Wintering in Wanaka

June 2021

A few days before we were to start our road trip south, the region had a 1 in 100 year rainfall, causing severe flooding and damage to many bridges and roads. At one point the roads south were all closed with a number of bridges damaged – to get from Temuka to Christchurch, normally a 2 hour drive, was taking 13.5 hrs … taking the scenic route through the mountains, up the west coast and then back across the mountains!

Thankfully road crews had opened most of the roads by Friday when we left, though some of roads had severe damage – that said, the snow that fell on the mountains in the same storm made for a beautiful views (despite starting off in the fog).  Truly Mother Nature at her best .  (Sorry, not sorry for all the photos lol).

The drive to Wanaka takes around 5.5 hours and we had planned to stop around halfway in Fairlie for lunch at the ‘world famous in New Zealand’ Fairlie Pies … unfortunately it seemed that everyone else seemed to have the same idea and there was a long queue out the door!  We are not fans of queuing, so we pushed on to Tekapo where we bought Fairlie Pies in the supermarket 😂.   The lakes and the snow covered mountains were looking beautiful and it is such a stunning drive.

As usual, I was keen for an early night after settling into our accommodation, and then up early for a morning run.  It is definitely my favourite time of day, and it was so beautiful to run around the lake, with hardly anyone around.  Of course it also meant we got “that Wanaka tree” to ourselves for a few minutes.  As this was a trip with friends, I did not have much planned and didn’t expect to get out and about and do my normal exploring, but I certainly intended to find a good balance.   Rain being forecast for most of the weekend was not going to stop me lol.

After a day spent with friends, I was keen to head out early again to visit some of the sights in the area.  First stop was the famous Cardrona Hotel.  I drove the 20 minutes to the hotel through the morning fog which had cleared a little by the time I arrived.  It was earlier enough that there was hardly anyone around, but not too earlier that coffee was not available😂

The Cardrona area was settled in the 1860s as people flocked to the area to find their futures and fortunes in the gold in the nearby hills.  The Cardrona Hotel was established in 1863, to service the booming the population and it is one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels.

By the late 1890’s most of the prospectors had moved on in the hope of more lucrative areas and the town dwindled to just a few farmers and many of the buildings were moved down the room to Wanaka (which was called Pembroke at the time). 

Today of course, Cardonna is famous for its ski field, and what better than a few drinks in the old Cardonna hotel after a long day on the slopes. 

My next stop was to be the Blue Pools in Mt Aspiring National Park.  From Wanaka, it is about an hour drive around Lake Wanaka and its neighbouring Lake Hawea.  The roads are narrow, winding and one way in some cases, but beautiful views, a little moody and gloomy but still beautiful.

From the car park it was about an easy 30 minute walk through a mature beech and podocarp forest and given the threat of rain, there were not a lot of other people around.   The forest walk was lovely and as always, I got distracted by fantails 😂, but there was no standing still for too long because of the sandflies 😬😬 – they were pretty savage!  The light rain also was become a little heavier, so I picked up the pace to my destination, the Blue Pools.

Not surprisingly, the pools get their name from the colour of their water, the result of light refraction on the clear, snow fed and icy cold water.  It was beautiful, but the Jet boats hooning up and down the river definitely disturbed the peace and bird song!  I guess they are fun if you are on them, a just a little bit annoying if you are not!

I had hoped to do one of the long walks around Wanaka, in particular Roy’s Peak, but the weather forecast was really not great so on our last morning we decided to do one of the short walks around the town – Mt Iron.  A 4.5 km loop, up a hill on the outskirts of the town which gives beautiful 360 degree views around the area. 

We were early enough to avoid the crowds (the walk is very popular with locals), and it was nice to stretch our legs before the drive home.  Next time I will make it up Roy’s Peak!!!

Not to be outdone, the drive home was equally as stunning as the drive down.  In fact, I am not sure any road trip in New Zealand can disappoint – regardless of the weather.

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