Of adventure and peace

Wanaka is an idyllic little lakeside town in New Zealand that offers some lovely views and adrenalin-rush packed skydives
Angad Sodhi

The beauty of travelling lies in going off the beaten path. Everybody speaks of Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland when it comes to New Zealand, but very few know about the hidden gem that is Wanaka, an idyllic little lakeside town, in South Island.

The fields surrounding Wanaka are a gorgeous patchwork of hues of green, yellow and brown
The fields surrounding Wanaka are a gorgeous patchwork of hues of green, yellow and brown 

Located, a 45-minute drive from Queenstown lies Lake Wanaka. And on its shore, lies the sleepy little town of Oanaka (Maori for 'the place of Anaka, who was a Maori chief of lore), or as it is now known Wanaka. With a local population of around 6,000, Wanaka is a resort town, where people come to ski, do water sports, hike and relax.

The lakefront, which is the centre of all activity in Wanaka, consists of a lone pier, an information centre in a log cabin on the shore, a handful of small (but expensive) bars and restaurants. And a picture-postcard view of a sparkling, calm blue lake against a backdrop of stark brown mountains with an occasional cap of snow and surrounded by trees in different shades of green and yellow in the gentle summer sun.

Even though the neighbouring Queenstown boasts of being the adventure sports capital of the world, Wanaka is the place if you're thinking of sky diving. Wanaka Skydive is located at the picturesque Wanaka airport (it is really nothing more than an airstrip in the middle of a lush green field) just a couple of minutesí drive from the town centre.

Puzzling World isn't just for kids. It has an amazing maze and illusions. A tilted house is another attraction there
Puzzling World isn't just for kids. It has an amazing maze and illusions. A tilted house is another attraction there

When you skydive in Wanaka you get the best of many worlds. Thereís the snow-covered Southern Alps on one side and the sprawling Lake Wanaka on another. River Clutha flows below while the rest of the view is one gorgeous patchwork quilt of hues of green, yellow and brown, which are essentially the fields surrounding Wanaka.

After the full-of adrenalin-skydive, thereís plenty of peace and quiet in Wanaka. One can spend the afternoon sipping a cold beer sitting on the shores of the lake or take a leisurely walk up the gentle slopes of the lower hills surrounding the town. New Zealandís South Island is home to some of the finest craft brews in the world. The Wasp (a delicious honey-flavoured beer), Brewski, a few Ginger Jerrys are some brands that canít be found outside of the South Island

A great place to spend an afternoon in Wanaka is the Puzzling World. And it isn't just for kids. It has an amazing maze and the illusions that will blow you away. There is also the tilted house, where everything seems like its sloping, but it really isn't.

Another highly recommended Wanaka leisure experience is watching a film at Cinema Paradiso. It is a quaint little cinema, with its comfortable couches, a yellow Morris Minor vintage car parked in the cinema hall and the best chocolate cookies in the world. Just the kind of place to spend a quiet romantic evening.

And that is really the kind of pace that suits a sleepy little place like Wanaka. One can take a long walk on the pebble beach, or a leisurely swim across to the little floating platform located around 50 metres into the lake, where you can spend a few hours just basking in the sun. And in the evening, one can go to one of the many public barbeques along the lakefront and grill a nice, juicy steak or some sausages, pop open a local wine that one can purchase from any of the vineyards on the drive to Wanaka from Queenstown and just watch the sky go from an azure blue to a salmon pink which slowly fades into a star-filled night.

On the other hand, if you're not the one to appreciate beautiful sunsets over a placid lake and are still looking for a thrill, take a walk down to the lone pier in Wanaka (there are private ones outside peopleís million-dollar homes, but this is the only publicly accessible one on the lakefront) where you'll see a green speedboat (or jet boat as the Kiwis refer to it). Ask the boatman at the nearby 'i-site' and he'll take you on a spin down the Clutha river, which originates from Lake Wanaka. You'll see a rush of greens and yellows on either side as you fly past the trees that line the river's bank And when, after doing a 360-degree spin on the river, the boat slows down cross the narrow bit of river in that gorgeous place, you just sit back to savour a little azure paradise.

What to do
Skydive from 15,000 feet; ride a jet boat down the Clutha River to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand; Go on a hike along any of the numerous walking trails in the hills surrounding Wanaka.

Where to stay Budget travellers can pitch tents on fields adjoining any of the holiday parks along the lake; Families can choose to rent a cottage off www.lakewanaka.co.nz;X-Base backpackers is the best place to stay if you're on a budget.

Where to eat Buy supplies from the nearest supermarket and have a barbecue on one of the public grills by the lake; Spice Room for Indian food; the Botswana Butchery; The Wanaka Ale House on the waterfront for desserts.