Wanaka, New Zealand in 35 Photos

I first met Liz in Spain when I presented at a workshop for travel bloggers. She sat next to me at dinner, her eyes bright, her hair long and blond and distracting; she would curl it around her fingers when she talked animatedly, explaining her plans for her site and her work. This was in 2012, and I was starting to get into public speaking, conquering the overpowering fear of getting onstage and trying to teach something of value despite feeling like I wanted to throw up. At the time, Liz was resolutely working toward the goal of building up an audience for her teaching in Spain website, and was taking the workshop in order to learn more about how to do so more efficiently.

In the years that followed we stayed in touch, and I watched as Liz went from teaching in Spain to travelling, to exploring New Zealand, to getting a long-term visa there and making Wanaka her home. Along the way, she built a huge and vibrant community around her expansive posts, the long photoessays and how tos, and — it has to be said — the occasional rant that got her into hot water. One thing was certain from her writing and photos: she loved her New Zealand, and she wanted everyone to experience it as she did.

To that end, when I visited the South Island, fresh off my traumatic learning to sail extravaganza that reminded me why conquering your fears with extreme immersion is not always the best idea, Liz put me in touch with Carla at the Lake Wanaka tourism board, and together they built a package of activities to showcase their beloved part of the country. There were plane rides in WWII planes, eco-adventures, and boat trips along the river.

Carla knew that I was obsessed with trees (I have a Pinterest board called Trees that Look Like Broccoli for a reason), and ensured that I stayed at a guesthouse right in front of the famous lone Wanaka Tree, right at the edge of the lake and photogenic in any light.

The activities are ones Liz and others have written about, but the WWII plane ride in Tiger Moths truly stood out, as my grandpa used to fly them in the war. It felt surreal and quite jarring to be in the front of one of those planes and their minimal controls, imagining how terrifying it must have been for him to be doing so not over a gorgeous lake in the middle of New Zealand, but in battle.

The following are a series of photos from my time visiting Lake Wanaka. Unlike most of my travels these were all provided by the Lake Wanaka tourism board and their partners, meaning that I did not pay for the activities.

I hope you enjoy the photoessay!

Photoessay from Wanaka, New Zealand

new zealand in the fall
The best part about a March road trip in New Zealand: fall foliage! This on the drive from Christchurch to Wanaka

 

Lake wanaka
View of Lake Wanaka on the night I arrived. Late afternoon light, beautiful view.

 

Lake wanaka ducks
The first few nights in town I stayed at Wanaka Homestead, a cosy B&B right next to Lake Wanaka. It meant getting up early to get a glimpse of the lone Wanaka tree at dawn, but also ample opportunity to get to know some of the region’s very pushy ducks.

 

Skydive wanaka
I have jumped out of planes many a time before, but never turn down an opportunity to do so again. I can’t scuba dive due to an inner ear disorder, so planes were my option on the diving front! This was with Skydive Wanaka, and they included photos from a GoPro so I could share what I saw from high up above the lake.

 

skydive wanaka
The view as we took off.

 

skydiving lake wanaka
The faces you make at 10,000 feet.

 

skydive wanaka
I call this one “eyelashes over Lake Wanaka”

 

wanaka river journeys
While the weather wasn’t terrific, it added extra dramatic tone during my first activity – a boating adventure with Wanaka River Journeys. The trip took us through the World Heritage Mount Aspiring National Park and locations from the Lord of The Rings films along the waters of the Matukituki River. What I DIDN’T realize prior to the trip was that the jet boats do 360 degree spins, and careen across the corners, stopping suddenly and splashing passengers with water. A great adventure for those who love water but if you tend toward sea sickness you might want to take some dramamine ahead of time!
wanaka river journeys
As part of the river journey we got out of the boat and walked into the forest at the edge of the river to see waterfalls and learn more about the surrounding trees and plants — and lack of birds, since they have been preyed upon by possums and stoats.

 

wanaka
Fall colours in the grass around Mount Aspiring National Park.

 

wanaka tree
Regardless of activity, I would get up in the early morning to stumble down to That Wanaka tree before coffee, its reflection different with every visit.

 

wanaka sunrise
The sunrises weren’t so bad either.

 

lake wanaka tree
And again just before dawn. Easily one of the best parts of visiting Lake Wanaka, at least if you’re tree-obsessed like me.

 

Lime tree lodge
From the Homestead I moved to Lime Tree Lodge, a boutique guesthouse not far from the airport and run by the incredible John and Pauline, who host guests on their property. They immediately invited me to check out the lay of the land…

 

lime tree lodge
.. which happily involved FEEDING A LAMB WITH A BOTTLE. (Note, the bottle is full of milk, despite it looking like a beer bottle. No beer was given to the lamb, I swear.)

 

lime tree lodge
The rest of John & Pauline’s sheep: less excited about the lamb feeding that was going on.

 

wanaka
Breakfast at Lime Tree Lodge: fresh eggs, yoghurt, fruit, and more.

 

eco wanaka adventures
Among the boat trips was one with Eco Wanaka Adventures, led by the incomparable Chris Riley, shown here looking for grubs to feed a Weka bird. The trip brought us to Mou Waho Island nature reserve, which is a predator–free island and home to the Buff Weka, one of New Zealand’s iconic flightless birds. The Weka were extinct on the mainland since 1920 but have repopulated this island thanks to the tireless work of conservationists like Chris, and are omnivores who are curious and charismatic to watch hopping around foraging for food with their long curved beaks.

 

boat ride to mou waho
On the boat ride to the island conservation park, cloudy with breaks of sun.

 

mou waho island conservation park
Mou Waho enjoys special protection by the New Zealand Department of Conservation — it’s been classified as a scientific reserve, as well as conservation. Because of its relative distance from the mainland, the island has been cleared of non-endemic pests like stoats or rats or possums, pests which usually prey on the Weta and other birds in New Zealand. It’s a rare ‘safe zone’ for native birds to live. Also: IT’S GORGEOUS.

 

mountain weta
In which Chris finds a Weta for us. This is a stone mountain weta from the South Island, one of the rarest wildlife specimens a traveler can see. This crazy invertebrate can freeze during winter months, in temperature of -10C, and then come back to life when the spring thaw begins. If any other animal tried the same it would die. It’s no surprise that scientists are researching how it is that the cold doesn’t cause internal trauma, and instead the weta goes into a strange state of suspended existence, waiting for spring. And so crazy looking to. Very glad to have seen one with my own two eyes.
eco wanaka adventures
This is what happens when a tour group unexpectedly finds a cicada that is way out of season: photo shoot.

 

mou waho island new zealand
The beautiful view from Mou Waho island.

 

eco wanaka adventures tree planting
Every nature walk with the company includes planting of a tree — they’re already providing food to the species on the island, and were a really nice way to end the nature walk on the island.

 

mou waho island
A great view from Mou Waho island. The name actually means outer island, and it is a scenic reserve and conservation area for predator-free wildlife. It used to be covered by a glacier some 15,000 years ago, which excavated the lake bed and smoothed hilly terrain in its path. The nearest lake in the photo is Arethusa Pool, located near the highest point of the island, which also has these teeny islands in it. So each of those islands are islands in a lake, on an island in a lake, on an island in the ocean. My brain.

 

classic flights wanaka
As I said in the intro, one of the best parts about my time in Wanaka was flying in a Tiger Moth with Classic Flights, the same planes my grandpa flew in WWII.

 

classic flights wanaka
I flew in the white Tiger Moth, which made for even better snaps of the yellow plane against the landscape.

 

tiger moth flight wanaka
I’m sure you are unsurprised to know that I did not want this ride to stop. So beautiful.

 

tiger moth flight wanaka
Looping back toward Wanaka

 

fall in wanaka
After a few days of adventure, Liz too me for a wander to her favourite stream on a beautiful fall day.

 

wanaka plans
Those of you who were reading last year when I went to NZ know I had a small obsession with plants. I loved the symmetry of these ones in the golden late afternoon light.

 

Wanaka swimming
It doesn’t get much more picturesque than this.

 

lake wanaka view from the shore
View from the shores of Lake Wanaka, eating tacos and elote with Liz on a sunny afternoon.

 

mushrooms
How can you not look at these and think of Super Mario Bros?

It’s hard to believe how much was packed into 5 days in Wanaka, not including the many meals and great conversations with Liz and Carla. Growing up on the east coast of Canada, with much smaller mountain than the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and no turquoise waters or lakes within lakes within lakes like Mou Wapo has on offer, I found my time in the region pretty damn wondrous.

I wanted to end on nostalgia. After years of travel that kind of wistful affection is something I struggle with. I used to think that everyone felt as I did, leaving pieces of myself in places that I visit. I realize now, after many long discussions with fellow wanderers, that it’s not the case for all of us. Many do feel similarly, but many simply move on. In my brain, however, I create this diorama of places and feelings, and drag some of it with me wherever I go.

In the case of Wanaka, what stood out was not just the landscapes and the flowers and the great conservation efforts, but also that feeling of being in a Tiger Month and being able to imagine only a small part of what my grandfather must have felt and gone through. He met my grandmother during the war, and proposed to her on that very day — it was, as he always said, love at first sight. Us grandkids have heard this story time and time again, and it always brings us joy. But at least for a moment I felt like I was even more transported into that memory, despite being in Southern New Zealand, flying over a very different landscape.

wanaka scenic flight
And I couldn’t resist making this photo sepia. Post flight happy Jodi!

Though ideally I would have done what Liz did – plonk myself down and get to exploring for months on end – I only had five days. So I am grateful for Liz and Carla and all the businesses mentioned here for planning out my schedule for me and covering costs, and ensuring that I sampled some of what Wanaka has to showcase as their own.

Currently in NYC and heading to Toronto next, followed by family time in Montreal.

-Jodi

 

62 thoughts on “Wanaka, New Zealand in 35 Photos”

  1. Jodi! This is incredible!! Wow! I absolutely love all the photos, especially of the old plane and you.. I will be in New Zealand for a month or more starting January. I would love to jump out of a plane (yet again) and take in all that beauty. This is an inspiring piece, I bookmarked it, so I can day dream about New Zealand ) What an authentic experience you had… I’d love to feed the lamb too… only tried milking a cow once (unsuccessfully) .. Let There Always Be A Road…

  2. Great *sponsored* post. Maybe you could make that more apparent instead of burying it, with a qualification — ‘unlike most of my travels, etc etc’ — in the middle.

    1. Hi Yulin, sent you a note to this email address but it seems like you used a fake one – not very useful! Taking one trip of comped travel per year is enough to put you off the site? So be it. You’re welcome to read other blogs :) I’ve always noted on my about page and in my writing that I don’t take sponsored posts or links (that is, people paying me to link to their products or services) but I do occasionally — in this case once this year — take a press trip. This post is reflective of that policy, and I made sure to put the note about it being a press trip BEFORE the photoessay began. I’d hardly call that burying the lede.

    2. That was fantastic. I am from Wanaka, living in Perth….just nice to see home and Chris Riley (haha!) Yulin, what difference does it make… it DOESN’T CHANGE THE OUTSTANDING LANDSCAPES OF WANAKA!
      My home. So proud. Thanks!

  3. De'Jav Speller

    Wanaka was one of the many beauties of NZ. It was one of my favorite places I spent 35 days traveling around which wasn’t enough in May & June. Flying a plane was one of my highlights when up in the air the views of the mountains and lake. Definitely want to return during warmer season to do more camping.

  4. Such great photographs Jodi and if you’re ever going to fly over an amazing stretch of landscape and sea, it would have to be that of New Zealand. I really like the black and white photo with you standing in front of the Tiger Moth. Your grandfather would be proud!
    p.s. Liz is a great girl and I really enjoy her blog too LOL!

  5. These photos are absolutely gorgeous. I love the ones of the Wanaka Tree. They definitely make me want to head back to New Zealand and explore it some more! I found that there’s such a special kind of light there. I’m from the Lake District in NW England, and although the landscape is often similar, the light in NZ is somehow brighter, the views somehow bigger. I absolutely loved it. Would love to see it from the seat of a WWII plane, though!

  6. Courtney Jones

    Feeding a lamb with a bottle, oh my goodness cute! Gorgeous photos – NZ is such a beautiful place!

  7. Jodi, a very sincere Thank you
    Outstanding article, love the
    Pictures. Especially you and
    The plane

  8. I grew up in New Zealand (though I live in India) and have always been so fascinated with Wanaka!

    Looks so serene, I’d love to go there during the airshows!

  9. Stephen Gradijan

    Re the waterfalls pic:

    “and lack of birds, since they have been preyed upon by possums and stoats.” Aw poop (so to speak), a lack of birds to terrorize the Canadian. What a shame….

    P.S. I haven’t the slightest idea what a stoat is, but I like them. :)

    Alternative caption(s) for the photo with all the sheep:

    1) You lookin’ at us? You lookin’ at us? We’re the only sheep here, you lookin’ at us? [With apologies to Robert DeNiro]

    2) Did we pass the audition for the horror movie?

    3) So you’re a Canadian woman, eh? You look like a little girl. How old are you, really? You are Thai sized. Tell me the truth, did your parents feed you growing up?

    Thanks for the photos of NZ.

  10. beautiful pictures, jodi! wanaka looks like a place everyone needs to see in their lifetime. and my favourite was definitely the one of you feeding the lamb :)
    xx

  11. It must have felt very surreal to be there on a day that is such a huge part of your Grandpa’s history, and the photos from the plane look beautiful! xo

  12. Peter A (peter eh?)

    Just back from a few days opening a cottage with a friend in sunny Georgian Bay in Ontario which I’ve always considered one of the heights of spectacular visual splendour; my word – until I saw the astounding visual triumphs of your photgraphs of Lake Wanaka. Taberwhit! And a lake on an island in a lake – ma vielle tante colline da bean.

    Apologies – enough gushing – two quick questions – You mention that you’re coming to Toronto: you doing a gig here? Can we get a ticket still? Secundo – please would you consider doing a vignette somewhere down the line – oh I don’t know – when it’s Rainy Season, you have a cold, can think of nothing to write about, and are confined to quarters – could you do a vignette on the grandparents of the Tiger Moth and the instant propsal? The little revealed left me desperate for more…. Wanaka was simply stunning, thank you

    oh – one more silly query – that excellent tree right onto and beyond the edge of the shore – how the dickens does it survive erosion when a bit of a breeze kicks up from across the Lake? – adams

    1. This was a great comment. Thank you.

      1) Yes, I’ll have a Toronto meetup. It will be 5 August, location TBD. I’ll post it on the Facebook page for Legal Nomads, and will mention in the next post I do before the meetup. Hope to meet you there!

      2) According to Liz, the tree demarcates an old fence post, so it is supported by the post itself.

      3) I will happily write out that crazy story for you!

  13. I love this. It makes me miss NZ so much. I only spent one night, and a couple of hours, in Wanaka, but it is gorgeous. Thank you for sharing this and so much of yourself.

  14. Great photos! Wanaka looks really, really beautiful. I’m in Auckland at the moment on a working holiday visa. Trying to save a bit so I can travel my way down South ASAP. This got me even more excited :P Thanks!

  15. Beautifully done photo essay. I like the things you did and the way you experienced it. Now I want to visit NZ even sooner. Thank you for sharing!!

  16. Wow, I have been in Wanaka 5 years ago in late summer and nothing of its stunning beauty has changed! Only I had nearly forgotten how great it was until I saw your pictures – and everything came back in an instant. Great photos and inspiring site – I am a lawyer myself, never really clicking with the profession yet and always wondering if there is something more…

  17. Travis Longmore

    I LOVE Wanaka! I was in NZ for a couple of weeks recently and had the Lone Tree down on my list to shoot and that was all. I ended up staying an extra 3 days and exploring the place. It’s more touristy than I realised and had way more to do than I knew. I love your photos! Takes me back :)

    1. Thanks Travis. It definitely has many tourists – I understand why, it’s just so pretty! But the landscape never felt overrun by them, and with so much to show there was so much to keep me busy. :)

  18. Beautiful pictures. We spent eight hours in Auckland on a long layover and while we can say we’ve ‘been’ to New Zealand, clearly we haven’t – not properly. I can’t wait to go back and explore it properly. One could probably spend eight months there and still have places to see.

  19. You have an amazing way eye for photography and I love the way you told your stories in your blog!
    I’m glad I found your blog; I’m still reading but they make me want to get on that plane as soon as possible (especially this one on NZ!)

    I am impressed with your story, and don’t let anyone judge you for taking any sponsored or press trips.
    (I don’t do a lot of sponsored posts either and if I do, it’s selective because my blog is about me)

    It is your life, your style; do what you want, you are already great with it! :-)
    I mean it, I really love your blog!

    1. Thanks Christy! I don’t take more than one or two a year but the point is that I’m always transparent – and thought I was here too! I’m glad that you like the site and I hope you continue to enjoy reading it.

  20. A good read and nice photos, thanks for sharing your experience from New Zealand, Jodi.
    We explored NZ by hitchhiking all around for 2 months at the beginning of this year. Even if we had travelled a lot before, we were astonished by the incredible beauty of New Zealand. We loved mainly the South Island and explored also the beautiful Lake Wanaka and found Lake Hawea close by- absolutely loved it!

    Happy travels!

    Veru&Petra

  21. Wow, your photos are so vivid that they transport me to Wanaka. I’ve never been and I’ve never heard of it until now and I”m now including it on my bucket list. Thank you!

  22. These are really amazing pictures. I adore them, and I really want to live this experience. How did you manage to make the lake take this creamy smooth look? I’d appreciate it if I could know the photography equipment you used (camera, lenses, filters, etc). Also, how could you have your picture taken while in sky? Am I going to have these photos in the commercial flight package? Thank you so much in advance!

  23. Hi Jodi
    what camera do you use for your travel photography? Maybe you write a post sharing what’s in your bag?
    Cheers
    Piotr

  24. Jesse Richheimer

    New Zealand looks more picturesque than any other country in the world! The dramatic scenery of mountains and rivers make it a destination for any adventurous traveler! Skydiving in New Zealand is on my bucket list– maybe I’ll be able to check it off very soon!

  25. Jodi I absolutely love your blog! (I found you on reddit of all places)

    Can I ask, do you crop all of your photos to be the same dimensions/width so that they all line up?

    1. Hi there William – welcome! I don’t crop them at all, they’re linked from my online gallery at Smugmug, and I just embed the sizing I want (usually 620px across).

  26. I LOVED New Zealand. I’m convinced it’s the most beautiful place on earth. It has so much to offer that few man-made things can compare. Nourishing food, clean clothing, a good friend — all we need.

  27. Wow…. what a superb pics. These all are best & amazing pics that I have have seen in a post. Nature, Landscape, Peoples, Animals, Art everything superb capture in beautiful frames.

  28. The photographs are breath-taking. You have some serious talent here. I think I’ll definitely put New Zealand on my bucket list. This is such an interesting way to showcase a place.

  29. Hi Jodi! I am a lawyer myself and have been following you for years now. I just got back from New Zealand and also spent 3 days in Wanaka. The photos in this post are quite amazing and it made me miss it. I especially love the sailing one – the weather was too tough for any sailing activities during my stay but still beautiful.

  30. The photos are just breathtaking that invites me to be there as soon as possible. It was nice reading about your experiences too.

  31. I can’t stop looking. These photos are brilliant. Amazing views. It’s definitely worth going there.

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