We have had an exhausting few months house hunting in Auckland, with most of our weekends spent running around open homes or mulling over property inspection reports and mortgage documents. After a few emotional and unsuccessful attempts at house buying, I decided we needed a break from Auckland’s property market. And what better way to escape than some fresh mountain air…
Where to stay in Wanaka
I have only ever spent one day in Wanaka a few summers ago when we had a holiday in Queenstown, so I was keen to explore it in winter and check out the ski fields. I’m still honing my ski skills and Cardrona has loads of green and blue runs, which makes it perfect for learners.
I found a super cute cottage on Airbnb about ten minutes drive out of central Wanaka – a little stone house surrounded by mountain views. The perfect alpine retreat and one of the nicest Airbnb’s I’ve ever stayed in.
We couldn’t walk into town from where we were staying, but the friendly folk at Wana Taxi facilitated our food and beer explorations in central Wanaka (pretty reasonable for around $15 per journey).
The journey from Auckland to Wanaka
We flew with Air New Zealand into Queenstown, my favourite flight ever. If you’ve flown this route you know exactly what I’m talking about. It has to be up there with some of the most scenic flights in the world.
From Queenstown we rented a car with Go Rentals which was mostly hassle-free. They picked us up at the airport and took us to their car rental shop a few minutes away, and we were on the road within 15 minutes, with snow chains in the boot.
It takes about an hour to get to Wanaka from Queenstown via the Crown Range – prepare yourself for steep winding roads and sharp bends as you navigate the mountains. There are plenty of places to pull over and stop for a photo opportunity, plus one of New Zealand’s best pubs about halfway, but more on that later.
Food and drink in Wanaka
Wanaka has some rad food carts on Brownston Street, including Burrito Craft, FastFatChef (dumpling and bao) and Francesa’s pizza. We stopped in on Friday night and had to wait 30 minutes for a burrito, but it was massive and pretty damn good so we weren’t complaining. There’s an outdoor seating area where you can warm yourself up with a beer whilst you’re waiting. We also grabbed a bao and some dumplings from FastFatChef another night, which was super tasty and reasonably priced.
We asked the Airbnb host for craft beer recommendations and she suggested the Rhyme and Reason brewery, a favourite with locals, dog friendly and located away from the main streets, so it doesn’t attract the tourist crowd. I sampled most of the beers on tap before settling on a Kolsch. The staff were super friendly and keen to chat to us about their brews.
There’s nothing quite so satisfying as indulging in a wood fire pizza in a cosy Italian restaurant after a muscle aching day on the slopes. Francesca’s was another spot recommended by our host. This place was packed when we arrived (not unexpected for 8pm on a Saturday night), but we were offered seats at the bar and moved to a table shortly afterwards, where we feasted on polenta chips, kale salad and a mushroom/truffle oil pizza. Way too much for two people so we left with a doggy bag.
With Matt’s new found love of whisky, and a local distillery at the bottom of the mountain, we went on the hunt for some pre-cinema drinks. A quick Google search pointed us in the direction of Cork Bar, which has many whisky’s, intimate booths, low ambient lighting and live music. The bartender encouraged us to try some of their craft beers – they also have a pretty impressive cocktail and wine menu if beer’s not your tipple.
The Cardrona Hotel is halfway between Queenstown and Wanaka on the Crown Range Road, and is one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels. This charming building is supposedly one of the most photographed in the country and it’s not hard to see why.
Inside is a rustic pub setting with loads of historical relics, toasty open fires, and animal heads mounted on the wall. There’s also hotel accommodation out the back and some other historical buildings. It’s a great place for some après beers after you’ve been up the mountain.
They have indoor and outdoor dining spaces (including an outdoor fire pit) where they’ll serve you up some tasty comfort food. We made a pit stop here on our last day en route back to Queenstown. I had the veggie stack sandwich and a cloudy apple cider, which hit the spot nicely. The portions were huge and the food was super tasty.
Skiing in Wanaka
I rented my ski gear from SnoPro in Wanaka – a service which let’s you enter all your vital statistics online and they will deliver your boots and skis to your door, at a time that’s convenient for you, as well as collecting them once you’re done. Such a great service! Otherwise I would have been standing in line at the hire shop the first morning of skiing whilst the queues up the mountain got bigger. All my gear fit perfectly and I had not one blister or bruise at the end of our two days of skiing.
We set our alarms for 6am on our first day of skiing, and headed to the mountain via the Cardona Shop in Wanaka to pick up our two day ski passes ($220 per person for two days). Luckily the shop was empty so we were in and out within minutes. You can also grab ski passes up the mountain but be prepared to queue.
It’s a scenic 45-minute drive up the mountain to Cardona Alpine Resort. If you’re not confident driving all the way to the top, there’s a car park at the entrance where you can get a shuttle bus instead. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, conditions were not ideal; super windy and low visibility – not a great start.
We ditched our stuff in a locker, grabbed a hot drink then headed out into the snow, in hope that the skies would clear. It had been a while since I’d skied and I was feeling a bit anxious so I dusted off the cobwebs at the base whilst Matt headed off on his first run.
It didn’t take me long to find my ski legs, so I rode McDougall’s to the top of the mountain. It was freezing cold, super windy and the visibility was terrible! I slowly made my way down the slopes, not being able to see very far in front of me.
We warmed ourselves with a hot chocolate in the Base Cafe and prayed to the weather gods. Luckily, by early afternoon our prayers were answered and the sun crept through the clouds, blinding us. Amen to beautiful bluebird days.
We spent the rest of our day exploring the ski trails before hitting the outdoor Somersby bar to crash on bean bags and drink mulled wine – living the apreś dreams. The Winter Games were taking place the same weekend we were there, so we had the pleasure of watching in awe as boarders and skiers performed death defying tricks on horizontal jumps, from the comfort of a bean bag.
We got up a little later on Sunday and arrived at the mountain about 8.30am, but still managed to get parked pretty close to the base. The conditions were heaps better and the sun quickly had us sweating in our thermals.
Matt disappeared to do some more some advanced trails whilst I went off and worked on controlling myself when skiing at speed, which involved a few face plants. The Skyline was my favourite trail up the mountain, as you have endless views of the Southern Alps. There was also a spot you could park up and watch the Winter Games.
We dined out at the cafes on both days of skiing, but in retrospect I wish we had stocked up at the local New World and made packed lunches as the mountain eateries are pretty overpriced.
Other things to do in Wanaka
We grabbed dumplings and bao from the food truck and headed to Cinema Paradiso to watch BlacKkKlansman. The cinema was really cute, and had an ecletic mix of seating, from sofas, armchairs and even a Morris Minor. They have an interval (genius) where they invite you to come and get some of their homemade cookies and ice cream. Such a fun cinema experience!
On our last day in Wanaka, we headed into town and grabbed a hot drink to stroll with around the lake, which has spectacular views of the huge mountain range over looking the water. We followed the lake around to the famously hashtagged wanaka tree, which was cool, but not surprisingly surrounded by tourists.
Even with early mornings and tiring workouts on the slopes, we were fully relaxed and rejuvenated after our weekend in Wanaka, and I think I actually prefer the vibe over Queenstown. There seems to be less hussle and bussle compared to it’s neighbour.
In other news, we finally bought a house after a very tense auction, and will be relocating from the Shore to Te Atatu Peninsula this weekend!