Wanaka is that quiet mountain town set way up beyond anything. Small, but large enough to retire to, to have schools and kids and a regular way of being. The roads are mostly without traffic, the climate is mellow, pleasantly dry. And while I”m sure there are tourists everywhere, they aren’t quite as present here. In Wanaka, where there isn’t a mountain towering over you,there is a cool lake or river sitting cool and clear under you.
And for this one moment after days of driving there is no movement, no rush. We’re here for a minute to explore the area deeper.
Here, though, the locals get angry in the way only New Zealander’s get angry. A Chinese tourist completely blows through a round-about and proceeds to park in a no-parking area.
“I just oughta call the police on you,” the witnessing Kiwi shouts. “You didn’t pay attention to anyone else through that roundabout.” The Chinese man begs to not have the police summoned – he’s here with his family, no need for the trouble.” “You just could have really hurt someone, you know?” The Kiwi says – his tone turns to concern. “You’ve got your whole family in the car – who knows how that could have turned out.”
The scene resolves without a climax. No outrage here, not today.
That night after dinner we settle in early with Kiwi news on the TV, laundry in the free washer, some writing on the B&B deck that looks over Lake Wanaka and an early sunset hiding behind the towering mountains.
In the morning we get in a van with a trailer with a half dozen others to be shuttled out to Mount Aspiring park. We’re simply on our way to view the Rob Roy Glacier, take in a hike, but getting to the trailhead requires something of a journey. Guidebooks say to not brave this road in a rental (and I’m 90% sure our rental agreement says to NOT take the Yaris through this area). Even still, the mid-90s Toyota van we’re all piled into might not be any better. The road takes us west out of Wanaka and deep into the national park. On every side of us on the valley floor are herds of sheep grazing. Periodically we ford through a small creek – definitely too much for the Yaris, maybe too much for a van. The driver, a heavy smoker, doesn’t seem to care much. He’ll drive this road seven more times today.
It’s a relatively short hike up some steep hills to the Rob Roy glacier lookout area. About 4km each way and the whole time everything around you just towers. Other hikers are a mix of aged foreigners slightly out of shape, folks like us, and the power hikers that speed through the trails with 60 pounds of belongings neatly packed onto their packs. From the glacier, the runoff flows down the floor of the gully, creating rivers, pools and waterfalls of an intense aquamarine blue. At the lookout area we pick a spot on the rock fields to take in a quick lunch of fruit and peanut butter and marvel at the size of the geology in front of us. I take photos, but there is no justice to the experience. Eons of glacier over us, and a mere cell phone to try and capture it with. Over us the glacier cracks and slides under the weight of itself. Each movement like a gunshot through the park. We try to find what is breaking, what is collapsing but it is just too massive – it could be anywhere.
On the second night we wander the town of Wanaka. On the lake shore people lay out like a beach. Kayaks and SUPs launch out into the chilly, glacial waters. We sit on a patio with beers and a motorcycle club, fully dressed in leathers, tattoos and sunburns pull up on their noisy bikes. Later we’d see them pulled over by the police on the side of the road. Later still we’d read photo essays about the violent motorcycle clubs of New Zealand – modern, combatant evolutions of the traditional Maori tribes.
Tomorrow is a short drive – from Wanaka to Queenstown. It’s an hour if you take your time, fortunately there is a lot to see and do from one town to the next.
Read On: Cardrona