27 – 29 March 2010, New Zealand
Traveling down the west coast, we logged a lot of kilometers in a short amount of time. We were tired of driving and needed a place to kick back for a few days. Wanaka, situated at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and surrounded by the Southern Alps, proved to be a perfect place to do just that.
We arrived at our hostel in Wanaka after another day of driving through gorgeous scenery in the Haast Pass. Joining us on our road trip were two French hitchhikers that we picked up just outside of Fox Glacier. Standing in the pouring rain for three hours, they were thrilled that we stopped for them. It was fun to share their excitement as we stopped at a number of roadside waterfalls and one random roadside attraction that felt like a tribute to the travelers that had come before us. As we rounded a bend in the road, markers made of rocks and sticks began to appear out of the mist. We stepped out of the car to take a closer look and saw that visitors from all over the globe had written their names, hometown and date of their visit on these markers that seemed to go on for miles. It was ironic to see that someone from Madison had passed by earlier that same day.
Arriving in Wanaka, we cooked some food and settled in for a comfortable night at one of the nicest hostels we had stayed at thus far. We felt particularly spoiled since our room had its own attached bathroom. Backpacker luxury = private bathroom. Looking out over the lake from the common area, we patted ourselves on the back for deciding to temporarily put the road trip on hold and spend three nights in this idyllic location.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we loaded up our daypacks with lunch, rain jackets and plenty of water before paying a visit to the local Department of Conservation (DOC) office. Similar to National Park Visitor Centers in the United States, rangers at the DOC have a wealth of information about nearby hiking (or tramping as the Kiwis say). After speaking with them, we decided to hike the Rob Roy Valley Track known for its stunning scenery, glacier views and many waterfalls.
Like many popular, accessible hikes in New Zealand, this one had its fair share of people on the trail but it wasn’t crowded enough to take away from the tranquility of the experience. The first part of the hike took us across a swing bridge and upward through beech forest and alpine vegetation. After reaching the top, we were rewarded with views of the Rob Roy Glacier. We tried to photograph this stunning landscape but it was difficult to capture due to the sun’s position and the expansiveness of the views. After giving up, we absorbed our surroundings over a picnic lunch and then headed back down to the trailhead.
Although the sun was shining the next morning, we still opted to spend the day indoors at a couple of Wanaka’s unique attractions. Our first stop was Puzzling World, famous for its 3D maze and numerous optical illusion rooms. Happy to have an excuse to act like kids, we raced through the maze, finishing it in about 40 minutes. We then visited the optical illusion rooms, one of which left us feeling a bit motion sick so we headed into the puzzle room for some challenging entertainment.
Once our brains no longer ached, we visited the Toy and Transport Museum. After a few minutes exploring we decided that a more apt moniker might be the “Stuff that Guys Like Museum”. We browsed through hundreds of display cases of vintage toys then headed outside to find 4 hangars packed absolutely full of cars, trucks, motorcycles, fire trucks, airplanes and construction equipment. This was not the type of museum that most people imagine when they think of museums. Most of the items on display were not labeled, many were covered in dust and the vast majority looked like they had simply been parked haphazardly throughout the space. One of the museum’s two employees informed us that everything on display had come from someone’s personal collection. Apparently, the owner has a bit of an obsession for things with engines and he purchased most of the items at auctions. As you can imagine, Jason was in heaven. He probably could’ve spent hours wandering through the crowded hangars but someone must have been watching over me that day; we only had 90 minutes to wander around before the museum shut its doors for the day.
Our last night in Wanaka passed by too quickly as we mapped out our route for the rest of New Zealand and began to discuss plans for our next destination, the Philippines. The next morning we woke early so that I would have time for a quick run around the lake before heading further south and back towards the coast to the region known as Fiordland.