Wanaka & Arrowtown
Lake and mountain jewels of the South.
Wanaka and Arrowtown – two contenders for the crown of Aotearoa’s prettiest town – sit within 50 minutes’ drive of each other, among the types of landscapes that whip wedding planners and filmmakers into a lather.
Both towns are also focused on being the host with the most. All your needs are catered for: there’s a range of accommodation, boutique shopping (knitwear is a speciality) and plenty of options for food, wine and the caffeine fix to fuel your day.
Hugging the curves of its glacier-carved lake, Wanaka is the perfect base for exploring Mt Aspiring National Park, where you can walk, hike or bike your way around pristine rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains.
Winter shrouds the peaks with snow for superlative skiing and snowboarding, but adventure still beckons year-round with the likes of canyoning, climbing, jetboating, skydiving and fishing. Let a helicopter do some of the grunt work – dropping you off at around 2000m above sea level for some serious mountain biking on a number of New Zealand’s highest bike trails. Via ferrata – a series of fixed iron steps supported by a safety cable – also allows climbers of all abilities to scale rock faces with ease.
Back in town, sample the local fare, such as merino lamb, ice cream (two home-grown brands!), artisan bread, beer and wine.
Wanaka’s unique attractions aren’t all nature-based. Get lost in a maze at Puzzling World, revel in the wonders of one of the world’s largest private collections at the National Toy & Transport Museum, and learn about legendary Warbirds Over Wanaka founder Sir Tim Wallis at the Warbirds and Wheels Museum.
The drive over the Crown Range from Wanaka to Arrowtown is an adventure in itself. It’s the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121m. Allow time to stop and admire the spectacular views – and kea – and to relax at the historic Cardrona Hotel.
Like Wanaka, Arrowtown is a great base for exploring the local history and landscape. The settlement sprang up in the 1860s after gold was discovered in the area. (You can still pan for gold, and it’s worth a crack – in 2006, a Southland man snorkelling in the Arrow River discovered a gold nugget worth $15,000.)
You half expect to hear the clipclop of hooves as you meander down picturesque Buckingham St, where a cluster of restored commercial buildings opens out to a broad avenue lined with trees and quaint miners’ cottages. The Lakes District Museum has a great exhibit on life in a goldmining town, as well as illuminating the area’s earlier Maori history.
There are walking tracks alongside the Arrow River, where you’ll find the remains of the Chinese miners’ settlement, last inhabited in 1928. Bring your tramping gear to tackle the likes of the three-day Motatapu Track, part of which is used for a back- country marathon.
The town boasts three golf courses: Millbrook Resort and The Hills, which co-host the New Zealand Open, and the Arrowtown Golf Club. All three boast magnificent scenery to enjoy between shots.