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Just chilling by the lakes
Wanaka, New Zealand
Feb 13, 2004 03:22 (local time)

Written by vicki

Time for another stop off and break from the crowd I'd been travelling with. In contrast to Australia, I'm really enjoying having the time to stop off at places that a lot of other people don't really bother with, and to really spend time getting to see the country, rather than just rushing from one tourist trap to another.

Wanaka was one of those places for me. OK, yes, it is pretty well set up for tourism, and it's growing all the time. But at the moment it's the place that the locals go to for their holidays, in order to avoid what nearby Queenstown has become (see the next entry for Queenstown...)

I arrived in Wanaka in the afternoon, and after getting settled in, set off to explore a little. My plan was to walk out of town a little way and climb Mt Iron, a 1.5 hour walk, which gives you views over Wanaka. But when I got there, that all seemed like a bit of a daft idea, especially as it was blowing a gale and I didn't really fancy walking uphill into a headwind. So instead, I popped across the road from the mountain and went to Puzzling World.

Apparently the owner is a puzzle freak, so he's started this whole attraction built around puzzles. It was quite bizarre, but also not a bad way to waste a couple of hours. There's a kind of exhibition with all sorts of optical illusions, like holograms, faces that follow you around the room (very very freaky) and a room with a slanted floor, so when you stand on it, it looks like you're leaning, not the floor. There were also things in there like a billiard ball which you rolled along a table, and it looked as if it was rolling uphill. The main effect of that room though was that I felt pretty sick, so I didn't hang around for long. Outside was a big 3D maze, which I got lost in for about an hour, and kept running into the same lost people all the time! Once I eventually escaped, I decided I'd earned a cup of tea, so sat in their cafe, playing with a load of other puzzles for a while. It actually felt kind of good to be using my brain for the first time in absolutely ages!

That evening, I went to the cinema, which I'd been recommended as one of the highlights of Wanaka. It's a private cinema, and is absolutely fantastic. Next door is a cafe and restaurant, so you can order your dinner before the film, and they get it ready in time for the interval - you can then either eat it in the restaurant, or take it back into the cinema with you. And inside, all the seats are old sofas or armchairs, so they're really comfortable. None of that contortionist act needed to slump down in your chair enough to rest your head, but without getting backache. Great. And there was even an old VW Beatle in there which had been converted to seats. The film was Calendar Girls, with a cast of almoste very famous British actress - very funny - I was laughing out loud!!

On the second day in Wanaka I went all out on the getting away from it all front and decided to climb a mountain (the brighter amongst you will have noticed that since I had a problem with the glacier, this may not have been my most clever idea yet....) I found a dutch guy, Rob, who was also keen, and off we headed. The first problem however was that said mountain had a walking track which started 6km out of town. Which meant either adding 1.5 hours to what was already a 5-6 hour climb, or hitching. Since everyone says hitching is a doddle in NZ, we gave it a try. And after 15 minutes, we started walking. But then we tried again just a little way down the road, and got picked up by a lovely South African family. They were so friendly that I actually didn't really want to get out of the car!!! Or maybe that was just in anticipation of what was to come!!!

I think I kind of underestimated the mountain before I started, expecting for some obscure reason that a 5-6 hour, 1300 vertical metre climb wouldn't really be so bad... Oh, how wrong a girl can be... The very start of the climb was a taster of the way it was going to be all the way up, as we started off at quite a pace and a pretty strong gradient. Which meant that within 10 minutes, we'd already climbed quite a height, and my lungs had forgotten how to function. Rob was of course trotting along beside me as if he was out for a sunday stroll. After 20 minutes I'd got fed up of feeling embarassed by how clearly unfit I was and despatched him off with a Slovakian guy who we caught up with halfway up the hill.

I looked at the view for a while and argued with myself about whether I could really be bothered to climb this bloody hill anyway, and wondering how on earth I was going to do the Inca Trail. Eventually I decided I would be far too annoyed with myself if I didn't at least give it a good try, so I plugged in my minidisc, and trudged up to the next corner. Bit by bit, with a fair amount of lying down flat on my back wondering how I'd got quite so unfit, and by bribing myself with stops just around the next corner, after 3.5 hours I finally made it to the summit.

And it was definitely worth it. The views were absolutely breathtaking - no doubt about it. You could see for absolutely miles, out to the snow capped peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, and across Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, and a lot of other places that I don't know where they were....!

Unsurprisingly, we made it back down the mountain again in under 2 hours, and cadged a lift back into town. I wasn't exactly the life and soul of the party that night, hitting the sack at about 9pm with very tired limbs! But what a sense of satisfaction!!