Flying into Queenstown was one of the scariest moments of my flying life. Besides one ridiculous flight from OC to SF a few years ago, but I don’t want to remember that one. When the pilot announced that we were expecting turbulence, he wasn’t lying. It was an internal struggle between looking out the window, trying to take photos of the INSANE mountain ranges and trying to hold onto the seat (because for some reason I feel that holding on tightly is going to help save me?!). I was kind of on the wrong side of the plane for the light but the view was beautiful nonetheless. When we walked off the tarmac I saw a huge rainbow, and not being allowed to photograph it because of electronics etc etc was torture.. but I knew I was in the right place instantly. We jumped in the van and headed for Lake Wanaka. I took the passenger seat because the driver warned me the road are windy and I get car sick usually. Driving around The Crown Ranges I didn’t get car sick once.. why? Cause that drive is windy-road-heaven!! Unfortunately it was raining so i wasn’t able to stop and take photos.. Lucky for the driver or we would have stopped every 5 minutes. Seriously, travelling with a car full of photographers you have to expect to make A LOT of stops!!
Okay so Lake Wanaka. We drove into the main part of town and I couldn’t really see out of the window, partly to do with the fact it was lightly rainy and mostly to do with the fact that I had tears in my eyes. It felt so good to be there and I hadn’t even stepped a foot out of the Van yet..
WARNING*** your going to see endless photos of mountains and hear me gush about Lake Wanaka from here on in.
First stop we went to the to a Winery called Rippon for Wine tasting. The wine was beautiful, their pet dog was so cute, but THAT VIEW. Can I just move into the winery? I think I had the “can I just move here” thought for every new place I visited. Bare with me.
Each morning in Wanaka I would wake up before sunrise, put a million layers on (cause I feel the cold more than most people do) and I would go exploring. It was amazing, to be alone and feel SO small in such an incredible place. People who know me in real life ask me about my trip to NZ and I really find it hard to put into words. I end up saying a lot of “just WOW” and “I just can’t even do it justice” type sentences.
To try and give perspective of the vast lake and mountain ranges, I found myself on my early morning, lone adventures setting up the tripod and self timer and trying to capture just how small I was and how it FEELS to be there. I could seriosuly stand there take a photo a full 360 degrees around me and EVERYTHING was picturesque.. then by the time I completed that 360 the light would change and it would a whole new level of amazing. I did warn you I was about to gush but trust me it gets better.
The next day we explored Mou Waho Island. Half an hour up to the peak and we were standing overlooking a lake, on an Island, on a lake, on an Island. Think about it for a second… I’m serious.. in the middle of Lake Wanaka there is an island with another lake on it and the views are awe inspiring. Not even a little of of rain could bother us that afternoon.
The next day was ONE OF THE BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE.
Now i’m probably going to embarrass myself by admitting i cried at least 4 times that day. Tears of joy. I’ve only seen snow in Australia twice and one of those times was hardly to be considered ‘seeing snow’.. So driving along the lake we stopped to take that cliche’ leading road to the monstrous mountains photo, because I really wanted to have my own version. And I love it! And that road was the road to the best days of my life.
I think everywhere I went i was constantly picking my jaw off the floor.. but there is nothing like seeing snow for the 3rd time in your life via a helicopter. We flew over Mount Aspiring National Park - valleys of snow covered mountains and enormous frozen waterfalls and frozen lakes. THEN we landed on a glacier and I stood on the edge (balling my eyes out) and overlooking the most incredible view I have ever seen. Knee deep in snow, tears streaming down my cheeks and the happiest girl feeling on top of the world!!
From here we landed in the middle of nowhere and got on a jet boat down the Matukituki River.. past the towering mountains, more frozen waterfalls and glaciers. More! Have I mentioned how amazing every part of Wanaka is yet?!
Our final stop for that afternoon was the rugged ‘Wild Hills of Wanaka’ 4WD Safarai. A lunch picnic destination and exploring the historic Wanaka settlement (dated back to the 1800’s). Dwarfed by the terrain and peaceful views we all sat here for longer than the tour guide probably liked and afterwards we all spoke about just how nice it was to sit there and breathe it all in.Our last morning was a pretty spectacular sunrise. Every local kept apologising for the “moody” weather and explaining that Lake Wanaka “isn’t normally this moody” but as photographers, we couldn’t get enough of that fog and those overcast days. Anyway, on our last morning you could feel the snow in the air. We all hopped in the car together to shoot our last sunrise together, we were lucky enough to watch the sun hit the peak of Mount Aspiring and watch it gradually turn the snow the most orangey/pink intense colour. A nice morning to end the trip.
From here we got to fly in a tiger moth! A silly amount of layers, and the coolest traditional flying goggles and hat and I was up in the sky. Flying over Lake Wanaka this time and the sun was out! We did a 360. UPSIDE DOWN IN THE PLANE! If you are still reading you will note early when I mentioned I’m sort of scared of flying.. but oh my god this was fun! And the views… can I talk about the views just one last time? Awe inspiring!!
Each night we were with Carla from Lake Wanaka Tourism and also Liz Young Adventures (please go check out her amazing and successful blog - I’m addicted) but anyway I do want to make a special mention about these two. Because they really went above and beyond to make sure that we had great food, that delicious NZ pinot I spoke about in my last NZ blog post, and just basically made sure we had the best time ever. I also wanted to mention these two because I feel like it’s not the last time I see either of them. And I can’t wait for the next time!
No one asked me to write this, nor did I get paid to write this. I’m not one for writing normally either, I actually don’t feel confident with words but something about New Zealand makes me actually WANT to write about it.
To Luke, Pauly, Garry and Matt - I had an absolute blast road tripping with you guys. Thanks for putting up with me and thank you for the adventures!
Millie, thank you for EVERYTHING. I just want to say you were the best person to work with and I simply cannot thank Flight Centre Australia and Lake Wanaka enough for the moments and memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Dear Lake Wanaka, I will be back for you. That I know for sure.