Wanaka (Part 1)

Last weekend we decided to strap our boots, stretch our glutes, and take a trip to Wanaka. This place is sublime. I know I often say that certain places are my favourite, but this is now at the top spot. It has got everything you could possibly want: mountains, lakes, kayaking, hiking, biking, bars, restaurants etc. I could go on further. This edition has been penned ‘Part 1’ because we did two main activities while we were there, and I want to focus on both more closely. This first part will centre on our journey to Wanaka, which was a bit of a disaster, and my new favourite sport: kayaking.

We departed from dry Dunedin on Friday afternoon and were in high spirits ready for a fun filled weekend. Our first stop was Roxburgh on the way to Wanaka where we had booked to stay in an AirBNB overnight. When you hear yourself saying, ‘the worst case scenario will be that we sleep in the car’, you know you’re not in a great situation. As we got to around Lawrence the heavens opened and we were driving in torrential rain. It was almost as if we had entered the Bermuda Triangle. All at once it started to rain, my phone died, and my girlfriend’s phone reception went off the radar. It was a pretty dire situation, as we didn’t have our Satnav with us.

After driving for far longer then it should have taken we reached Roxburgh and now had the dilemma of finding the house. We somehow managed to call the owners, who through a  crackly speaker explained, ‘… near lake Roxburgh… third left… after big sign…’ And so we searched on for a while longer, losing signal again. After a while we decided to turn into the first house we could see and ask for directions. By a miraculous turn of events it was the correct address, and they welcomed us with open arms and a warm bed.

We arose Saturday morning a tad groggy from the ordeal of the previous night. However, as we reached the outskirts of Wanaka our spirits were greatly lifted. What a place! It is a haven. For anyone that has visited Queenstown it certainly has similarities but is strikingly different in one way; there are far less people. If only Queenstown was not such a tourist hub it would be a great place. But there were too many people and there was too much going on. Wanaka is far better, and we instantly felt as we were on holiday. We had some breakfast and then took to the lake.

 

The vast lake is a sight to behold. Engrossed in the towering mountains it lies peacefully-still in the isolated town of Wanaka. After some deliberation on what activity to do first we decided on kayaking. At the reasonable price of $20 per hour each, we grabbed our paddles, secured our life jackets and thrust our kayaks into the water.

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It has been 10+ years since I had last been kayaking. And this was on the rather gross Pugneys Lake in Wakefield, UK. I remember thoroughly enjoying it then. We had gone as an end of season football trip, and thinking back I don’t know why I didn’t go back and do it again. It is great fun. You can imagine that I enjoyed it tenfold this time, as I had transferred the murky waters of Wakefield to the clear lake surrounded by mountains in Wanaka.

We paddled out to the advised limit and sat staring at the wonders before us. Here we were lying in the very middle of a lake, in the centre of a huge mountain range, and we couldn’t hear a single sound. It was probably the most peaceful thing I have ever done.

The next day we learned that you can paddle to a small island, and also to the famous Wanaka tree. Both of which we had somehow not noticed (much to the amusement of one of the locals). After finding out this information we decided to take to the lake again. So on this occasion we rented the kayaks for 2 hours and set off to the Wanaka Tree. The tree is submerged in the water and from the right angle you can get an incredible picture. From the lake though, all you are looking at is a multitude of tourists. Therefore, we decided to walk back to it later. Just as some of the tourists were moving away I thought it would be a great opportunity to wade out to the tree and get a picture next to it. I nearly fell several times but I got the picture. When I came back I could see that the people had all congregated again like sheep, ready to take my picture. One of the locals had explained that in all her years she had never seen anyone stood next to it. I asked myself, ‘I am a local hero, or did I just kind of deface a famous heritage tree?’

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Once we had realised we could not get a good picture of the tree on the kayaks, we pursued on to Ruby Island. I really have no idea how we missed it. It is fairly big. But I guess we were too consumed with the surrounding mountains. We got out and had a look around, skimmed some rocks, and soon realised we were running out of time. We had booked for two hours, but now only had 35 minutes to get back to shore. Moreover, we were definitely the most tired we had been while paddling. It took a lot of effort to get back in time, and we were thrashing the water a lot more than we had before. We turned up on land fairly drenched, and both looked liked we had been swimming, but we were on time. My right sleeve was soaked in water from where I had tried to turn around and nearly flipped the kayak. Oh well, it was still a whole lotta fun.

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To sum up Wanaka Part 1, this place is very special. There is so much to do, and I’ve only really talked about Kayaking so far. In the next part, I will be talking about the hikes we did while we were there, and I may write more when we decide to go back in the next couple of weeks. I can’t speak for the North Island, but certainly for the South Island, if you are here, go and visit Wanaka, you will not be disappointed, and you will not want to leave.

 

 

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Brighton Beach, Dunedin

Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t as much a beach review as it is advice on how to spend a jolly good Saturday morning. We just happened to choose Brighton Beach which turned out to be an excellent setting.

We started our day early by going to the bustling Dunedin Farmers Market. This is a place we’ve frequented regularly on our Saturday mornings, as it is a great chance to pick up some regional fruit, veg, and what we love most, cheese & bread. We decided on a loaf of Focaccia, and four different segments of cheeses. The market sells fantastic products, and there are usually a few guitar, violin, or piano players around, which adds to the vibrant atmosphere.

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Once we had made our purchases we wandered home to pick up supplies and set off to Brighton Beach, which lies about 20 kilometres south west of Dunedin. The beach is long, but doesn’t have as many of the cool features I have come across at other New Zealand beaches. That should not deter you though, as it makes for a great walk, run or picnic. It is a fairly popular destination, but in typical New Zealand fashion it was pretty deserted barring a few families, and so we set up our extravagant picnic in the perfect isolated spot. The views were wonderful, and the whole scene made for a relaxing lunch. All we needed was a bottle of Speight’s Golden Ale to bring it all together, but we settled for a nice cup of tea instead. We’ve become exceedingly British in the fact that we take a flask with tea in everywhere we go now. We probably keep it over water on most trips. On this occasion we took our cups with us while we went for a paddle. Not noticing the tide coming in rapidly we turned to find it was upon us and a large wave showered us. You’ll be pleased to hear our cups of tea made it out alive, much to our relief. Take our clothes but never take our tea.

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Our Saturday morning was well spent at a great beach and with great food. While I would encourage you to check out Brighton Beach, the more important message would be to get out and enjoy yourself outside. It’s been a long time since I’d had a picnic and if you are the same, get to the market, get your tupperware out and head to the beach. This is probably easier done than said for those in New Zealand, but everyone should do it. I may be preaching to the choir here with travel bloggers, but it’s called the great outdoors for a reason, right?

 

 

Allan’s Beach, Otago Peninsula

Another of the Otago Peninsula’s gems is Allan’s Beach. As one of the four beaches that runs along the Pacific Coast of the Peninsula, it is must for anyone in the area. The other beaches include: Boulder Beach and Victory Beach (which I have yet to visit), and Sandfly Bay. We found that Allan’s Beach had a lot to offer, and was bountiful in scenery, rocks to climb, and even the night’s dinner!

Despite some arduous research, I was unable to identify why the beach is possessively “Allan’s.” If anyone knows why it is called this I would very much appreciate it if you could send a message my way. In typical Kiwi fashion I do reckon that it is as simple as a man named Allan used to walk along the beach. One of the best I’ve heard was for Wingatui. According to a local, the village is called such because an English settler was out hunting and he shot a Tui (a New Zealand bird) in the wing. Hence, Wingatui.

From Dunedin centre, Allan’s Beach is across the Otago Peninsula, and a short distance from the town of Portobello. If you travel this way I would advise to do one route there, and a different one back. You cannot experience the magnificence of the Otago Peninsula without driving along the harbour, and then along the hillside. Both offer spectacular views. The picture below is taken from the hillside.

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Once you arrive at the car park it is a short walk over a hill to the beach. We have now been to Allan’s Beach twice, and both times it gave us a completely different experience. This can be put as simply as whether you go left or right from the entrance to the beach. We will start by going right. Walking this way you will see some of the magnificent cliffs that make up the Otago Peninsula. I found the one on Allan’s Beach particularly interesting as it looked to me like a giant lizard. Maybe you can get the idea from the picture below. Following the beach along you will come to a stream that feeds into the ocean, and behind that you can see more of the Peninsula’s great hills. However, our second trip to Allan’s Beach was by far the more enjoyable. And thus we turn left.

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Following the beach to the left you will come across excellent rocks to climb. If you are into that kind of thing, these are the best I have seen on a beach. There are plenty to conquer and plenty of footholes.

The rocks are pretty good, but the best thing about this beach was the mussels. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Big. Small. All there waiting to be taken. It was an excellent surprise as we had been to this beach before and not had the time to explore it to the left. What fools we were! Luckily, my girlfriend’s mother had brought a large, clear, plastic sandwich bag with her (the magic of mum’s eh?) and so we got plucking. After about 15 minutes we had gathered around 40 large mussels, and now had food for dinner that night. They were delicious, and we will certainly be travelling back there to snap up another free meal.

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This beach was a terrific experience all in all. We enjoyed ourselves the first time, and when we came back for more we were far from disappointed. And to think this beach is supposed to be known as a Sealion and Penguin hot-spot. If we’d have seen some I think we’d have moved there by now.

Scenery: 3/5

(I’ve had to make a new category) Did it offer free food? Yes.

Overall: 5/5