The drive through the centre of the North Island took us through jagged green hills born of volcanic action, with light brush strokes of trees and patches of growth. Land suited to the livestock that grazed the uneven ground. The west coast of the South Island is a different matter altogether. The land feels older, grander and more mature. There are few young hills here, it’s ancient and majestic mountains that tower above the shelves of flat land, all carved by the movement of ice and water. The greens of the lower mountains are muted and liberally coloured with varying shades of brown and red, the slopes densely populated with forests of trees and heavy vegetation, the heights obscured by cirrus clouds flitting past, or crowned with glittering ice and snow.
The approach to Wanaka is an interesting one through the heart of these mountains in the Spring as the snow is still melting and finding its way down the mountains and valleys. For this leg of the journey our driver was an ex-Liverpudlian who drove buses there for 10 years before moving to Queenstown where he has happily spent the last 23 years. One of the camera-happy Germans had installed himself beside the driver at the top of the bus to take almost non-stop footage of the entire journey. The driver assessed the makeup of his small group of passengers, and magnanimously assumed the role of tour guide for parts of the journey. To enhance his description of how the mountains and rivers change during the winter months, on one of the many one-way bridges he brought the bus to a complete halt for five minutes to allow for a good view of the Hast river flowing below, pointing out the levels to which it swells in the winter.
As we approached the twin lakes of Hawea and Wanaka, the driver pulled over at a scenic lookout for an impromptu tourist photo opportunity. Passengers scrambled out to see the panoramic view from between the mountain peaks overlooking the blue waters. The journey continued, taking us about halfway around Lake Wanaka before we finally reached the town itself. Just like Taupo on the North Island, Wanaka is a town on a lake. In this case the lake is a bit smaller, and the town is far less developed. It stretches only a few kilometres along the shore. There are no large food chains and the few restaurants are geared towards either fine dining, or takeout. Just like Taupo, there are a wealth of activities like sky diving or skiing when the season is right. Overall New Zealand is an active country with a liberal dose of common sense applied when it comes to more extreme sports. As the literature reminds you when you undertake any kind of dive or jump – New Zealand law makes it virtually impossible to successfully sue if one of the listed mishaps in the fine print occurs.
The smaller and more homely town of Wanaka looks out over the lake towards the mountains, which are far closer and distinct than at Taupo. The contrast of the bright summery beach with its clear blue waters against the backdrop of towering mountains and snowy peaks is stunning. Considering its proximity to both the ski resorts and Queenstown, it’s surprising that the town isn’t larger or more commercialised. The fact that it isn’t allows the scenery to truly speak for itself. We ventured into Turkish Kebabs where Brodie risked a kebab and I opted for the blue cod and chips. We were almost tempted to return for dinner, especially as the prices in the upmarket restaurants were astronomical. Sitting out by the lake and enjoying the view, we found that the food was delicious. We were looking forward to spending some time here.