Wanaka, New Zealand. Sometimes I hate typing the comma after a place-name, especially ‘Wanaka’ As far as I know there is only one Wanaka, but I insert the comma for clarity. I also use the comma, and insert New Zealand because I didn’t really know about Wanaka until I was there. If I didn’t know then I presume many others won’t know either.

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It’s at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and serves as the base camp for the Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka has the tangible excitement of most resort towns, but it is still quaint and laid back. The town is part of the Queenstown-LakesDistrict and is often overlooked due to the proximity of the hugely famous Queenstown. If some people overlook Wanaka then I underlooked Queenstown. To underlook, is not a word as far as I know, but let me explain further.

One of my main reservations about New Zealand was the number of ‘adventure tourists’. I imagined really loud people with crass manners and a wardrobe similar to that of the old ‘Pepsi Max’ adverts. A common sight is white people with dreadlocks – which I’ve never been sure of. They spend so much time and energy seeking out carefully controlled fun, that they often forget there is an unfranchised world of excitement beyond the buses and bungee cords. I’ve never trusted manufactured fun. I believe fun is a spontaneous feeling which is driven by s state of mind and can exist in the most mundane places. If you have to travel from the UK or the Midwest to find fun then I think you need to have a long hard look at your life. A famous and venerated Zen Monk once said to me (whist tutting despairingly)

‘The only fun you find at a fun fair is that which you bring within yourself.’

Adrenaline junkies are genuinely hooked on their drug of choice. I would like to say ‘literally’ hooked but I don’t have enough science to back that up.

“Have you done a bungee jump? Really? I did two at the same time, in the dark, into a pit of cobras.”

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Adrenaline tourism is great for the economy of New Zealand. However, after working two jobs and having to cope with adrenaline numpties for too long I decided that Queenstown was not for me. I read about Wanaka being a smaller and quieter version of Queenstown, so I stayed there instead. I was happy, not just with the town and surrounding scenery; I was also happy with the demographic who chose to stay there. I met a few people who had underlooked Queenstown to get somewhere more relaxing. I only passed through Queenstown briefly so I cannot really comment upon the place. What I can say, is that Wanaka was one of the unexpected gems of New Zealand’s South Island.

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My pleasant hostel opened out to a lawn which ambled down to the Lake. I decided in Wanaka that promenades and waterfronts are nice but Lakeside proms are much nicer. The breeze is gentle and you don’t get salt and sand trapped between your toes all the time. The town has all the tourist infrastructure you would need for both seasons, you can ski here too! I was mainly interested in doing some hiking but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the bus and I didn’t have enough time to do a multiday hike. In the end, I opted to go to Roy’s Peak to get a good view of the Lake and some of the bigger mountains. I walked along the road to Roy’s Peak which was interesting in the sense of seeing how people live outside the tourist centre. However, I strongly recommend not walking unless you plan on going round the lake; I was pretty tired upon reaching the start of the trail.

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This part of New Zealand was exactly what I had imagined. There were straw coloured grasses and turquoise lakes. The mountains unfolded as if they had just been laid by the god of terraforming. I had my back to the view while walking, so when I eventually reached the peak I felt very happy with the last vista. My only regret was not being organized enough to re plan and stay longer in this mountain paradise. Despite my creeping envy of everyone who passed me to continue hiking, I had one of my most memorable days here. I needed the rest, not just from working, but from others. Depending on your personality type, hiking can be a great escape from all of life’s distractions. Looking back I think I was always fond of hiking and walking but my experience in Wanaka started me on a gentle quest to always walk to the top of any nearby peak. This has reached a point where if I don’t walk a serious length each week I feel genuinely down. Mountains, lakes and forests always restore my humours, none more so than Wanaka.

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