As someone who is lucky enough to call Central Otago’s Wanaka my second home, I am also intrinsically a long-time sufferer of people telling me that it’s not as good as Queenstown, its tourist-hub neighbour. The truth is, that’s not true at all. If Queenstown was the popular, adventurous, rowdy older brother, Wanaka would be its low-key and relaxed, but secretly just as cool, younger sister. Although I adore it being like this, there’s nothing I want more than for more people to be enchanted by Wanaka’s peaceful beauty. Here’s a breakdown of what would I do if I had one day to experience Wanaka for the first time all over again. Just don’t tell too many people… it’s best kept a secret.
7:30am — That Wanaka Tree
Not many trees are special enough to have their own hashtag, but just search up #thatwanakatree on Instagram and you will find more than 5,000 photos proving why this one is different. Start your day perfectly by watching the sun rise over the mountains, spectacularly hitting the lake and ‘that tree’. If mother nature is on your side, you might even be able to add your own photo to the hashtag.
8:30am — Federal Diner
Hidden down a back alleyway, you could be justifiably skeptical about going to Federal Diner for breakfast. However, the mysterious location in no way compromises the quality; in fact, it actually adds to the charm of this local favourite café. The cheese scones are like a gift from heaven, and they even have a breakfast dish called ‘The Hungry Aucklander’, so you’ll feel right at home.
9:30am — 47Frocks
Directly through the wall of Federal Diner, you will find one of New Zealand’s top fashion retailers, 47Frocks. Their artistic blend of New Zealand’s moody and minimalistic fashion with the light and sun of Central Otago creates a simply unique shopping experience. When combined with their brand extension of 47Lounge, which focuses on relaxed but luxury home goods and apparel, 47Frocks is not to be missed if you require a touch of retail therapy while on holiday.
10:00pm — Mt Iron
Use your newly instilled energy from breakfast to tackle the famous Mt Iron walk. With half of its name consisting of ‘mount’, this venture may seem daunting, but it’s a relatively easy track that’s about an hour-and-a-half return. The effort to reward ratio makes it highly worthwhile, with 360-degree views of Lake Wanaka, the Cardrona Valley, the Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Hawea and the Southern Alps from the top that would leave Mt Eden with an identity crisis.
12:00pm — Cardrona Hotel
For lunch, journey out along the stunning Crown Range Road (which connects Wanaka with Queenstown) for 20 minutes until you reach the historic Cardrona Hotel. The hotel has maintained the rustic charm which has been present since its establishment in 1863 and combined it with a modern restaurant and a lively atmosphere, all in the dramatic and beautiful setting at the foot of Mount Cardrona. It is very rightfully said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand. Dine inside amongst the relics of a by-gone era, or outside in the relaxed garden.
2:00pm — Waterfall Creek Walk
Head back in to Wanaka and go for a stroll around the easygoing Waterfall Creek track, which takes you around the western side of the lake. Wanaka puts on a natural spectacle in any season, each more breath-taking than the last, and this walk will accentuate this in a way that few others can.
3:00pm — Rippon Vineyard
It would quite simply be wrong to visit Central Otago and not experience some form of wine tasting, and the pick of the bunch for this in Wanaka is Rippon Vineyard. Accessible from the Waterfall Creek track, Rippon is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Wanaka and its incredible surrounding mountains. This historic vineyard has all the makings to stand as your most beautiful wine tasting experience.
5:00pm — Historical Tile Walk
On your way back into the township from Rippon, wander along the historical tile walkway which runs parallel to the lakefront. It stretches between years 0-2000, with every tile printed with the most memorable event of each year. The walkway is not only composed of globally significant events, but also shares the most significant moments in Wanaka’s history, so it is the perfect way to get to know the town you have been exploring.
5:30pm — Dinosaur Playground
At the end, continue strolling towards the ‘dinosaur playground’. Mention this to any child south of Christchurch and the look in their eyes will tell you just how special it is. Treat the kids to endless fun on the many modern playground features, or rediscover the child within you by sliding down the neck of the iconic dinosaur yourself.
6:30pm — Burt.Ritos
The laid-back Wanaka vibes call for an equally casual dinner, so head to Burt.Ritos for some delicious and affordable Mexican goodness. Burt and his wife offer an unrivalled experience of Mexican street food, operating out of an enchanting food caravan in the shadow of the mountains which encircle the town. Take your meal to enjoy at one of the numerous picnic tables down by the lake. Whether you get the tacos, burritos or nachos, you will leave with a meal set to fill your belly and an established place in the Burt.Ritos family.
7:30pm — Paradiso Cinema
In a town surrounded by so many incredible natural wonders, it might seem laughable to have a movie theatre as one of its biggest attractions. However, take one step inside and you will realise that this is a cinema like no other. With second-hand sofas for cinema seats and freshly made cookies at intermission, Paradiso will give you the delightful feeling that you are watching the film from the comfort of your own home.
10:00pm — Patagonia
Finish off your day the right way with a trip to Patagonia Chocolates, a chocolates and dessert café exclusive to the Southern Lakes of New Zealand. Warm yourself up in the winter with their exceptional churros or top your summer night off by choosing from a spectacular range of homemade ice cream flavours. Just taste their Dulce de Leche and you will understand why it won a Gold Award at the 2015 New Zealand Ice Cream Awards.