An hour from Queenstown, you will find its younger, smaller, more softly-spoken, equally attractive brother, Wanaka.
Its more famous sibling can be too hectic for some and Wanaka is the perfect antidote. That’s not to say it’s dull. Far from it. There’s barrel loads of fun to be had – mostly involving descending at great speed.
From skydiving to skiing to canyoning to flying in a war plane, we sent a bunch of writers to check out the ways of getting high, and then hurtling back down again…
Why, oh why can’t I keep my mouth shut? You know that kid at school who always put his hand up first, but never knew the answer? Well, that was me.
The worst thing is, I haven’t changed. Bedecked in helmet, wet suit and large cushion-nappy thing, I’m standing at the top of a 12m waterfall.
“Right,” says Alister, our guide, “we can abseil down this waterfall, or…” he adds, with a challenging twinkle in his
eye, “you can jump.”
My head says, “Jump? I’d rather extract my teeth with a shotgun.” But my arm is in the air and my mouth has made some noises that sound very much like, “Yeah, okay then.”
Everyone else has abseiled down and is staring up at me with looks that say, “he’s going to chicken out. Or become
a lump of jelly.”
I had to jump soon – bungy jumping has taught me that time is the enemy of courage. So I shut my eyes and step out…
Fear factor conquered, along with Alister and a young doctor called Chloe (if a doctor’s doing it, it must be safe, right?), we jumped from another five ridiculously high ledges into swirling black pools. Canyoning is sensational and exhausting fun.
Full-day canyoning with Deep Canyon costs from $240, deepcanyon.co.nz
With a skydive, you’re not really thinking about the vistas so much – more about whether you’ll live or die.
I find myself sitting on the edge of an aeroplane with my legs dangling out of the door. Someone said “smile” and pointed to a camera. I did the opposite. And we were gone…
A backward somersault. Then down, down, down… and I realise I’m screaming. Not in panic, but in sheer, unadulterated… whatever it is.
Forty seconds later the parachute pops open and it feels like being shot back upwards. We drift for another four glorious minutes towards the safety of terra firma.
Definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
Tandem jumps with Skydive Lake Wanaka cost from $329, skydivewanaka.com
Flying in a war plane
Arguably the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape of Lake Wanaka is by air, and from a Tigermoth Bi-plane ZK-ALJ, no less; flown in service for the first time in 1941 as a military trainer.
I’m flying with Classic Flights and I have to admit I look the part: dressed in a warm leather and sheepskin jacket and Biggles-style goggles. Seeing the hand on the altitude dial move to the right as the wind blows in your face is a thrill that not many experience, especially not with a background of snow-dusted mountains, streaks of clouds and a sunshine haze that sheers off the mountains surrounding the turquoise lake.
Peter, the pilot and owner, tells me how grown men often sob as they reminisce, but even without memories it is an emotional experience, as the beauty of the vista is heightened by the exhilaration of flying in such a nostalgic vehicle. Indeed, back in the hangar, you can even read letters that reveal a personal side to the events that these wartime planes were part of. Reading them is as heartwarming as it is breaking. Flying among these clouds in these wings over Lake Wanaka is a privilege indeed.
Flights with Classic Flights cost from $249, classicflights.co.nz
Skiing and snowboarding
Wanaka is surrounded by gorgeous peaks which, come winter, are sprinkled with snow by Mother Nature – or blasted with the manufactured stuff. Either way, they make for some of the best skifields in the world.
Cardrona is a great mountain for the average skier or boarder but it’s especially good for those who want to try their hand at freestyle stuff, with four halfpipes and two terrain parks full of jumps and rails.
I came out worse for wear but felt I had pushed myself that little extra because Cardrona’s technical courses have a smooth learning curve. With wide open spaces, there are also plenty of lines to be had on a powder day.
Then there’s Treble Cone, where it’s not unusual to see blue skies above and a foot-and-a half of snow beneath your toes – perfect conditions to fall all over the place as you try to find your mountain legs again. TC to the cool kids, this mountain has excellent terrain, especially off-piste action. Be prepared to have your lungs explode from the crisp yet almost non-existent air.
There are runs for all levels of snow lovers, with a quaint chalet for the hot chocolate afterwards. There’s even a new Jazz Fun Park full of rails and jumps.
Cardrona, $101 for a day, with discounted packages available down to $90pd for five days. cardrona.com
Treble Cone, $106 for a day, with discounted packages available down to $90pd for five days. treblecone.com
For more information visit lakewanaka.co.nz