Wanaka was my favourite town during my October 2010 trip so I was really looking forward to visiting again in April 2014. Since we were driving from Queenstown, I also wanted to stop in Arrowtown on the way as it had been a beautiful stop on my first trip. The drive between Queenstown and Wanaka follows, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and scenic highways in the entire country!
Even though Arrowtown is clearly built for tourism, it is still a quaint enjoyable town nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Arrowntown was a gold rush town that once had a population of over 7,000 people. After the bubble burst in the 1960s, the population crashed back down to less than 200 people. Even though the gold boom did not return, the entire Otaga region is so beautiful that I noticed a bit of a real estate rush developing, which seems likely to bring a lot of growth to Arrowtown and its surrounding area. The local realty office had a number of properties for sale, including a number of multi-million dollar mansions, whose price tags are also supported by the Sir Michael Hill’s Championship Golf Course (home to the New Zealand Golf Open).
When we arrived in Arrowtown, the large grass parking lot was filled with cars and campervans, showing that a large number of tourists had come out for the Arrowtown Autumn Festival, which we were unaware was happening when we planned our visit. I am not certain the Arrowtown Autumn Festival even offers much as far as special events or activities, but it certainly does draw attention to the fact that the trees of the region begin turning glorious shades of red and gold in the Autumn, making April a great time to visit.
Sara and I spent a couple of hours wandering the town, reading up on its gold mining history and checking out the many shops. The sun was shining so we had hoped to stop for a coffee at one of the cafes with picnic tables, but unfortunately it seemed like everyone else had the same idea and we were unable to find a place in the sun. After a short walk to the river we climbed back in our car and set course for Wanaka.
The scenery from the highway between Arrowtown and Wanaka is absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed the drive into town. When we arrived, it was a beautiful and sunny day so we drove straight for the public beach (rocky beach), where we could go for a walk along the lake and get some sun. Lake Wanaka seems like the perfect place to retire to me; the lake is often calm and suitable for boating, water skiing, and wakeboarding and the surrounding mountains offer hiking in the summers and skiing in the winter.
After walking some distance along the lake, Sara and I veered into Wanaka and find the Paradiso Cinema, which provided one of my best experiences on previous New Zealand trip. The Paradiso Cinema was a small, family owned movie theater, which we discovered had recently moved to a new, larger location. After finding a movie to see the next day, we walked back to the restaurants and bars along the waterfront for a snack and drink.
The bars and restaurants on Wanaka’s lakefront all looked appealing, but I was very happy when I found a bar called “Water” which stocked Boundary Road brewery beers. I ordered a pint of Bouncing Czech, a delicious hoppy beer, and Sara and I shared a plate of lamb balls for a snack. I really liked the Water Bar and imagine it is a lively place to be during the height of tourist season, but before long both Sara and I wanted a proper meal and it was late enough in the afternoon that we could check in to our accommodation.
On my previous trip to Wanaka in the Spring (October 2010), I stayed the first night in the Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park and the second night in the Aspiring Holiday Park (because the Top 10 was full). Although the Top 10 Holiday Park was quite nice, the Aspiring Holiday Park is probably the best Holiday Park I have ever stayed at due to its family run feel and wonderful facilities. The highlight for me is the kitchen area, which I understand they plan to expand in the near future. The communal kitchen area has a sitting room with tv and log fire stove, WiFi, outdoor picnic tables, and even free fresh herbs grown right outside. As an extra perk, they have two hot tubs and a sauna connected to the campground’s communal washrooms which are available for free every afternoon!
Because I loved the Aspiring Holiday Park so much during my first visit to Wanaka, I made a reservation for a double room in the “Backpacker” accommodation for Sara and I for $50 per night for my second trip. Honestly, it has to be the nicest “Backpacker” room I have ever seen. I suspect the shared house they now offer to backpackers had previously been the holiday park owner’s house. Our double room must have previously been their master bedroom as we were treated to a massive room with large closets, a queen size bed, and mountain views out of the large windows in two of the walls. We even had our own sliding doors opening to the large balcony in the back. I suspect they consider it backpacker accommodation since the kitchen, living room, and washrooms are shared, but it was a nice enough place that I could happily live there! I highly recommend the Aspiring Holiday Park and encourage you to check it out if you go to Wanaka (http://www.campervanpark.co.nz/)
Because our accommodation in Wanaka was so amazing, we actually spent a lot of time just enjoying the views from the holiday park and relaxing. The first afternoon we cooked a delicious meal in the kitchen, relaxed and caught up on work in the sitting room, had a wonderful hot tub and sauna, and then drank beers and discussed our travels with the other backpackers from Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands who were also staying in the backpacker house. Because there were clear skies, Sara and I also spent time on the backpacker house’s deck gazing at the incredible stars.
The next day we had intended to go for a hike on the Rob Roy track or to Roy’s Peak but since the clouds appeared to be forecasting rain, we decided to take it easy and work on our laptops while enjoying the amazing views from our Backpacker house. We cooked a wonderful lunch in the Aspiring Holiday Park’s great kitchen and went for another relaxing hot tub.
We had planned to see a movie at the Paradiso cinema at 10pm so at 9:30pm we drove into town to buy our tickets and order dinner (which they will serve within the theater). I was worried when we arrived as there was a large line of people purchasing tickets and could not believe it when we found out the queue was for the next day’s shows! Apparently they sell out far in advance and we should have bought our tickets the day before. I was extremely disappointed at this since the Paradiso theater was one of the highlights from my previous trip to New Zealand, but Sara cheered me up when she suggested dinner and beers elsewhere.
We walked back to the waterfront and found a restaurant that was still open for dinner. Since it was 10pm on a weeknight during the fall off season there was only one other couple dining, but I spied a delicious rack of BBQ pork ribs on their table and immediately knew what I was having. I also ordered a Moteith’s Red Celtic beer which was pretty good and took the edge off the fact we missed our movie. The other couple had ordered a sampler paddle of Monteith’s and were nice enough to leave a couple on our table on their way out for our dessert. I am not a huge Moteith’s fan, but their Red Celtic and Dark Beer were their best offerings that I tried during the trip.
Despite the fact we did not do much while in Wanaka, I still absolutely love the area. The scenery in the area is unbelievable, the Aspiring Holiday Park and our backpacker accommodation was wonderful, and the town of Wanaka is the perfect size town for me. I would really like to return again one day and stay for an extended period to get a true feel for Wanaka and its surrounding area.