Kia ora: Wanaka

Elisabeth Easther pays our winter wonderland a visit.
Hill Walking in Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images
Hill Walking in Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images

Origin of name: Derived from Oanaka, meaning "Place of Anaka" - Anaka being an early Maori chief.

Population: 7000-8000 (estimate) and it shoots up by about 15,000 in winter and also for a month over summer.

Where is it: In Otago, in the Queenstown Lakes District, 70km from Queenstown, 275km from Dunedin or five hours' drive from Christchurch.

Town slogan: Wanaka - the lifestyle reserve.

Town mascot: The outdoors in general; the lake and the peaks.

Most famous local: Jossi Wells, pro freeskier, born and raised in Wanaka, arguably our most successful winter sport athlete ever.

Jossi Wells, pro freeskier, born and raised in Wanaka, arguably our most successful winter sport athlete ever. Photo / Getty Images
Jossi Wells, pro freeskier, born and raised in Wanaka, arguably our most successful winter sport athlete ever. Photo / Getty Images

Best local website: 360queenstown-wanaka.com or lakewanaka.co.nz

Biggest industry: Tourism, with Cardrona being the main employer.

Source of pride: The landscape brings visitors in, while the people are why they come back. Locals come from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, making for small-town friendliness without small-mindedness.

Town festivals: Challenge Wanaka Tri Festival, Winter Games, Warbirds over Wanaka, Festival of Colour, Rippon Music Festival, and Rhythm and Alps has just been confirmed for New Year's.

Best reason to stop: The landscape, breathtaking every day.

Best place to take kids: Puzzling World - crazy architecture, mazes, illusion rooms, hologram hall. Tourists big and small love it.

Best place for a drink: Post Office Lane consists of two bars, Woody's and Barluga, and a pizza restaurant, The Cow.

Best food: Bistro Gentil, amazing French restaurant with wine on tap. Delicious food, not overpriced.

Best flat white: Relishes Cafe on the lakefront. Pretty as a picture.

Best bakery: The Dough Bin - try their goat pie if you're feeling game.

Best museum: Wanaka National Transport and Toy Museum - loads of fun, with lots of old toys and vehicles.

Best walks: Mt Iron. For a short leg stretcher do the 90-minute loop (two hours if you set off from the centre of town). Rocky Mountain and Diamond Lake provide loads of options, with varying levels of difficulty and stunning views back to Wanaka and over the West Coast. The lesser-known Isthmus Peak is great for a full-day hike and views of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. Sunrise is sublime.

Best view: Roy's Peak is a gruelling five-hour return trip so the best way to do it is as a full-day hike from Cardrona Valley over the Skyline Ridgeline, but the views are worth it. If you're feeling lazy, hire a chopper and fly up.

Brideflight: Mt Roy is a popular spot for proposals. One fellow, about to pop the question to his intended, engaged the services of a local busker to serenade them as he got down on one knee, having helicoptered up there. Imagine if she'd said no.

Best place to pull over: Driving round the lake, you'll want to stop every half a kilometre or so - there are dozens of delightful spots.

Best facilities: The iSite next to the lakefront information centre sports a good set of toilets.

Best playground: The Dinosaur Park is super fun. Although that said, the entire area is a playground.

Two wheels good: Mountain bikers love this area. Check out Sticky Forest, or the Lismore Jump and BMX Park, and there are loads of other single-track and mountain bike trails, too. Also Deans Bank, the Millennium Track. Snow Farm Snow Park. Get the picture?

Here for a short time: Have a locally brewed beer at Kai Whakapai on the lakefront at sunset.

Best kept secret: Mou Waho Island has a lake on an island on the lake (Wanaka). Take a day trip or stay the night if you're feeling adventuresome.

Best shop: Outside Sports for outdoor gear or Wonder Room for gifts and souvenirs.

Best swim: Motutapu Gorge swimming hole, 30 minutes out of town up Motutapu Valley, with high cliffs and spots to jump from. Not signposted so ask a local to point the way.

Best cinema: There are two movie houses: Cinema Paradiso, a converted church with sofas, home-made icecream and freshly baked biscuits at intermission (yes, intermission) and Ruby's Cinema and Bar, which is also fabulous.

How about: Do you fancy paragliding on the lake? Have you ever tried snow kiting?

Wildest wildlife: Apart from the tourists, the kea, or mountain parrot, is a character, up on Treble Cone in winter, and also found round Rob Roy Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Regional park: Mt Aspiring has everything from one-day walks to five-day epic adventures. A serious spot for climbers, too.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them kayaking to Ruby Island, or mountain biking or walking the Millennium Track.

Safety warnings: Travel smart - don't get caught in the mountains when the weather changes, which can happen fast.

Locals say: I came here for a single season. Ten years ago.

Visitors say: Is there any work going?

Thanks to Keith Stubbs, director of 360 Queenstown-Wanaka, for bringing Wanaka to life.

- NZ Herald

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