New Zealand Days 6-7: Wanaka

After our full day of hiking in Aoraki / Mount Cook, we were ready for… more hiking!  We spent 2 days in Wanaka exhausting ourselves in pursuit of gorgeous views.

Rocky Mountain Summit Trail

Our first stop was Rocky Mountain Summit Trail, a 3-hour return hike (or tramp, as they call them in New Zealand!).  At the very beginning of the trail, we had the cool experience of watching a farmer direct his dogs to herd his sheep.  We then passed Diamond Lake and went up through some shaded and some open areas.

Eventually, we reached the branch between the Eastern and Western tracks.  We chose the Eastern track, which is a bit harder but includes a viewpoint of Lake Wānaka.  We were glad that we did, as Tommy thinks that the viewpoint is his favorite viewpoint in all 33 countries that we’ve travelled to!  He especially liked it because it looked like the perfect city for both wakeboarding and snowboarding.  I agreed that it was a pretty fantastic sight, but Zhangjiajie or Patagonia might have it beat in my book. 

After the scenic overlook, we continued up to the summit.  I actually preferred this to the viewpoint because you could see snowcapped mountains way out, more mountains in various levels of light in the middle, and vividly green rolling hills closest to us.

On the way down, we took the Western track, which had some very nice plants and rocks, but definitely less crazy views than the Eastern track.

That Wanaka Tree

After our hike, we wanted to see That Wanaka Tree.  Despite some trial and tribulation with Google Maps, we found it!  It was smaller than we had both expected, but still cool.  There was a small crowd gathered taking photos.  It reminded us of the reflecting pool at Angkor Wat – I am guessing that at sunrise and sunset the tree has many more people trying to get their perfect shot!

For dinner, we had some delicious fried chicken from the food truck Firebird that we ate out on the little patio at our AirBnB.  Little patios are very popular in New Zealand!

Roys Peak

We only had one goal for our second day in Wanaka: hike Roys Peak.  This is a 6-hour return hike that we had read described as “difficult,” “challenging,” and even “grueling.”  We seriously debated whether or not we were up for it, as we were both a bit sore from the previous two days’ hikes, but had heard so much about it that we decided to go for it.  We made it up and down, but felt pretty dead by the end of it! 

The entire trail is basically a steady incline up an unshaded gravel track.  The views of the lake were pretty, but mostly unchanging.  There was some variety in vegetation and we occasionally saw some sheep and cows.  We also watched our cars get smaller and smaller.  One of the more interesting parts was watching the occasional RUNNER!  A surprising number of people are crazy enough to jog to the top, and even crazier is that we saw one guy jog up and back not once but TWICE while we were hiking.  Some other hikers told us that a woman we saw was on her THIRD consecutive run up and down.  Insane!

Our first moment of real excitement was making it to the main viewpoint, which we reached after about 2.5 hours.  This is the famous spot that most people take their photos.  There was a little line for photos when we were there, but not too bad at all.  It was truly gorgeous! 

After our lunch and photo break here, we had to choose whether or not to hike to the actual summit, which would be another 30 minutes up.  One person at the famous viewpoint told us that the views from the summit weren’t really any better, but I figured if we were so close, we might as well push ourselves a little further.  Sorry, Tommy!  Having now done it, I am glad that we did go all the way to the summit, but mostly for personal fulfillment.  The views were nice, but honestly probably not really any better than the popular viewpoint.

Another interesting thing about Roys Peak – it’s not uncommon for people to hike up and paraglide down! But for us, without the gift of flight, the way back down took about 2 hours and was definitely demoralizing. It was warmer and we didn’t have crazy views to look forward to any more.  We were probably also getting a bit dehydrated at this point.  Regardless, we made it!  We treated ourselves to smoothies, seafood baskets, and much-needed showers, then took it easy the rest of the night.

That’s all from Wanaka!  Up next – Te Anau and Fiordland National Park!

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