Some places speak to your soul like no other and Wanaka is one of those places for me.
Wanaka is what my outdoors-loving heart has long desired.
Even before we got there, driving to Wanaka from Queenstown along the Crown Range Pass had my heart constantly racing. The hairpin turns with massive exposure on one side really triggered my anxiety but still I found myself strangely excited for each turn because I knew that at the end of it, I would be greeted with yet another vista of vast green spaces and regal mountain peaks. I struggle to believe that there could exist a more awe-inspiring drive in this world.
When we reached Wanaka, the first words out of my mouth were, "this is ridiculous". Wanaka, with an almost-symmetrical backdrop of snowcapped mountains behind its shimmery lake, is ridiculously idyllic. You know in primary school art class when you would splatter paint on half of a sheet of paper, fold it over to mirror your creation, then draw on it to form a perfect butterfly? This is honestly what Wanaka reminded me of. Nature's most perfect masterpiece.
We only caught one sunrise in Wanaka but it was so otherworldly that this morning will stay with me forever. The moon was gracefully hanging in the sleepy mauve sky almost right over the midpoint of the mountains. All was calm and silent. As the sky turned baby blue to wake up the sun, the birds began singing their morning greetings, the mountains became trimmed in this surreal rosy glow and the lake remained so still it reflected not only the mountains but even the moon. In Wanaka, it felt like everything moved along in harmony to create this effortlessly perfect natural wonderland and I knew that this place had given me more joy than any material possession ever could.
The simple things
When the sun went down in Wanaka, the temperature suddenly dropped and so we scurried back to our Holiday Park and headed over to the shared lounge to search for powerpoints. The lounge was dated and musty with a TV from the early 90s and carpeted bleachers as seating. There was a single guy sitting, eating pasta directly out of the saucepan. We exchanged only 'hello's. Luke and I must have been in there for at least 20-30 minutes and the entire time, I waged an internal battle with myself about speaking to him but for some reason, I couldn't get the words out. Even when Luke went to shower and it was just the lone guy and I, we both just played on our phones; something that I desperately hate. I don't know what came over me. When we left, we said bye to him and he replied, "Bye...good night" in stunted English. I think he was French!
For the rest of the night, I felt incredibly guilty. I know EXACTLY what it is like to be travelling alone. Those hours bookending dinnertime are the loneliest. Today, when I remember the guy sitting there alone, it is incredibly humbling. Perhaps it is because we were travelling as a couple but this experience in Wanaka reminded me that one of the best things about travel is the people you meet. I need to always remember this and reach out.
The next morning, while we waited eagerly in the carpark for Lakeland Adventures to open to rent kayaks, we were joined by a couple in a less embarrassing van. Instead of crude dinosaurs, this van had tulips painted on one side and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ on the other...about a thousand times less mortifying than ours. The couple, in their trackpants and beanies, fiddled about in their little car-trunk kitchenette. They made breakfast whilst music streamed out of their portable speakers, looked over by snowcapped peaks. As they took their breakfast out onto a park bench next to the lake, a 4WD pulled up with one bearded guy and his skateboard. He made some coffee and then there were five of us, gazing out at the mountains. The guy then skated away but not before I managed to take a peek at the back of his 4WD to see his sweet setup with a mattress and doona. He shortly skated back and drove off.
That morning, we were the only five people out that early. Not once did we even deliberately look at each other and yet I felt like we were all connected by a singular train of thought. And I like to think that that thought was, "this is how you collect moments, not things".