If there’s one thing I’ve learned about seeing new towns while bike touring, it’s to never judge them on my first impression of them. Even if I get to town fed, happy, and not completely exhausted, I still tend to not fall in love with a place at first glance. It generally takes a sleep or two.
Wanaka was no different. On arrival, it was busy, it was touristy, and while it did have a big a beautiful lake surrounded by big mountains, I was a little bit Meh.
We’d been off the main tourist track for the better part of two weeks, and it was a little bit of shock to get back to a destination town. But now that we’ve learned the official rules of free camping, complements of a hut warden and some in-depth internet sleuthing, finding a free campsite that we felt good about was easy. Free is good.
In the morning, we stashed our stuff in the bushes and headed back to Wanaka for coffee and scones. This place is amazing!
It’s fairly small and definitely a vacation destination, both for international visitors and Kiwis, but it’s not as in-your-face as Queenstown. It’s also a lot smaller. But still, you have the lake, a real grocery store, some outdoor shops, really good coffee, a library, and mountains in all directions. It seems like people come through on their way to Queenstown, take some pictures, eat some food, and then keep going.
And there are mountain bikers and trail runners everywhere. Uber-fits, old people, young people, families. And people here have dogs. We’ve met very few people in NZ who have non-working dogs.
To start our visit off right (after coffee and scones, of course), we rode bike trails over to the base of Roys Peak, a giant mountain towering over Wanaka. Based on the number of people in the parking lot, it’s a super-popular trail.
And for good reason. The mountain rises 4,000 feet straight up, giving commanding views of Aspiring National Park, Lake Wanaka, and all the way back to the Dunston Mountains from where we’d come. Lots of people hiking, lots of people running. It made me miss running.
We pretty much couldn’t stop ooohing and ahhhing, which is a fairly common theme here in NZ.
And down, reminding me that I’d forgotten to trim my toenails before starting up. Ouch.
Then back to Wanaka to enjoy a lovely bottle of cider down by the beach. Cider here is dirt cheap, as in $4 NZD ($3USD) for a big bottle, and pretty much delicious.
The pedal back to our campsite was 45 minutes on backroads and trails where we sat on our bench and watched the sun set behind the mountains.
I could get used to this Wanaka place.