I love Wanaka. From the minute we arrived in this town I instantly I knew it would be hard to leave. Now that I’ve left, I want to go back. As I’m writing this I’m actually wondering if it’s possible to go back before I fly out next week. No, it’s not possible, but if at some point in the future you hear I moved to Wanaka don’t be surprised.
There is something about Wanaka that is addictive. Maybe it’s the picturesque setting on a perfect blue lake with postcard worthy mountains in the distance. Maybe it’s the laid back vibe of the small alpine village. Maybe it’s the chill people you meet who at one point or another also felt like they didn’t want to leave, and actually followed through with staying. Maybe it’s the clean mountain air. Maybe it’s all of this and more. Hell we didn’t even see it during the peak ski season or in warm summer… One day.
I would call the drive between the coast and Wanaka breathtaking but that would contradict the video footage: it has a soundtrack of “oh my god” “wow” and “beautiful” on repeat. With mountains on one side and first Lake Wanaka and then Lake Hawea on the other side, it is easily the most beautiful road I’ve ever driven.
Frank and I spent our first night in Wanaka sitting at a lakefront bar, outside underneath heaters, enjoying good local beer – a tasty IPA! – while staring at the landscape. We talked to the bartenders, one moved here from New Jersey for ski season, and JB met up with us for a beer as we all waited for the eclipse to happen. Night one and we saw a glowing red moon. The universe aligned and gave us yet another reason to gawk in Wanaka.
The next day Frank, JB and I hiked Mount Iron, a lovely hour and a half return hike with a view over the town and lake. We hung out on top for a while, doing handstands and just laying there taking it all in. After the hike we said bye to JB, it was time for him to move on to Queenstown, and Frank and I continued exploring. We walked along the calm lakeside path and up to the Rippon winery for a free tasting (of 7 wines). This has to be the most stunning view I’ve seen at a winery; sorry Sonoma, but don’t worry, your wines win by far. Another afternoon spent wandering through gorgeous scenery just chatting with Frank, and another afternoon that solidified our friendship.
When we got back to the Matterhorn South Hostel, a cozy, friendly place that I definitely recommend, our new friend Karim was back from work and ready to play frisbee golf. This introductory round of frisbee golf was our first of three games in two days. The frisbee golf course in Wanaka is, of course, amazing. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as following your frisbee around rolling hills and pine tree obstacles while sharing a 12-pack of Speights with new friends. For those of you who have ever seen me try to throw a frisbee you won’t be surprised that I started out a little shaky to say the least, but I soon caught on (or maybe it was the beer?). Game two the next afternoon we picked up a new player Alex, and game three he brought a soccer ball. After all the frisbees were in we had to juggle the soccer ball until it also made it in the basket. Because why not invent new fun outdoor games in Wanaka, home to all the outdoor awesomeness you could ever want?
The night after our initial frisbee golf game (Wanaka night 2) we had burritos for dinner. Really good ones from a food truck. I actually ate the entire thing. I have no idea how that was possible, but I think going over 4 months without a San Francisco burrito had something to do with it. Over burritos and beers Karim successfully convinced Frank and I to stay another day. Queenstown could wait.
The next morning I went for a run around the other side of the lake, my first run in I don’t even want to admit how long. As I ran I thought to myself: “Hiking, running, IPA’s, wine tasting, burritos, frisbee golf – is this San Francisco in New Zealand?” It felt like home in a small lakeside mountain town. It was everything I love combined, which of course confused the hell out of me. Did I really want to move to NZ?
I didn’t really set out on this trip expecting to solve any life dilemmas or find the real me. I knew there were parts of my personality that it would bring out more than others and of course I would discover more about myself, but I didn’t leave because I felt lost or confused with who I was before. As will happen with any major life experience like this, along the way questions have arisen about what comes next when this is over. I admit there are times that I say I hope it’s never over, I’ll travel forever, but sometimes I have to acknowledge that it may end. And then what?
I have gone back and forth before – Chile for example – between thinking that I am meant to live in a small town surrounded by stunning nature, and thinking that a city is the right place for me. Wanaka didn’t help at all. Leaving Buenos Aires I thought that I wanted city life, but now maybe I preferred rural. So what did I leave Wanaka thinking?
San Francisco is the right place for me. It has the city that I love, but the access to the outdoors that I crave. If it’s at all possible to spend half my time in SF and half my time in Tahoe I think I really could have the best of both worlds. So maybe I found my happy place already in Northern California, and I just had to go to the opposite side of the world to realize it.
But don’t hold me to that. I still have 5 months to go before I have to make any decisions.
My last night in Wanaka, Frank, Karim and I made moussaka and hung out at the hostel. Leaving the next day was so sad but I refused to say goodbye, first to Karim – see you in Sydney buddy, and then in the Austrian Alps, and maybe one day in Cairo (please?) – and then to Wanaka. I just couldn’t say goodbye to a place that will undoubtedly be my favorite part of New Zealand.