Wanaka Mini-Break

Wanaka is one of those places that just has it all. I visited Wanaka over a bank holiday weekend in late September 2017 and I loved it so much, that by the end of my stay, I had booked a return mini-break in early November.

Where is Wanaka?

Wanaka is an hour’s drive from Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand and is truly one of the most scenic places I have ever visited.  The town itself is set around Lake Wanaka,  New Zealand’s fourth-largest freshwater lake.  Even the drive from Queenstown over the Crown Ranges is stunning.

Activities

Walking

The obvious thing to do in Wanaka is ski with two good ski areas, Treble Cone and Cardrona, but notwithstanding that skiing is one of my biggest passions, I opted for more passive pursuits on my two trips.  In addition to just relaxing by the fire, I also enjoyed some lovely walks.  There are a lot of good walking tracks in the area including easy tracks along the edges of Lake Wanaka.

If glaciers are more your thing, then you can drive to the start of Rob Roy Glacier which can be reached via Rob Roy Track.  The carpark at the start of the Rob Roy Track is about an hour’s drive from Wanaka which includes 30 kilometres of unsealed road.  Rob Roy Track itself is 10 kilometres and depending on your level of fitness, can take up to 4 hours to navigate.  An easier option is to experience the glacier via helicopter.  There are a number of helicopter operators that can do glacier landings.  Disappointingly, I did not get out in a helicopter during either stay but this will on the list for next time.

Fly-fishing

There is also good fly fishing in the area which Husband enjoyed immensely but he was extremely lucky to be with a bestie who knows the area well but for the less fortunate, I would recommend arranging a guide.  There are a lot of fly-fishing guides that operate in the area but they tend to book up early so make sure you secure your guide before you arrive.  Your accommodation should be able to recommend a guide.  You will also need a fishing licence which you can buy on-line and be aware of the fly-fishing season for each waterway.  Information on applicable seasons is set out in the fact file below.  If you go fly-fishing early in the season, then you are likely to encounter a bit of traffic from fellow anglers so in addition to a professional guide, I would also recommend heli-fishing as you can be dropped into more remote areas.

Wineries

Wanaka is located in the Central Otago wine region which most famously produces cool climate pinot noir.  There are a few wineries in the immediate vicinity of Wanaka but others are a bit further afield.  What we did and something that I would recommend, is to stop at Amisfield Winery enroute to Wanaka.  It is about 10-15 minutes from Queenstown Airport.  They have a bistro which is open 7 days between 11:30am to 8:00pm and bookings are a must.  If you do miss out which we did, you can always enjoy a cheese platter and glass of wine (or bottle) in the garden.

The Central Otago wineries are quite spread out which was really surprising.  There are wine tour operators based in Wanaka that you can use but you may also consider taking State Highway 6 on your return trip to Queenstown.  This will take you through Cromwell, Bannockburn and Gibbston where most of the wineries are located.

My pick of wineries is Rippon in Wanaka which produces fairly good wines but go there just for the setting.  The winery is the most stunning winery I have ever visited with the vines sloping down to the edge of Lake Wanaka.  Unfortunately, they only have a cellar door but in the summer, it would be good to enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of wine.  I also liked this tiny organic producer called Aurum located in Cromwell.  Their pinots are to die for and their cellar door is set in a gorgeous cottage garden.  Gibbston Valley Wines, although highly commercial, have good pinots and although it irks me to pay for a tasting, it is worth paying the NZD$15.00 for their premium pinot range.  Gibbston Valley Wines also have a restaurant but my pick would be to eat at Amisfield as it is a classier establishment and just 10 minutes down the road.

One of the other places that I absolutely loved was the Distillery in Cardrona.  They produce a gin, a vodka and an orange liqueur.  They also offer a 75-90 minute tour which includes tasting which may be interesting to some but I like the immediate surrounds and in winter, they have a very welcome open fire where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and muffin.  Their raspberry and white chocolate muffins are to die for.

Horse riding and quad-biking

There are a few horse riding and quad-biking operators.  We went horse riding with Cardrona Horses.  We opted for a morning 2 hour ride through a Merino sheep station which was really relaxing.  They have other rides including a 3.5 hour tour which stops off at the Cardrona Hotel.

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Stay

On both trips, I stayed at Waiorau Homestead located in Cardrona which I could not rate highly enough.  Cardrona is a 20 minute drive from Wanaka.   Waiorau Homestead is like a home away from home.  Just think of incredible scenery, well appointed comfortable rooms, roaring fire, great food and amazing hosts.

Waiorau Homestead is run by Blyth Adams and Ann Lockhart.  Blyth and Ann are a wealth of information on the local area and can provide dining and activity suggestions.  Waiorau Homestead is a good base if you are skiing at Cardrona as it is located at the base of the ski park.  It so happened that it was Guy Fawkes night on my trip with Husband and Ann and Blyth indulged us by allowing Husband and I to light fireworks on their front lawn.

If money is no option and you are a mad keen fly fisher, then I would recommend staying at Minaret Alpine Station Lodge.  I personally have not stayed there but along my travels at other high-end lodges, guests have raved about this place.  It is only accessible by helicopter and the big attraction is the heli-fishing.

Eat

Blyth is a trained chef and in addition to a full gourmet breakfast, Blyth and Ann offer a three course dinner. Every opportunity that Blyth gave me to enjoy his cooking I eagerly took up as he produces the most scrumptous meals.  I have never tasted roast potatoes like Blyth’s.  We also enjoyed the Cardrona Hotel which is a couple of minutes’ drive away.  The pub meals were the best I have ever eaten and they had a well stocked cellar comprising a good seletion of New Zealand wines.  On both occasions, I ate the beef rib eye with Paris butter and hand-cut chips.  Blyth and Ann also gave us a few other dining suggestions for Wanaka but we were happy to eat in-house or at the pub.  If I was going to eat in Wanaka, I would try Kika which gets good reviews on Trip Advisor.

Across the road from the Cardrona Hotel is the General Store which is relatively new and they do lovely sandwiches, sweet treats, scones and coffee.  I quite enjoyed sitting outside in their chairs enjoying the spring sunshine.

We had a lateish return flight to Melbourne.  So I wanted to try Rata in Queenstown for a late lunch / early dinner.  There is nothing on their website to give you any indication, but their kitchen closes at 3pm for lunch.  I was quite disappointed to have missed out but I will be better prepared next time.  Also, I had booked Rata for dinner on my first trip thinking that we could do an early dinner and then drive to Wanaka.  We ended up cancelling as it is not really that safe to be driving from Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Ranges at night in early spring.

Fact file:

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