By Gayle Dickson

The South Island is world famous for its alpine scenery and pristine lakes. Wanaka, in my opinion, clarifies that honour in so many ways. It’s been a number of years between visits, so my anticipation on the flight into Queenstown left me almost as breathless as the picture of the snow-capped ranges that lay spread out like softly ruffled white icing.

Although it’s only a short and beautifully scenic drive over the Crown Range from Queenstown, I fear that Wanaka is often forgotten by locals who head south. Not so the A-Listers and numerous visitors from far flung lands. They head here in droves, and it’s not hard to see why. Wanaka offers that perfect blend of adventure, romance, family fun and time for that simple, yet often misplaced, luxury … relaxation.

Don’t be misled though; just because the A-List come to town doesn’t mean everything is outrageously over-priced. There are quite a number of backpacker lodges that offer budget accommodation, as well as luxury retreats and everything in between.

The adventure activities encompass all seasons. In winter you can ski on-piste, off-piste or cross country. You can snowboard, toboggan, take a chopper to the top of the mountains or learn how to ice drive. In summer, there’s fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking, hikes and trails on foot or by bike. There’s adrenalin, too, in the form of jet boats, skydiving, paragliding, acrobatic plane rides and more. 

After a day of adventure and exploration, there’s nothing like a good place to bed down for the night, whether that means an air-conditioned room and welcoming swimming pool in the heat of summer, or a roaring log fire and central heating in the grips of winter.

There’s certainly something for every taste, lifestyle and preference in Wanaka. Backpacker rates start from as little as $20 a day while holiday homes range anywhere from the lower end of three figures to in excess of $1,000 a night. There are motels, bred and breakfast, hotels and holiday parks.

Maple Lodge – a purpose-built B+B on the outskirts of town heading to the airport, Bernie and Paul are gracious hosts. It’s homely, yet modern. Set amidst acres of maple tree plantings, there’s a sense of peace, and only having 7 rooms ensures there’s no overcrowding. The outdoor Jacuzzi is just the spot to while away an early evening. Rates: $195-$335 www.maplelodgewanaka.co.nz



Lime Tree Lodge – also located on the airport road, this luxurious offering nestles in landscaped gardens and uninterrupted mountain views. Sally and Rebecca pride themselves on attentive service. Their passion for culinary delights is evidenced by their gourmet breakfasts and dinners featuring the finest local produce. Four suites keeps things intimate. Rates: $350-$650 (exclusive use available) www.limetreelodge.co.nz

Release Private Retreat – architecturally designed with views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, and just a short drive from the centre of town. Come with the family, business colleagues or just your beau; this house is made for entertaining, relaxing and feeling pampered. Rate: $1,250 for exclusive use – enquire about their packages for various adventures www.releasenz.com

The Edgewater – this 4-star hotel has a commanding lakeside position. Stroll across the lawn to the water’s edge for a leisurely walk or to feed the ducks. One bedroom suites and two bedroom apartments offer a good blend for couples or families, and Sargoods restaurant serves contemporary meals at reasonable prices.Rates: $300-$525 www.edgewater.co.nz

Cardrona Hotel – in the rolling hills of the Cardrona Valley lies New Zealand’s oldest hotel. Steeped in history, there’s a rustic charm that can’t be found anywhere else. Thick-planked wooden floors, a collection of artifacts and memorabilia to rival a museum, and hosts who are as genial and welcoming as I’ve ever come across. Hearty meals, a great pub atmosphere and 16 well-appointed ensuite rooms make this a treasure trove of hospitality. Rates: $135-$185 www.cardronahotel.co.nz

Grand Mercure Oakridge Resort – this 4.5 star property’s heated rock pools and seven hot tubs make it an ideal winter retreat. There’s also a lap pool, gymnasium, sauna and day spa. There’s a combination of rooms and apartments, many offering interleading access for larger family groups. Even the studio apartment offers a home entertainment system, full kitchen and laundry facilities, ensuite and private patio.Rates: $125 – $430 www.oakridge.co.nz

The Lookout Lodge – with accommodation for 18, this is the ideal family reunion or corporate getaway setting. Spacious rooms, each one offering stunning views, a great room that will cope with any festivity you can throw at it and a kitchen that will handle the knocks of kids or professional chefs. Farmland, manicured lawns and native plantings sit harmoniously side-by-side in this casual homestead environment. Rates: $145 www.thelookout.co.nz

For more information on Wanaka – www.lakewanaka.co.nz