A Curious Land, New Zealand. Part Two – Lake Wanaka

Text read by Mary Peters

Geneviève continues her tour of New Zealand.

We left Queenstown and took a bus to Wanaka, situated on a lake with the same name. The route took us to Cromwell, which is a town in the Otago Region. The weather was beautiful. The days were warm and sunny. 

The area around Cromwell is known for its fruit plantations and vegetable fields. There is a special microclimate here. On the western side are mountains and ski slopes. To the east, the large plains extend to the South Pacific Ocean. The landscape is serene. There is a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy the agricultural produce and the wines. You can go on helicopter tours in Central Otago. The lake and the surrounding area is stunning with their vineyards and gardens. 

Vineyards, taken from the bus.

We continued and arrived in Wanaka in the evening. Our hosts were about 1km away from the bus stop. The woman was a vet, and her husband was a house builder. Both loved doing extreme sports. We spent a little time planning the next day’s activities.   

An old jetty on Lake Wanaka

We had reserved bikes but could not find the pick-up point. A young local couple escorted us to a small, unassuming door, behind which was like entering a cyclist’s Aladdin’s cave. The choice of bicycles was overwhelming. Some were for rent, others for sale. 

Wanaka is stunning and located in the New Zealand Alps of the South Island. Visitors from around the world are drawn to the region by its outstanding beauty. The peaks are perpetually snow-covered and an Eldorado for hikers and climbers with a whole choice of different trails to choose from.

There is a trail that takes you to Makarora. There is also a short stroll to the Blue Pools with its turquoise water. In summer, you can go paddling, kayaking, and swimming. Trails also lead to Mount Aspring. There is so much to do there. It is easy to spend 4 weeks in the entire southern half of the South Island. There are 750 km of trails to explore, and the area has one of the most extensive networks of tracks in the entire country. 

Another option is to go heli-biking. A helicopter brings you and your bike up to the top of a mountain. The experienced pilots provide a friendly and professional service. You can enjoy the commentary and the uninterrupted view from your window seat. The flights include the Milford Sound, Mount Cook and Mount Aspring. You have the opportunity to view huge vistas of untouched land, including all the glaciers. South-west New Zealand is one of the most significant wilderness areas in the southern hemisphere. It is listed as a world heritage site. When you arrive, the crew releases you, and you proceed downhill. A helicopter can transport two to four cyclists and their bicycles.  

We started our second day with a long biking tour along Lake Wanaka. Our goal was Lake Hawea. Being outdoors in this beautiful area gave us lots of enthusiastic energy. You cycle on the lakefront, and on the opposite side, you see the mountains. It is indescribable. The water is crystal clear. Lake Hawea glows in green, blue, turquoise that change with the sun rays. It was the colour of the water which impressed me as it changed its shade. When the sun shone, it moved from turquoise to blue, and a cloud made it green. The rental company gave us maps and explained the possibilities. But there is no real chance of getting lost.  

Crossing one of many suspension bridges
Lake Hawea
Exceptional beauty everywhere

In March and April, you can participate in the grape harvest at Lake Wanaka. It can be a beautiful experience. Apart from the enjoyable work, you can bathe in the views, the landscapes, the lakes, the mountains, and the vines.

Vineyards

Along the lake were many lupins, yellow, violet, and blue. The most photographed tree in the world is the “Tree in Lake Wanaka”. They need a long time to grow. Behind the lake is a garden with giant trees. 

One of the most photographed trees in the world.

After organising our packed lunch, for our third day, we boarded a small boat (only 6 passengers allowed) and rode to Mou Waho Island. The crossing was choppy as we rose and sank in the water. The island is a sanctuary for kiwis and wekas. The wekas were used to visitors and are not afraid to approach an open rucksack to look for food. 

Mou Waho Island

Most notable among the unique insects on this island are the weta. They include the tree weta (Hemideina species) and giant weta (for example, weta punga or Deinacrida heteracantha). There are 18 species of these flightless, grasshopper-like insects. The giant ones, which can weigh up to over 70 grams, live on Little Barrier Island in the North Island. 

They have been able to evolve in the absence of small mammalian predators such as rats. Like rats, they are long-lived, nocturnal, omnivorous, and often live in social groups. Their nearest living relatives are in Australia.

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Making friends with the local population.

Exploring the island was an experience. We did not speak. On the boat, everybody talked, we were lively. When we were on the island, we were very quiet out of respect for the wildlife. But also, to understand what the guide was telling us. Just before we left the island, we planted an endemic tree. This has become a tradition for all visitors to the area.  Returning from the tour, we went to the tree in Lake Wanaka. By now, it was time to move on.