Wanaka is a resort town just an hour north of its better-known neighbor Queenstown, but happily it is not at all like that over-caffeinated tourist mecca. Wanaka is quieter, with less crowds, less partying, and with far fewer stores hawking testosterone-fueled activities. I admit Queenstown is prettier (which I’ll show you in a post soon), but Wanaka is pretty enough, and a nice place to chill out for a week. Getting there from Mt Cook takes us through Landis Pass, which is austerely beautiful. Wanaka itself snuggles up against the lake of the same name, with the high and jagged peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park visible in the far distance. The pictures below show you the lake from Wanaka’s long beach (under different weather conditions, I might add!).
Downtown Wanaka is mostly a couple of streets with more cafes than anything else, displaying its touristy but low-key personality. There really isn’t much to do in Wanaka other than chill, but it is a nice spot both for chilling and as a base to explore outlying attractions such as the nearby Rippon Vineyard, Central Otago’s oldest vineyard. For perspective, it was established in 1982, nearly a decade before most of New Zealand’s wineries (it’s amazing how young NZ is, in every respect). If you begin to suspect that we have chosen this region for it’s wines, you’re partly right. The Central Otago wine region is very far south, at a latitude where grapes would not be expected to do well. However, the surrounding high mountains apparently retain heat and the valley reaches some of the highest, albeit very variable temperatures, in NZ . This area produces some of the country’s best Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris). A number of small but very good wineries are located near the hamlet of Bannockburn, and an
example of this area is shown above. One particular winery, Mt. Difficulty, was amazing – magnificent wines, very pricey, but we bought a few bottles anyway. Didn’t someone tell us that life’s too short to drink cheap wine? We also had an incredible and memorable lunch in their restaurant overlooking the vines – fabulous duck with their fabulous wines is about as good as it gets. Some of the wineries in his region are very boutique – for example, Gate 20 Two, making great wines and selling them from their home – their “cellar door”, New Zealand-speak for tasting room, is from a desk in the foyer of their house!
We decide to do a nearby hike, to Diamond Lake. On the way we see Kiwis enjoying life up in the air, on paragliders. They glide and soar wherever they want, and it is clear they could stay up there forever; must be good updrafts. I’m envious, really, but there is something comforting about having feet in contact with earth, and hiking is good too.
The hike to the lake is flat, and the lake (picture above) is nice, but the overlook beckons. Unfortunately it is up, and up, using the ubiquitous D.O.C. stairs, and Ginger hates it;
which she voices more than once, but gamely carries on. The overview of Diamond Lake and the nearby mountains is very nice indeed, and worth the climb. However, the trail keeps going, beckoning us on. Alas, it also keeps going up, and after awhile Ginger has had enough – but not before we get a nice overview back towards Wanaka.
On the hike we’ve also observed some interesting plants and birds along the trail, as shown below.
Rob Roy Valley
Mt. Aspiring National Park is one of NZ’s largest and is Wanaka’s outdoor playground. Today we’re off to hike the Rob Roy Valley, listed as “an easy route into a dramatic alpine landscape that includes snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and waterfalls”. Sounds great! Of course, “easy” is one of those relative terms, isn’t it?
The hour ride to the trailhead is through grazing land surrounded by old dry mountains, with occasional impressive waterfalls. The view straight ahead isn’t bad either, right
picture. What we didn’t know then is that the glacier straight ahead is the one we’re going to hike to, and its kinda “up” more than “easy”. Our road gives way to gravel for 2o miles, and it’s slow going because of the gravel, because we need to navigate past sheep, and because we need to ford gulleys and streams – like 7 of them. It’s not trivial! We’re navigating water and good-sized rocks, and hey! This is my car! Not some rental! Ginger offers suggestions on which rocks or holes to avoid, of course, in a stressed voice, which is very helpful. Later we read the D.O.C. pamphlet, which says “The last 6 miles … is subject to washouts and flooded creeks which can make it impassable.” I love the Kiwi understatement; I would think twice about doing this trip on a cloudy day, when getting into the park on this dead-end road was possible, but getting out after a rainfall was not.
At last we’re at the trailhead, and it’s pretty. The valley floor and mountains are impressive, the rock-strewn Matukituki River is adding a merry song, and a waterfall drops out of a mountain to complete the picture.
Initially the hike is through an almost-flat wildflower-filled meadow bordered by the Matukituki river crashing into boulders.
We cross the river over a swing bridge and begin hiking along a beautiful trail that parallels the gorgeous Rob Roy Stream. The trail is 5 miles up, and not terribly steep, but it is 5 miles up! However, hiking beside merrily singing water in a very green, very varied beech forest is a delight, as the pictures show!
We finally come out of the forest and are greeted by a spectacular view of the Rob Roy Glacier on Mt. Alta. Oh, maybe you notice the waterfall too? It’s magnificent!
We disappear into forest again, and reappear with a better view of the waterfall. The water is falling such a distance, it turns into mist at the end. We’re captivated!
Then a bit more climbing up and down on a rocky trail like the one to the left, and we come to the view shown in the two images below …. A wall of waterfalls pouring from the melting glaciers. You need to mentally paste the two images together.
The mountains and waterfalls are truly amazing. Alas, the trail ends here; we would have to bushwhack to get closer. I’d love to do that, but it would mean fording the Rob Roy Stream, slowing the earth’s rotation to get more light hours, etc.,etc., so I must be content. Below are close-up photos of the waterfalls. It’s hard to know how tall they are, but I’m guessing some of them must be hundreds of feet high.
We’re starting to lose light, so it’s time to go. As we start to hike out, I’m not quite ready to stop looking, so here are a few more views of my favorite two waterfalls.
The trail on the way back now has slanted light, and it’s as pretty as ever. Maybe prettier.
The slanting light of early evening transforms the Matukituki Valley into a play of color and shadow.
The trip out is through the cow pasture, with one cow guarding the gate. Happily, no bull is in sight. We moo a greeting and are allowed to leave.
However, it isn’t over yet! There are more pretty sights on the way out –
and hurdles to overcome.
We thought it was a gorgeous hike. Hope you liked it too.
Next post, Milford Sound!