WANAKA (MAORI: OANAKA): ABOUT & HISTORY
The first inhabitants in the region were the Otago Maori, who used the region’s local mountain passes on their journey to mine New Zealand’s famous greenstone (pounamu). Local Maori legend suggests that the stunning lakes and mountains of Wanaka were carved out by Maori chief Te Rakaihautu. He arrived on the shores of Aotearoa on a waka and created Lake Wanaka and nearby Lake Hawea with his giant spade.Stunning lakes, imposing mountains and a world class venue for shreddin’ the gnar, Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s premier regions for both outdoor activities and relaxation. Lapping the lazy shores of New Zealand’s fifth largest lake, Lake Wanaka, the town of Wanaka has the enviable title of being the only town in the Southern Hemisphere to be mentioned in National Geographic’s ‘World’s 25 Best Ski Towns’.
Pastoralist and politician, Nathaniel Chalmers, was the first European explorer in the area in 1853 and the 1860’s gold rush in nearby Albert Town saw a large influx of prospectors looking to strike it lucky “in them thar’ hills”.
The first European settlement on Lake Wanaka originally had the name of ‘Pembroke’, but the town soon became known as ‘Wanaka’ due to its close association with Lake Wanaka (a corruption of the maori word ‘Oanaka’, which means ‘The place of Anaka’) and the popularity of the Lake Wanaka Hotel, which had established itself as an important watering hole for the weary miners.
Today, Wanaka is a mecca for skiers, snowboarders and trekkers who want to test their mettle against some of the best mountain trails in the Southern Hemisphere.
WANAKA ACTIVITIES: THINGS TO DO IN WANAKA
Many travellers use Wanaka as the jump off point to all the wild activities in Mount Aspiring National Park. The Park combines a stunning blend of deep river valleys, remote trekking tracks and unique indigenous wildlife.
For some free and interesting walks, take the new Haast Pass Lookout Track and enjoy the panoramic view over the valley below; or traverse over the first of two swing bridges on the Blue-Young Link Track. Keep a sharp eye out for the indigenous wekas. These endangered flightless birds have a reputation of being curious and may walk right up to you from the scrub.
For those with a quizzical mind, check out Stuart Lansborough’s Puzzling World. A memorable attraction that offers the world’s first ‘3-D’ Great Maze as well as an illusion room. Fees for both activities will set you back $NZD17.50. Speak to your Kiwi Experience Driver Guide about booking any activities in Wanaka.
Keen riders will also find the mountain bikingtracks in Wanaka something of a treat. You could join a mountain biking tour around the shores of Lake Wanaka or tackle the spectacular wilderness on your own. Experienced riders will dig the challenging downhill trails such as Sticky Forest, while casual riders can follow the route ofDeans Bank Track as it weaves its way around the stunning Otago landscape. You can rent the bikes from stores in Wanaka such as Racers Edge and Thunderbikes; and prices start from $NZD20 for 4-hours hire.
While many travellers come to Wanaka to experience the clean air and tranquility of the Lake, most travellers in the cooler seasons stay for the quality skiing and snowboarding. Wanaka’s superb ski runs at Cardrona andTreble Cone (about half an hour from Wanaka’s township) are perfect for those who want to avoid Queenstown’s large crowds and glitzy commercial price tag. Beginners can jump on the FREE surface lift at Treble Cone and take on the ‘Nice n’ Easy’ Platter, while experienced skiers and boarders can save some cash by purchasing the new OnePassNZ ($NZ85). This pass gives you complete access to eight of the South Island’s premier ski fields, including Cardrona and Treble Cone.
Wanaka is also home to a number of festivals that are not to be missed. ‘Warbirds Over Wanaka’ is a bi-annual air show in April that proudly displays classic military warbirds. Said to be one of the world’s best airshows, the event features historic aircraft, RNZAF jets, as well as aerobatic formations. Wanaka is also a co-host of the biennialSouthern Lakes Festival of Colour, also in April, which celebrates the arts in New Zealand from music, theatre, dance and art.
Wanaka also has some great accommodation options for those on a budget. Check out our recommendations below:
For fully made up beds with quality and clean linen, Base Wanaka should be your choice. Located just a few minutes from all the action, this luxury hostel comes with a central heating, a laundry to dry your ski gear, women’s-only dorms and a state of the art communal room and kitchen. It also has Mint Bar, one of Wanaka’s liveliest night spots. Prices begin from $NZD28 p/night per person for a bed in a 10 bed dorm, and rise to $NZD45 for a double ensuite room with views, private bathroom and TV.
Kiwi Experience guarantees that, your first nights’ accommodation is guaranteed in Wanaka.
*Prices quoted as of August 2014