Rain….rain… go away…. please DON’T come back another day! Our holiday is cold enough as it is! I wish mother nature would send us some delightful sunshine. Once you leave Arthur’s Pass, you have to keep your eyes and ears out for road closures through the mountains. Due to the rain and horrible wind storms, Haast Pass (the gateway to Wanaka) was closed after 4 p.m. We drove as far as we could, leaving us at the town of Haast Pass. The unfortunate part: our freedom camping spot was JUST past the road closure… so now we had no idea where to stay. Oh hey! There’s a ‘Top 10 Holiday Park’ here! Looks like we have no choice but to spend $38 for the night. YAY! With the powered site we were able to plug in our little electric heater! While one of us stayed in the van while our house heated up, the other went for a SHOWER! This was officially our first hot shower in over 10 days! The feeling of hot water beating down on my skin, felt like I just jumped into a bed of feathers. We also did LAUNDRY!!! It’s amazing how a hot shower and a warm van can drastically make things better. Our little humble abode suddenly felt like a suite at The Ritz Carlton. As I layed in bed wearing ONE layer of clothing (no socks) while sipping some wine and watching Patrick cook some dinner. I was in pure ecstasy! It was also quite soothing to listen to the horrendous rain and wind storm right outside. It felt as though a giant man was shaking our van. Aside from the storm, this is EXACTLY what we needed!! By morning, we were refreshed and ready to conquer this continuous rainfall, with hopes it would stop by the time we reached Wanaka! I can’t say it enough, this drive is BEAUTIFUL. For 2 hours you drive through Mt. Aspiring National Park with incredible mountainous terrain. The last hour you spend driving along Lake Wanaka. Honestly, the first time we came here, we thought Lake Wanaka was the ocean. It has an incredible blue tint to it that replicates the ocean. Not to mention the size of it! I thought “surely the lake can’t be THIS big.” Considering we are driving away from the coastline, it was pretty idiotic of us to think that. SILLY Americans!
Still pissing down, we were not sure what we wanted to do once we reached the city of Wanaka. There is always PUZZLE WORLD, which everyone and their mother said we absolutely need to do, but that did not tickle our fancy at all. That idea quickly passed. Go hiking? Nah, not after our wet fiasco in Arthur’s Pass. Have a beer? Hey why not! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and the weather is all sorts of crap! We went to ‘Speights Ale House’ (Speights is the Bud Light of New Zealand) and sipped back a malt beer. MMM.
I researched a campsite for us to stay at the first night. Guess where it was? Out in the boonies at an abandoned historic hotel! Yeah I know, I’m obsessed with these places. It was supposed to take us 25 minutes… but 25 minutes quickly turned into 45… and we were suddenly on a dark dirt/mud road on the mountainside. We drove along this sketchy road for 20 minutes or so, and arrived at a closed gate. With no DOC camping sign anywhere to be seen, we weren’t sure what to do. Open the gate…trespass on private land… potentially get stuck in the mud (with zero cell reception again). Yeah, we should probably turn around! I’m really not in the mood to get stuck again! So, thanks again to our Campermate App, we found an awesome freedom camping site in the national park. Just so happened to be next to a hiking track to Diamond Lake. Now we know how we will spend our day tomorrow!! YAY! The rain subsided long enough to light up the grill and make some food for the night. The next morning, it was raining even harder. BOO. Neither of us were in the mood for a wet hike again, so we drove back to the town and went grocery shopping. Have you ever been to ‘New World Market’ in Wanaka?? Well if you haven’t, I don’t recommend shopping here! OH MY HELL. It was like shopping for thanksgiving dinner. People are bumping into you left and right, no “excuse me”, nothing. I was going crazy!!! I needed to get out of here before I hyperventilated! Thankfully we escaped before I killed someone. We lolly gagged around the town not doing much of anything- hoping and praying the rain would just stop, but, it never did! Our third day was a drastic change. You would never guess that it had been raining for the past few days. Crystal clear blue sky day, with snow capped mountains surrounding us. It was so cloudy that we didn’t even realize that we were surrounded by these beautiful powder mountains. I think today is a GREAT day for a hike!!! So anxious and excited to get going, we packed our bags very quickly. Once you start hiking, you arrive at Diamond Lake in about ten minutes. When you continue on, you hike along the mountain ridge with dramatic views of Lake Wanaka. This is probably my second favourite hike we have done in all of New Zealand. I think you will understand why by these pictures. When we reached the top of the peak, we met a lovely couple from Christchurch. We had a nice chat with them, and then made our way back down the mountain. What I really liked about this hike, is the fact it’s a loop. I prefer hiking a loop because you are not hiking the same part all over again. The mountain ridge was warm and sunny… Where as the way back down had no sunlight. It was freezing!!!! We trekked across snow and boulders, feeling like we were on a completely different hike then we started. The whole hike takes about 2.5 hours. Very much worth it, I must say!!!
We packed up the van and headed back to the city. Since it was a picturesque day, we went on a hunt for “The Wanaka Tree”. It’s known to be the most photogenic tree in New Zealand. Perfectly set in the lake with a bony eery look to it, it’s quite mystically beautiful. Patrick walked into a hotel to ask where exactly this tree was located, and she said it was right out back. We walked down to the lake, and sure enough there was a tree in the lake, but it didn’t look like the pictures I had seen. Patrick kept saying “No this is the tree. The woman told me it was.” But I knew it wasn’t. I was very disappointed as we drove away from the lake, but suddenly I caught a glimpse of a tree out of the corner of my eye and I said “Stop! It’s over there!!” You know this is a very popular tree when they are doing an actual photo shoot in front of it! Yes, a photo shoot! Photographers were snapping away portraits of fashionable girls, right here in front of this tree! Not only that, but other fellow Wanaka Tree enthusiasts, were patiently lined up to capture this beautiful photograph. I really wanted to come here at sunrise or sunset, but I have been told by numerous people that it’s a very competitive time to come. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little bit of competition, but not when we are on a time crunch!
After our “photo shoot”, we walked around the town for quite awhile, soaking up the incredible sunshine. We stumbled upon a stand selling fresh roasted chestnuts. I had never had them, so Patrick was adamant that we buy some. We also stopped at a chocolate shop for some delicious hot chocolate. Walking around in my winter clothes, nibbling on deliciously warm chestnuts, and sipping hot chocolate, felt like the perfect winter afternoon. It was absolutely wonderful. At this point I really didn’t want to leave Wanaka… but, that bloody “time crunch” kicks in.
I get really sentimental and sad when we leave places like Wanaka, because I have no idea when we will be back here again. Although realistically five weeks in a van, in the frigid cold winter, seems like time would move very slowly, but it doesn’t. Time was already going by too fast. For me, being in New Zealand feels like coming home to your mom, with the smell of freshly baked cookies and milk waiting for you. It’s a comfortable happiness that is not easy to find, which is why I’m not ready to give up yet. Time please slow down!!!! Lucky for us, we had something VERY exciting to look forward to on our next stop. The magnificent winter wonderland of Queenstown! I get goosebumps just thinking about it! 🙂