If the New Zealand you’ve always dreamed of is a log cabin nestled among beech trees overlooking a crystal clear lake at the foot of snow-capped mountains, Wanaka is for you. Just a 45-minute drive north of Queenstown, Wanaka is often compared as the Byron Bay to the Gold Coast for us Aussies. Both beautiful in their own right, one just being the slightly more chilled-out, hippie cousin.
Wanaka is a tiny town surrounded by an overwhelming amount of natural beauty, which makes it an absolute playground for exploring. From helicopters and planes to jetboats and 4WDing, there are so many nooks and crannies of hidden beauty around Wanaka barely laid eyes on by tourists.
Everyone who lives in this community is there for a reason. They’ve travelled far and wide to be here. The passion for the land, the way the tides come in or the sun goes down is something even the baristas live and breathe (they may also be base jumpers in their spare time). If you want to see all this hidden beauty for yourself, these are my Wanaka must-dos.
The best way to see this incredible part of New Zealand’s Southern Alps is by zooming through the peaks. This is the only way you will spot the vivid blue turquoise lakes that sit at 7,000 feet surrounded by snow. Land on a glacier and play in the fluffy snow where scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed.
Take a boat through the turquoise waters of Lake Wanaka to Mou Waho Island, where you can trek to the peak and find yourself standing at the shore of a lake on an island within another lake. Surrounded by Mount Aspiring National Park with not a single house or person in sight, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed by how breathtaking New Zealand is.
Go off-road to see what’s hidden between the hills of Wakana and you’ll be greeted by green rolling hills meeting turquoise waters, and the historical remnants of European settlers among the beech forests. Trekking through the hills, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Scottish Highlands or rural Ireland, but something about it made it so much more raw and isolated, which I loved.
Let me tell you, when you fly with a company called 'U Fly', you are actually expected to take off, fly and land the plane yourself. There is no greater thrill than captaining your own light aircraft, zooming through mountains and over lakes. It’s the best way to see all those hidden pockets of Wanaka you’ve explored come together in the most spectacular of ways.