Resort Profile: Wanaka

By adamrowden, 12 Dec '12 at 10:01

Wanaka is almost unfeasibly scenic. It is one of New Zealand's most desirable places to live and with its tranquil lake, majestic mountains and pleasant climate its easy to see why.

It is actually a summer resort and apparently from December to March there are thousands of Kiwi holiday makers in town and the peace is shattered by the drone of jet skis and speedboats.

If you think of Wanaka as a town with ski fields rather than a ski town you will understand its character a bit more clearly.

It is not a ski resort but a base from which to access a number of resorts. From Wanaka you have access to Treble Cone, which is one of New Zealand’s best ski resorts and Cadrona.

On the Slopes

As mentioned previously, Treble Cone and Cardrona are the two ski fields closest to Wanaka. These two fields are certainly amongst the best that NZ has to offer, and for skiers or boarders alike make Wanaka a top destination.

Both fields are about half an hours drive from town - and although theres a bus service in the morning you'll definitely appreciate having access to a car if possible. Decent second hand cars that will do the job can be found remarkably cheap. One guy I know picked up a banger for £30 - though I reckon that was the bargain of the season! The 'unsealed' access roads are very exposed and kind of scary the first couple of times - just be sensible, carry a pair of snow chains, and there shouldn't be a problem.

A viable, and surprisingly reliable, alternative option is to hitch up to the ski fields. Just join the organised queues at the T-junction down lake Wanaka - and 'ride on up' ! The NZ season typically lasts from late June through to Mid October.

Treble Cone is renowned for its dry powder and has plenty of it throughout the season and Cardrona is a relaxed family style resort with some lovely sweeping slopes.

Moguls
TREBLE CONE - TC has had a purpose built moguls course for the past few seasons and because they don’t groom a lot of their steeper runs, many of these can have moguls the size of VW beetles when there is a long gap between snowfalls.
CARDRONA - The biggest moguls at Cardrona build up on the Exhibition run in Captains' Basin.

Speed
TREBLE CONE - TC has played host to several of the world cup downhill race teams over the past few years. It’s worth getting up there early just to watch them train!
The ski field sets out a speed course for the teams down Main Street so that’s your best bet for going fast and straight.
CARDRONA - Cardrona has plenty of wide open areas for cruising about at speed. The maximum vertical descent is about 400m. Generally if it hasn't snowed for a while the on-piste conditions at Cardrona tend to be slightly better than on TC .

Off-piste

TREBLE CONE - The easiest access to off piste is from Treble Cone and, as they groom only the main runs, pretty much the whole mountain is off piste on a powder day. Their new high speed quad chair to Tims Table makes going back country even easier. A hike to the summit from the top of the chair takes only 15 mins and gives you access to some of the most spectacular terrain you see this side of the Lord of the Rings.

It can be pretty hard core, especially the Motatapu Chutes area so bring your PEEPs and tell the nice patrolies where you are going (they don’t bite – honest).

CARDRONA - Cardrona is comprised mainly of pisted runs - and is more suitable for high speed cruising. Good off piste can however be found in the Secret Basin which is the next bowl along from the Captains quad chair. Poor Man's Heli, another good route, leaves the end of the skyline piste and joins up with the bottom of the La Franchi double chair. For those prepared to hike Mount Cardrona, over the back of the ski field, offers good options.

Living in Resort

There is a shortage of winter accommodation in Wanaka, so you are stuck in that good old catch 22 - arrive in early May to get somewhere to live, but there's no work until mid-June. The Clutha Messenger holds all the To Let and Accommodation Wanted ads. The Messenger is available on-line and comes out every Wednesday. The caravan parks rent out caravans for the season. Glendhu, on the road to Treble Cone has some beautiful views and a great atmosphere, but it can be a bit of a trial getting in and out to town, if you have no car

Bars and Clubs
SCRUFFY MURPHY'S : Or the pub formerly known as Paddy’s. It’s got some fancy couches, but its still one of the cheapest beers in town.
OPIUM : Nearly always pumping. Has pool tables, live music and some pretty good food. If you ask nicely, they might even give you the “locals discount”.
SHOOTERS: Great spot for a beer early on in the evening when the sun is going down over the lake. Gets busy with the teenage crowd later on and usually has a DJ or band going.
APARTMENT 1: Wanaka’s only nightclub and, yes, it really is in an apartment! They make kick-ass, but expensive cocktails with killer DJs to match. Get in before 11 to avoid the cover charge. Also, a nice place for a quiet drink early on in the evening.
BARLUGA: Dig out your cleanest jeans and fanciest gear for a trip to Wanaka’s most upmarket bar. Comfy leather couches, HUGE fire and laid back atmosphere make it a nice escape from the maddening crowds, except during school holidays when its full of Aucklanders.

Eating Out
Eating out in Wanaka is expensive. Tuatara Pizza on Ardmore Street is about the closest you will get to a budget option and their pizzas are really, really tasty. Kai Whaka Pai on the corner of Helwick and Ardmore serves big portions, but they don’t come cheap - a nice place if you feel like you need a treat and their chocolate berry muffins are probably baked in heaven. The Hammer and Nail on Anderson in the industrial park is one of the best value places in town for lunch, but is a bit out of the way. All the pubs do food, although it's usually of the deep fried variety.

Anyway, if you’ve had a night on the booze, there is really only one food you need - a Pie. This kiwi delicacy is available from The Dough Bin (and pretty much everywhere else, but you want the fresh kind) or from the Hammer and Nail. Debates run furiously long into the night as to who produces the best pies, but you will have to decide for your self.

Mountain Restaurants
TREBLE CONE - The café at Treble Cone has won “Best Mountain Café” for several years running. The food is excellent and they make some of the best coffee around. However, as with all mountain restaurants, expect to pay a premium. Most of their food is made on site, so if you get in early you have a good chance of getting one of their muffins still hot out of the oven.
CARDRONA - 'Cardies' has several places to eat including a noodle bar, a pizza place and “The Mezz” cafe.
SNOWPARK - There is also a cafe at Snowpark.
All cafes do standard ski field type food and everywhere does good coffee (kiwis are pretty obsessed when it comes to coffee)

Away Days
The best thing about doing a season in NZ is the amount of alternative outdoor activities available. From Wanaka its possible to go hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, sky diving or bungee jumping.

If you have a few days, then a trip to Milford Sound is pretty much a “must do”. Do give it at least three days though, as it’s a long drive there.

Queenstown, Wanaka's brasher, louder big sister is only an hour away and sometimes it’s nice to wander around and not have to stop to chat to every second person.

A hike up to the Rob Roy Glacier makes a nice change for a day when the snow isn’t so good and overnight tramps to the Makarora valley will reward the more adventurous traveller.

Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski fields near Queenstown are both worth a visit. The Ohau ski field, near Twizel, has the longest T-bar in NZ and offers a decent day out. The club fields, about 5 hours to the north in Arthur's pass, with their rope tows & superb terrain are also a must to the keen NZ resort buff.

If you only have the morning off, then head to the Wanaka Beerworks near the airport. Their three tasty brews are sold pretty much everywhere in town and its always nice to support local industry isn’t it?

Transfer Day
As I've said above, Wanaka isn’t a ski town as such, it’s a town with ski fields near it. So you don’t get hordes of people coming in on the weekend. During the school holidays the town is mental, but for the rest of the season its all pretty mellow. There isn’t a huge difference in the number of people on the slopes on the weekends.

Thanks to Laura Hogan for putting the majority of this Guide together.

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