The early morning buzz of getting ready. The resounding cries of “who stole my thermal socks” and “I can’t find my helmet” bring a smile to my face every time.
Because there is a happy excitement in the air; a frazzled camaraderie to get what we need and get out the door as quickly as possible. Why? To ski, my lovelies – to ski! And here in Lake Wanaka, the home of my heart, spring skiing is one of our most favourite things.
Snow stays late in the Lake Wanaka region and the ski resorts of Cardrona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm, are often open right through until mid-October. Crisp, clear mornings greet the early bird on blue sky days – the norm at this time of year – and warms to a comfortable temperature by the afternoon. Overnight is still cold enough for the snow makers so the runs are fresh and groomed in the morning. Hence the early morning madness! We want to get there and carve those first tracks, be the first up the lifts, stand on a mountain and feel like you’re the king of the world! For a skier, nothing beats those perfect early bird runs of pristine powder and uniform corduroy.
But there’s so much more than skiing to be had in spring. The calmer weather and warmer, longer days bring so many opportunities to get outside and enjoy our natural playground. My personal favourite afternoons in spring involve the crystal waters of Lake Wanaka or Lake Hawea, only 15 minutes’ drive away, a kayak, and the tranquillity of solitude. Kayaking really is for everyone. I started out as a nervous kayaker. It took all of ten minutes on the lake and I considered myself a pro! Far from it, of course, but the love grew from there. Slicing through glass-like skin of crystalline water, the gentle slap, splash, of my paddle, the tranquil skim across the water as you pause for a break – kayaking incorporates everything I love about living in this spectacular place. Views of the mountains, unimpeded and all mine. Peace and quiet, the distant chuckles of ducks playing near the beach drift across the smooth expanse of water and are my only companions. My perfect level of exercise, entirely up to me the speed
and effort involved. And the ability to enjoy myself my way, in my own time. A simply glorious adventure! From early September right through spring, summer and autumn Wanaka Kayaks SUP and Sail hire kayaks and stand up paddleboards from the lakefront downtown. Which, by the way, is another rather awesome thing about Wanaka – everything is so close! The ski fields are no farther away than a 40 minute drive – and that’s to the parking lot at the resort! Then you head into town, grab a bite from one of the many fantastic, relaxed and gastronomically divine cafes or takeaways, walk to the lakefront and hire a kayak! Easy! What a way to spend the day.
Even if kayaking is not your thing, there’s so much to do in Lake Wanaka, even the locals find it hard to fit everything in! What do you do when it’s the perfect day for mountain biking, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing, lying on the beach with a great book.... the list goes on and on and on!
Is it symbolic that just as the first signs of rejuvenation peek from local gardens, and decorate the trees in pink and white, the bikes and hiking boots and boats come out of
hibernation? Outdoor café tables become prized real estate and the lake’s sparkles promise an endless summer of lazy beach lunches ahead. And the views are utterly magic. The mountains are draped in glossy white snow, the lake reflects the blue, blue sky like sapphires in the sun, and the trees are shaking off their winter slumber and dressing up in pink and green. Bring your sunglasses, because spring and early summer in Lake Wanaka is a festival for the eyes! Every colour vibrates vivid and everywhere there is a sense of impending euphoria.
And then there’s the food. Fresh at the best of times, spring brings my favourite element to dining – the outdoors! Oh, how I miss eating outside throughout winter. To be fair, there are plenty of restaurants that cater for the lover of al fresco in the winter – Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and Kai Whakapai both have outdoor heaters and snuggly rugs on hand – but there’s nothing quite so divine as sitting outside with friends while the kids run wild, drinking a fine glass of local Pinot Noir and nibbling on the dish du jour!
Spring and early summer are also optimal seasons to explore Mt Aspiring National Park. The World Heritage Area is right at the doorstep of Lake Wanaka and the beauty and majesty of the park is literally surreal. Tracks beckon – my own favourite is widely called the ‘best half day walk’ in New Zealand. The Rob Roy Glacier hike is a mere two hours hike to see one of the world’s most stunning and amazing natural marvels – the ancient Rob Roy Glacier. Braided rivers in the park provide fantastic fishing as well, as my ten year old son Ethan can attest to – with fervour! Ask him about the time he won a fishing competition on the Matukituki River and you’ll be stuck in a conversation punctured with sweeping indications of “it was THIS big”!
How does one even try to get across the range of adventures to be had in Lake Wanaka in spring and early summer? Have I even mentioned the mountain biking? It’s EPIC. My first two day ride of the season went something like this…
Day One – stunning views, could see all the way from Mt Aspiring to Mt Cook. Biked technical tussockbeleaguered schist track across the tops of several peaks to get to cute rustic hut on top of the world. Ate great food supplied by local chef of impeccable taste and standards. Slept like a rock.
Day Two – woke to stunning views and a sunrise that made me cry. Took several hundred photos of sunrise. Ate breakfast. Got on bike – rather tender in parts after yesterday but extremely excited as it is downhill day! Nailed the trail like a pro – or at least fell off less than five times an hour. Got back to the truck after hours of exhilaration, jubilant whooping, and mud. High fives all round. Booked next year’s trip in advance. I think you get the picture! From skiing and snowboarding, to kayaking, hiking and mountain biking, the range of activities and down-toearth, back-to-basics, laugh-yourface-off adventures to be had in the Lake Wanaka region will truly blow your mind – if the wild beauty of the magnificent scenery doesn’t first!