Sunday dawns bright.
We walked aimlessly along the grassy edge of Wanaka, New Zealand. We are stopped by the caricatured challenge to which a teenager had undertaken. “Win 50 or 100 dollars” entices the poster. The participant clings as best she can to the flexible plastic ladder.
To the surprise of the game's dynamizer, he overcomes his whims and leaves with one of the disputed notes, strolling through the kind of flea market and, at the same time, the garage that takes place all around.
Wanaka is distracted as he can and with little. Situated just 70km away, Queenstown is New Zealand's adrenaline capital. He hasn't rested a second for decades. Instead, most of Wanaka's inhabitants pride themselves on the bucolic peace they've grown accustomed to worshiping, and share a certain terror at the prospect of their village becoming like its neighbor.
Until the date we passed through there, there was no fast food in Wanaka, nor did hordes of teenage strangers arrive with the almost sole purpose of bungee jumping or any other such radicalism. The most extreme practice in these parts is skiing and snowboarding, even so, a good distance from the village.
From Maori Origin to Kiwi Favorite Shelter
The origin of the name Wanaka comes from the corruption of Oanaka, “Anaka's Place”, Anaka was one of the first Maori chiefs in this area. The village, on the other hand, resembles so many others in the vast domain of Southern Alps of New Zealand.
It appears in the vicinity of snowy mountains, on the idyllic shores of lakes fed by melting ice. Its look, however, has something special. And if it wasn't just the setting, the wine and gastronomic culture and the community profile would always make a good difference.
People from the land know each other and greet each other in an affable manner whenever they are on the street or in an establishment. More than mere greeting, residents engage in frequent outdoor activities and pastimes. In this way, they see a stronger feeling for each other and, more importantly, the solidarity that helps them to overcome difficult moments in their lives.
But those who live in Wanaka were not necessarily born there. Migrants arrive fed up with the heartless, cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Auckland, the nation's great city. They move from Wellington, the much more restrained capital. They come from Christchurch that earthquakes insist on ravaging, from Queenstown, the mecca of extreme sports and even from European or North American countries.
As soon as they settle in, the new residents are infected by the self-love of the place. They come to revere and praise him in every coffee conversation, between residents or with passing visitors.
On the edge of a breathtaking lake of the same name
As part of the last category, we marvel at every step we take around the blue lake Wanaka, with the snow-capped peaks that jut beyond its opposite shore and the verdant hillocks that help make them stand out.
We go inside the houses, mostly made of wood, along the alluvial and verdant plain of the lake, between its sand of small washed pebbles and a sample of mountain range almost clean of both vegetation and snow. We don't come across ostentatious homes.
In good kiwi fashion, everything stays as down-to-earth as possible. When faced with the unavoidable question of what to do to support themselves, several residents limited themselves to activating the organic creativity that proliferates among New Zealanders: a certain family opened a lavender farm.
A group of friends opened a craft beer bar, which is mandatory today. A couple accompany visitors down a river on a paddle board. A lady who collected old Citroën cars, started to take people who were more enthusiastic about wine to the local wineries.
Toward the Dazzling Heights of Mount Aspiring
Several hikers and climbers guide expeditions through the surrounding valleys and mountains. After all, we are in the middle of Mount Aspiring National Park, part of you Wahipounamu, a UNESCO World Heritage stronghold covering more than 3500 km2 of the South West of the South Island.
Not being New Zealand's supreme peak – title held by Aoraki/Mount Cook which rises to 3724m, Mount Aspiring, is by far the most emblematic in the area. Seduces the fans of Great Outdoors to memorable hikes and climbs. We couldn't resist the first modality.
We leave the village very early, the sun still struggling to get rid of the double blockage of mountains and morning clouds. We skirt the lake shore. We enter a succession of huge green meadows dotted with sheep, in canyons carved by the prehistoric slide of glaciers and, at intervals, in pockets of southern forest and the cold.
The asphalt quickly gives way to the gravel and imposing backdrops of Rob Roy Valley, named in honor of Scottish hero Rob Roy MacGregor, who has been revisited over and over again by Hollywood, including by the box office hit starring Liam Neeson.
Along Matukituki Flow
We follow a road that advances side by side with the Matukituki River and subjects us to as many or more meanders as the river. But it's not just the curves. The narrow way goes up and down in its entirety and almost makes us feel at sea.
As if that wasn't enough, from time to time, we come across large traffic signs that display “FORD”. After each one of them, we subject ourselves to crossing a stream, all of them, luckily, at that time, shallow.
In times of sparse rains, Matukituki also flows less, away from the torrent generated by the melting that intensifies with the increase in spring temperatures.
It didn't take long to cross a herd of cows moving in the middle of the bed, guided by kiwi cowboys supported by an old pick-up truck.
But animal transit does not stop there. On the other side of the Matukituki, half camouflaged in the dry grass of the slope, a herd of sheep advances autonomously in a long line and in the opposite direction to the cattle, the same one in which we were moving.
Finally, we arrived at the Raspberry Creek parking lot and left the car. We inaugurated, there, a glorious path along the edge of the Southern Alps, towards some of its renowned mountains: Pico Rob Roy, Mount Avalanch and, seen in the distance, the culminating Mount Aspiring.
The trail quickly makes its way to the first slopes and inclines. Consequently, Matukituki narrows and flows in fast mode. On a suspension bridge that opens onto a hillside and a shadowy beech forest, we cross the river and meet a couple of trampers.
Up the Slope of Peak Rob Roy Above
On the opposite bank, we climb a good climb and sweat a good sweat. We marvel at the purity of the landscape of those islands in the South Pacific. ok, one of ten endemic New Zealand parrots that, at almost half a meter in adulthood, we see flitting above the treetops.
Another stream, that of Rob Roy Creek, descends furiously from the heights. It skirts huge boulders lined with thick, velvety moss. It runs in an almost emerald green, no longer in the milky white of the Matukituki to which, at the height of the suspension bridge, it had surrendered.
When we think we're alone, left to Nature, we come to a tight elbow of the road and two cross-country runners almost drag us down the slope. Athletes reach the bridge in a flash. We, crawled up Rob Roy's rivulet.
Before long, we reach a point halfway up the slope that, at last, frees us from the dismal undergrowth. The clearing catches us with the unexpected sight of the glacier that feeds the stream and gives it its name. But a mist makes the ice diffuse and, from time to time, hides the peak overlooking the glacier.
Only two hours had elapsed since the start of the trek, but its last stretch pointed to the sky called for a decent rest. For now, taking our time, we take the snacks out of our backpacks and improvise a picnic. As soon as we open the repast, pitch-black clouds from behind the mountains ambush us.
Confident that trouble is going to set us up, we rearrange our backpacks and make our way back to the car, just in time to avoid most of the deluge. We complete a semi-amphibian return to the village. We ate something more substantial on a terrace and planned a quick passage through Cardrona.
The Puzzling Word and Cardrona Gold Legacy Puzzling Games
Along the way, we let ourselves be intrigued by the “Puzzle World” location, a simple theme park full of puzzles and illusions of everyday life or science.
Cardrona doesn't take long. We can identify it by the yellow and red façade of its old roadside hotel, built in 1860, in the middle of the gold rush of this southern region of New Zealand, when several villages competed for the status of greater prosperity in the then British colony.
There was Arrowtown in the vicinity of Queenstown; Otago further to the southeast, the coast of the Gulf of Hauraki on the North Island, and the Cardrona we were approaching, among others. Today, in Cardrona little more remains of this golden heyday than history and the hotel. Cardrona itself is home to a small ski resort, humble compared to Treble Cone, the most reputable on the South Island.
Whether it's snow or hot, scenes like kiwis require aerial views. Accordingly, the more affluent New Zealanders maintain a national passion for light aircraft and scenic flights. It didn't take long to discover that, again, Wanaka goes further.
The Aero-Reverence of the South Island of New Zealand
It houses a New Zealand Fighter Pilots museum that features elegant Hawker Hurricanes, Havilland Vampires and Chipmunks. We visit it. At the airfield, we ended up chatting with Will, a Classic Flights pilot dressed in a thick leather jacket, glasses and a cap, as the name suggests, all in keeping with the classic aviation era.
Will is about to take off for a test flight. There's a vacant seat. In good New Zealand fashion, he barely knows us but, out of nowhere, he asks us if one of us wants to accompany him.
We still hesitate, but there are several conditions and mitigations that we are forced to consider: we had a stay booked for that night, in distant Dunedin and the inns in the downunder do not forgive delays. In this visit to the kiwi nation alone, we had already flown three times over the indescribable scenery of the Southern Alps.
Finally, we didn't know if we wanted to trust the old engine of that baked museum relic. We still watched Will's noisy take-off. Confirming the waste of the aerial experience, we pointed via road to the southeastern edge of New Zealand.