Jetboating + Wine + Puzzles = A Day in Wanaka

Wednesday 30 December 2009

That's us on the Clutha River!

That's us on the Clutha River!

My dear cousin S lives in Wanaka, an hour away from Queenstown. W, V & I decide to make the trip to visit her and one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka. We left Queenstown early in the morning on the Southern Link with a bus half full of backpackers and tourists all heading up towards Christchurch. The bus ride up to Wanaka was better than most. Our driver gave us a commentary of Central Otago. He showed us ruins of makeshift houses old gold miners built in almost shanty towns, hastily erected during the gold rush. There used to be over hundreds of small towns with anywhere from hundreds of people, shops and even a local post office to a couple of small shacks and a small community of families that had ventured further from the main towns to find gold in obscure places along rivers in Otago, the Shotover River, in particular.

We passed through Gibbston Valley, an area famous for its vineyards besides being incredibly small. Gibbston is only about 10km long and not particularly wide, housing around 10 vineyards. And yet the area is so perfect for Rieslings, Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs that it is making a name for itself not only in New Zealand but also internationally. The area has good soil and water for these grapes and does not rain often, but when it does, it dumps rain all over the vineyards which helps them grow fantastic grapes for wine. I also found out Queenstown and the surrounding area is very susceptible to landslides and being snowed in. During winter, the snow and rain can become so heavy, that Queenstown gets cut off. In 1999, there was a lot of snow fall and the town was snowed in for 2 weeks I believe. In 2008 there was also a landslide about 10 storeys high threatening to block the Shotover River.

We also passed by Cromwell which is well-known for its fruits. Nobody knows why. Cromwell doesn’t look special or any different to the surrounding towns. But the fruits, especially cherries, are supposed to be amazing.

Anyway, two hours later, we finally arrive in Wanaka (though can’t complain considering some folks had an 8 hour ride up to Christchurch). We go to the i-Site (government-sponsored information centers in every big town in NZ where you can find travel information) and hit up my cousin S and plan the rest of our day. Everybody is very friendly in Wanaka. The pace feels much more relaxed compared to Queenstown. And Lake Wanaka is quite a sight to see. I understand why people visit this town.

Lake Wanaka

The lake looks crystal blue under the sun even though the wind was howling and water was choppy. There were billowy puffs of clouds in the baby blue sky. Mountains lie far in the distance on the other side of the lake and tall green trees flank left and right of the lake. In some ways the water and surroundings look even more tranquil than Lake Wakatipu without buildings nearby and man-made objects in the water to distract you.

Within an hour, W, V and I are on the water. We booked a trip on a jet boat down the Clutha River, the second longest river in New Zealand, which flows into Lake Wanaka (it was too choppy to go out to Lake Wanaka).

W & me

Our skipper promised us 45 minutes of jet boating with 360º turns and dangerous manoeuvres.

And what a beautiful river to do it in. The Clutha River was so clear we could see down about 1.5m deep and through the water spotting the trout and other fish swimming through the river.

5 knots zone in Clutha River. Boats can't go faster so they don't disrupt fish spawning in the water

As we travelled down the river, we saw old gold mine remains including a huge, rusty axel in the water that used to be attached to a cog about 1.5m in circumference (I told you, huge!) which was all part of a machine used to pound and break up huge rocks to pan for gold.  The scenery down the river was amazing too. The banks became higher and higher as the river got closer to the ocean; some where as high as 800m.

Super high bank on Clutha River

Then came the best bit. We did some crazy turns going at about 200 km/h on the jet boat. We spun around a couple of times and then swerved upstream. The jet boat, invented by a kiwi Sir William Hamilton, the boat doesn’t see a propeller. Instead it uses a pump-jet to suck water in from the bottom, shoots it out in the back, propelling the boat forward. It only needs about 100-150ml of water to run and can practically fly upstream.

Jet boat

It was so fun getting wet and sliding back and forth on the seat clinging to the rail until my knuckles went white to stop myself from flinging off the boat (no seatbelts of course)!


After the jet boat ride, we decided to walk along the Lake and enjoy the scenery.

We trekked a short distance along the lake and headed towards a vineyard. There were lovely trees in a reserve right next to the lake. After climbing up to the top of the hill, found a long row of beautiful (and expensive!) houses with the best view I’ve ever seen.

Nice backyard!

Finally we made it to the vineyard. A sweet and slightly sour smell filled my nostrils as I saw the 100 rows of green grapes. We practically ran into the little store to see what precious wines they had waiting for us. I sampled everyone of them finally settling on the Riesling 2008 as my favourite. Sitting down and enjoying a glass of wine watching the life in the vineyard with the backdrop of Lake Wanaka was the perfect way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.

Rippon Vineyard

The last stops we made before heading back to Queenstown were the Penisula Bay to check out some new developments in Wanaka and Puzzling World. Puzzling World started as a maze but has turned into an entire attraction with a building full of optical illusions and effects. Outside the “puzzling” complex is Wanaka’s very own Leaning Tower of Wanaka.

Leaning Tower of Wanaka

A couple of my favourite illusions included a room that depicted the illusion in the movie, the Lord of the Rings, that made  hobbits look significantly smaller than wizards and elves.

Ames Forced Perspective Room

There was also a tilted house where everything was out of balance. Water was flowing upwards instead of down. The pool table was slanted in such a way that the billiards rolled up the table instead of down the table.

There was also a labyrinth outside. The challenge was to start in the middle and pass through four towers on each corner of the rectangular maze and make it out to the exit. Unfortunately, we were in a rush so we didn’t manage to finish very thoroughly. I tripped over a rock running down stairs (ended up tearing a ligament in my ankle in fact) and we were all kind of over it after half an hour. So we took the emergency exist, ran out of the maze and caught the last bus back to Queenstown.

Perfect lazy day in Wanaka. With such a lovely view, I have to come back for the skydive!


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