t want Wanaka to change or get overcrowded. In fact, let’s just keep it a secret, okay? Great.