Wanaka! How I love you.
So I’d like to rewind a bit from my last post, when I was in Queenstown. I arrived in New Zealand on May 9th, and I took a bus from Queenstown Airport to Wanaka. After freeing myself of my luggage at the hostel, I went for a long run along one of the lake tracks. I was overwhelmed by how beautiful the sunset was over the lake, and the way it painted the mountains and the clouds above. Even though I was drained from the 24 hour travel day and jet lag, the excitement of finally being here pulsed through me.
I immediately booked a sky diving excursion with Wanaka Skydiving. Sky diving has been very high on my bucket list for ages, and I was so excited to jump 15,000 feet out of a plane! I have mostly gotten over my fear of heights, but I truly thought I would freak out jumping out of a plane. Remarkably I was completely calm the whole ride up, and my skydiving instructor had a kind, calm energy. We were the last to jump. Free falling over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding peaks, I could not stop smiling (except for when my teeth were freezing!) This was the best feeling ever! The parachute deployed and we gracefully flew down amidst the rolling hills towards the airfield. My instructor let me drive the parachute in a few circles (I made myself quite dizzy!) I didn’t splurge for the photos and videos, but I will NEVER forget the insane view and the feeling of being completely free as I jumped out of that plane – I can’t wait to go again!
Now that I got that out of my system, I had to get down to business and start knocking things off of my list: housing, job, car, and friends. First came friends, thanks to my dear friend Julie back in Denver. Julie lived in Wanaka several years ago and connected me with her close friend, Chrissi. Chrissi and her friends have been incredibly welcoming and I quickly realized that Wanaka is a small, tight knit community of people from all over the world. From happy hour beers in town to daytime hikes up Mount Iron, I’ve felt the warmth of Wanaka. We’ve even started a little Monday morning yoga class that I teach at my house!
I scored a great little house walking distance into town with three great roommates from the U.K. and Canada. Being such a small town, it is incredibly competitive to find housing and work in Wanaka for the winter season. Timing is everything. Now in the third week of June, I’ve just secured a job at a restaurant in town – HOORAY!
In the interim, I began volunteering my time at Waterfall Equestrian Center in Wanaka. This has been such a gift, as I adore being around horses. They have a beautiful space right outside of town adjacent to Rippon Vineyard. I’ve been helping them exercise their horses and I was pleased that I can still jump fences! This winter I will lead trail rides as a part-time job, which means I will be in heaven!
Now for the car. Most travelers pick up a beat up car or van for the their working holiday. My car knowledge is limited to say the least, so I took a trip to the coastal town of Dunedin since the market is better than in Wanaka or Queenstown. Determined to find a reliable, AWD car to get up the ski hill within my budget, I jumped on the bus and booked a hostel in town. I spent my day test driving cars from private sellers and dealerships, and I hated every minute of it. I am quite clueless about cars. What if I buy a car and it breaks down in a month?! I find car shopping to be an incredibly stressful experience and I had to tune into my mantras to stay calm. Thank goodness for WhatsApp since I relentlessly called my friends and family for help while I agonized over this decision. After more test drives, I successfully purchased my 2005 Subaru Forester and took off for my three and a half hour drive home to Wanaka. Full of triumph in my first successful solo car purchase, I turned up the tunes and lavished in my newfound freedom. She’s a beaut!
Since then, I’ve had nearly two months to enjoy Wanaka without any work commitments or responsibilities. I spend my days hiking, riding horses, practicing yoga, getting to know my new friends and flatmates, and I just purchased a mountain bike to explore the trails. Sounds great, right? Being “funemployed” is liberating and fun, but there are moments where I feel guilty for not working. That paired with a little homesickness has caused me to feel uneasy at times. I am grateful for my amazing family and circle of friends who’ve reminded me that this was my choice, and that I should enjoy this rare time in my life where I am not working.
My priority this year is to be outside as much as possible enjoying the things I love: yoga, horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming, and camping. So far, I’ve had a nice mix of solo time and time with new friends.
Mount Iron is a quick 2.8 mile loop located right outside of town and is a great if you are pressed for time and are looking for a good workout. A lot of locals tend to hike and mountain bike along this trail, and the views of the town and Lake Wanaka offer a nice reward. Go at sunset for an incredible show!
Roy’s Peak is a challenging 9.7 mile roundtrip track. The incline is 4,261 feet over just under 5 miles, making it an intense climb. I chose to hike Roy’s Peak twice in one week. Why? I had time and I think I get a little nutty about uphill hikes – I love them! The first time, there was a cloud inversion layer over town. I climbed through the clouds and emerged above the clouds onto a beautiful, sunny track. I made friends with travelers from Germany who kindly took photos of me (always the issue when traveling solo and you are not savvy at taking selfies). I also met another solo traveler from Lithuania who I exchanged contact information with, since she is a badass chic and RAN up and down the mountain. She lives a few hours away, but comes to Wanaka for adventures. The second time I hiked Roy’s, I was with my flatmate and we enjoyed perfect weather. The sky was clear and we were both in awe of the jaw dropping views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. We caught the sunset on the way down and congratulated ourselves on getting back to the car in the dark.
Roy’s Peak June 3rd
Roy’s Peak June 7th
Grandview Creek track is located near Hawea, which is a beautiful lakeside town about 25 minutes from Wanaka. It was one of those days where you have to kick yourself out of the house because you just feel like lazing around. I started hiking late in the day, which can be a good thing (no people, will catch the sunset) and a bad thing. I arrived at the car park and I was the only car there, which made me a little nervous since I was hiking alone. I decided to carry on and hiked to the summit. I reached the summit at sunset, and even though I wanted to sit an enjoy the view, I knew my time was limited to get down. I snapped a few incredible photos and started making my way down. The sun was going down quickly and the temperature was following suit. I brought my headlamp and as I hiked back to my car, the last hour was in complete darkness. It was shockingly beautiful as frost dusted the ground and the reflection of my headlamp made for a glittering runway. The water rushing down the creek was soothing and the walk back ended up being a very peaceful, therapeutic experience.
Moonrise over the hillside
Rob Roy Glacier is located within Mount Aspiring National Park and is about an hour’s drive from Wanaka. The highway turns into a dirt road with one lane bridges, and fords, which enhance the adventure! The hike itself is not challenging and is well worth the drive. The river is a gorgeous turquoise blue color, reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea, and I witnessed an avalanche!
With all of this spare time, I have also had a lot of time to think. I recently read The Wisdom of Yoga, by Stephen Cope. We all have patterns that we fall into when we sit with our feelings, and with repitition they create ruts in the road. The greater the repetition, the deeper the ruts. This is when we can get stuck. Simply noticing these patterns can be groundbreaking. I have a tendency to distract myself in any way I can when I start to feel my emotions surfacing. I am working on recognizing the patterns that don’t serve me in order to make positive changes. Over time as you interrupt these patterns, the ruts start to fill in and the road can become smooth again. These parts of ourselves will never completely go away, they are always here with us. What we can do is take steps towards positive thought patterns and treat ourselves with love, compassion and kindness. I hold myself to very high standards and sometimes I need to remind myself that I am enough. Loving myself has oftentimes been challenging even though I have so much to be proud of and grateful for in this life.
The beauty I encounter in Wanaka on a daily basis reminds me of the beautiful life we are each given and to never take this for granted. Live life now. Don’t wait to live until you’ve accomplished something in 6 months or 6 years from now.
Recognize both the light and the dark that lives within you.