Richly blessed by nature’s seasonal brush, the alpine town of Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s most majestic playgrounds. But with the golden glow of those long and lazy summer nights on the horizon, Wanaka really hits top gear, with its embarrassing abundance of magical attractions and adventures in the great outdoors. The crystal-clear waters of New Zealand’s fourth largest lake, Lake Wanaka, sparkle on the edge of the laid-back town. Unlike Queenstown, its hyped-up sibling across the Crown Range, this lakeside town still beats to an easy, stress-free tempo. Wanaka throbs with soft-adventure in summer, whether it be swimming, fishing, kayaking or mountain-biking. Guided trout fishing is a popular option, as are the guided kayaking tours. Or you can simply hire a kayak for just $10 an hour and loll about the lake. Check out one of New Zealand’s best boutique movie theatres, Cinema Paradiso. Comfy sofas, homemade ice-creams and freshly baked cookies are all part of the package. For family-fun, Puzzling World has been messing with people’s heads since 1973, with a mesmerising maze, bizarre buildings and all manner of illusion-based encounters. Warbirds over Wanaka, the International Airshow, is a signature event that roars into life every second Easter. ( 2014 is the next event.) But, to capture a taste of the full-throttle adventure, head to Warbirds and Wheels, a magnificent collection of fighter planes and classic cars. But the wraparound alpine splendour will soon be calling, so just surrender to nature’s cry. For an exhilarating foray into the Mt. Aspiring National Park, Wanaka River Journeys offers enthralling half-day wilderness excursions, that jet you up the Matukituki River, featuring Lord of the Rings locations, hanging glaciers, ice-sculpted landscapes, forest walks and the pyramidal brilliance of Mt. Aspiring. ( At over 3000 metres, this is the nation’s tallest peak, outside the Mt. Cook Region.) Another requisite wilderness encounter is to hit the highway, for the short drive past Lake Hawea to Makarora and its surrounding valley magnificence.. The alpine vistas are breath-taking, with snow crowning the peaks, even in summer. And be sure to pop into the Makaroa Country Café, a quirky highway pit-stop, curiously festooned with hundreds of vehicle licence plates from all over the planet. It has been a running gag for decades and is well worth a look. And don’t leave Wanaka without stretching your legs on the Mt. Iron walkway. Delivering panoramic views across Lake Wanaka, the two hour walk gradually climbs through open pasture and mauka scrub on the western slopes of Mt. Iron. There are highly informative displays about the area’s natural history and its layout. From the summit, the track descends down the eastern slopes, taking you back to the carpark, where the track starts.
Nestled on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka, there’s nothing quite like awakening to the glistening light of a new day at the picturesque Edgewater Resort. The expansive property prides itself on its inviting accommodation and enticing seasonal menu. The resort boasts 65 spacious self-catering suites and apartments. Each suite features a master bedroom, separate living/dining area with kitchenette, excellent laundry facilities, and they all have a balcony or patio overlooking the lake and impeccably maintained gardens. As an added bonus, the resident ducks are extra-friendly, to the point of actually tapping their beaks on your ranch slider, in a shameless bid to cajole you to share your breakfast with them. Edgewater has a very fine restaurant and café, offering splendid New Zealand cuisine, regional wines and a salivating cocktail menu. The dining menu in Sargoods Restaurant is freshened up as the seasons change, and my picks for summer would be the Southern Blue Cod and the Cardrona Valley Merino lamb steak. Additional facilities at Edgewater include a tennis court, sauna and children’s playground. Kayaks and mountain-bikes are available on-site. One of my favourite lakeside sports is wine-tasting and right next door to Edgewater is the glorious undulating perch of Rippon Vineyard and Winery. 15 hectares of vines weave their way up from the shore, primarily producing pinot noir and riesling. The unspoiled views across the lake and alpine peaks are heavenly. The cellar door and winery are open daily through summer from 11am to 5pm.
Edgewater Resort will accentuate your Wanaka experience with its exceptional hospitality, local knowledge and first-class facilities. A variety of special packages are available and for the best deals, go direct to their website. www.edgewater.co.nz
For heritage, excitement and wilderness adventure, Wanaka River Journeys will add an extra dose of magic to your lakeside stay. Check out their excursions at www.wanakariverjourneys.co.nz
( This article was first published in January, in Mike Yardley’s syndicated weekly travel page, which appears in all APN regional newspapers.)