The next day, we somewhat reluctantly checked out of Hogwartz and journeyed on. Our goal today was Wanaka, a lakeside resort town similar to the much more famous Queenstown. To reach it, we had to cross much of the South Island, driving through flat, dry fields. Compared to other drives on this trip, it was one of the least inspiring.
We tried to stop for lunch at a dam overlook, but there were no tables in sight. Stymied, we continued on to Alexandra, one of the larger towns on this route. Upon entering the town we were greeted by a double bridge:
Of course, there was no picnic table overlooking it, so we had to make do in one of the city parks. It really speaks to how boring the drive had been that an old bridge and a quest for a picnic table were the most exciting things we’d seen and done!
Happily, once we’d left Alexandra the surroundings began to get a little more wild. The territory around this area is very rugged with lots of exposed outcroppings, and we drove through fields that we are sure were in The Lord of the Rings films. Luckily for us, traffic was light with no Orc hordes blocking the way.
We soon reached the alpine lakes country, where the scenery became spectacular again. The lakes were a bright blue and had snow-capped mountains as the backdrops.
Whereas before we had tried to drive straight through in order to reach Wanaka, now we stopped at multiple scenic overviews to take in the sights.
We finally reached Wanaka. While our YHA hostel room was not quite as nice as Hogwartz, the lounge area had a wonderful view of Lake Wanaka and the mountains beyond, plus a plate of chocolate chip cookies that someone had baked and abandoned. The hostel, like everything else in Wanaka, was a two-minute walk to the waterfront, so after unpacking the car (and checking the fluid again), we set out to the beach.
The beach was gravelly and predictably a bit crowded, but relaxing there seemed like the best thing to do after our long drive. After a quick stroll around the small downtown– mainly to see which restaurants would be open later as Boxing Day is a public holiday– we got changed and staked out our spot on the beach. Before we could settle down for some sunbathing, I noticed that the seagulls here looked different than the coast regulars. They were the much rarer black-billed gulls! Of course, they still acted like their red-billed cousins; we quickly spotted one with a stolen chip.
They weren’t the only birds around, the lake shore also had a flock of ducks and given the time of year, some of them had ducklings in tow! After a stretch of relaxing, we decided to join them in the lake. As an alpine lake, even in the middle of summer Lake Wanaka is best described as “chilly”. The ducks don’t mind the temperature, but it took us a while to get used to. Not so bad once you’re in, though!
After we emerged from the lake to dry out in the sun, I spotted yet another bird. It was a great crested grebe, and as they are only found in the South Island in NZ, it was a new bird for us! The grebe cruised just beyond the swimmers and ducks, periodically diving to catch a fish. No pictures, as we’d only taken our towels to the beach.
Swimming with ducklings had built up an appetite, so we headed to one of the eateries we’d noticed earlier. Inspired by our tour in Dunedin, we picked the Speight’s Ale House and enjoyed some excellent pub food, with a few beers of course! After dinner, we walked back along the shore, soaking in the last rays of the sun and the beautiful view.
Wanaka is definitely one of the places from our trip that we would love to revisit. Hopefully, we’ll be back in the area to do the Queenstown/Milford Sound trip soon, and it’ll be interesting to see if Wanaka’s big brother is just as good.