Wanaka New Zealand: The Town of Dreams or Maybe Not? You decide.
You step off the bus and a blast of fresh air hits your lungs, you look out towards the lake front and all you see is mountains towering above the water with a perfect reflection in the calm water. The breeze smells fresh, the people are friendly, the views are spectacular and the coffee is out of this world.
There’s a reason people speak so highly about this perfect secluded mountain town on the South Island of New Zealand. It has everything any right minded adventurer would need, hikes, kayaking, mountain biking, and more photographic landscapes than you can imagine!
Are you already thinking to yourself, “Oh man I want to move there it sounds so awesome! I’ll get a working visa, find a job there and it will be perfect!”
Ya you and everyone else.
When we write our posts we try to be as honest with our readers as possible. And if we are being honest Wanaka is amazing, it’s everything we could have dreamed about when we left for our trip. The problem is we weren’t the only ones who had that same mindset.
Around 6,400 people live in this little mountain town and you can feel how close the community is. We spent about two weeks in Wanaka and a few people had already learned our names and even remembered our orders. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t receive a few free meals here and there (Kiwi generosity is so very real). The people in this town make you feel so invited and welcome and it makes you want to stay forever. They’re like the lotus-eaters in Greek Mythology. They tempt you with a carefree life filled with delicious food, but the moment you get a taste you enter into a dream-like state and never want to leave.
So after being sucked in and with our working visas in hand we started looking for local postings for work. Let us tell you that was no easy task. There were literally no jobs for any backpackers. Why? Simple, there were more backpackers than there were jobs. Not to mention there aren’t a plethora of places willing to hire employees for a few short months. Let’s say you did manage to find a job, well finding an apartment or place to rent would prove to be more difficult than a job. We met plenty of people who had been lucky enough to find work but were still living in hostel dorms.
We didn’t anticipate how difficult it actually would be, which could come down to a lack of research perhaps? Honestly it was pretty disappointing, all we wanted was to live and work in paradise for a while…IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK!?!?
Yes, yes it is.
So instead of trying to find work and stay as long as possible in Wanaka we decided to make the most of it. We explored everything we could, we ate at every restaurant in pretty much the whole town and we attempted to discover which cafe had the best flat white. Honestly you should do the same.
If you really want to try and find work and live in Wanaka give yourself a lot of time before you arrive there and do a lot of research. Start looking for and applying for jobs and rental properties before you get there so you have a better idea of what you’re in for. That will also help you decide if living in Wanaka is going to be the best option for you or if an extended visit is all you need. Otherwise, do what we did and become the tourist that sometimes we are all meant to be.
Spending two weeks in Wanaka as just backpackers felt like more than enough time to really experience the area and everything it had to offer. Did we see and do EVERYTHING? No we didn’t. But sometimes it’s better to leave something to come back to. Did we experience a ton of stuff and eat a lot of hella good food, you better believe we did! If you want to visit Wanaka and be the ultimate tourist here are a few things we recommend.
Stop by Sagun Cafe & Indian Cuisine for not only the largest piece of garlic naan bread you’ve ever seen but also the tastiest. The chunks of garlic and the size of the bread was enough to make us craving more (we are garlic fiends though). To top it all off their butter chicken is so full of flavour it caused us to eat more than we maybe should have. Food babies are very real. It’s a small hole in the wall type restaurant tucked away in the back streets of downtown. We sort of stumbled upon it by accident and didn’t have a single regret, except maybe that food baby.
Feeling like something a bit more traditionally Kiwi? Try some fish and chips at Boa Boa Food Company. Now it wasn’t the BEST we had in NZ (that would be Cooper’s Catch in Kaikoura, *insert drool emoji here*). But for a pretty decent meal along the waterfront this was a great stop. If there are two of you be warned that you might only need to purchase one meal. The portions are pretty large but the prices can be too. So getting two meals might not be the best option for you if you’re on a budget and like we said you might not have to. They also have a few different fish options to choose from but we highly recommend blue cod. Don’t forget a little bit of garlic aioli to dip your food in (told you we love garlic).
Maybe you’re like me and you love sweets, well Patagonia Chocolates would be our first recommendation. They are in three places throughout NZ, Queenstown, Wanaka and Arrowtown. So get your fill of chocolate before you leave this region of the South Island. Honestly everything here is good, the chocolates, the coffee and hot chocolate, the gelato and even the damn waffles.
For gelato make sure you get their Mascarpone Cheese & Fruits of the Forest, words can’t describe how happy your taste buds will be. As far as the hot chocolate goes if you’re feeling adventurous try out their lavender flavoured hot chocolate or their chili hot chocolate. Watch them pour it directly into your cup from the giant melted chocolate cauldron!
Maybe you want something that feels a bit more local, well Black Peak Gelato has you covered. They use all local ingredients and use a 70 year old Italian recipe! There’s tons of flavours to pick from so you’ll have a hard time deciding on just one, don’t worry you can get two scoops! Normally we would have a flavour recommendation but honestly….just get them all because every flavour we tried was so so good.
Remember those flat whites?
Relishes Cafe had one of the best flat whites we could have asked for. There is nothing more satisfying than starting or ending your day with an out of this world coffee. What’s better than a morning coffee? A morning coffee with some eggs benedict. Warning, as delicious as the eggs bennies were at Relishes they also came at a pretty hefty price of almost $20NZD per plate! If you are on a strict budget, breakfast there might not be on your menu.
Our second go to coffee joint would be Cafe Gusto. Their cafe was fairly new when we visited so it wasn’t overly busy like some places on the waterfront. They were also slightly off the main strip of restaurants which helped with crowds too. We imagine word has probably gotten out about how kick ass their coffee is and they have become a bit busier by now.
Rent a kayak, canoe, or even a paddle board and take advantage of the scenic lake. The prices are exceptionally reasonable so even if you’re on a budget it won’t break the bank like a lot of other activities in NZ will. Sadly we visited in winter so taking advantage of the water wasn’t something we were really up for. Being from Canada we aren’t accustomed to hopping in water in the winter…unless maybe it’s a polar bear plunge.
This area offers some of the most unforgettable and remarkable mountain biking trails and views. It’s fairly well known for how awesome these trails are. So naturally we had to try it for ourselves. While it didn’t go exactly as planned (we definitely ran into a few accidents…) it was completely worth it! Rent a bike and see where you end up, why not?
If you’ve ever looked up information about Wanaka you’ll find loads of hiking and summit photos. Especially Roy’s Peak. That peak is arguably one of the most photographed places in NZ, instagram is littered with photos from it. I wish we could say that we made the attempt to hike Roy’s Peak but sadly we didn’t. Honestly I’m not even sure why we didn’t, probably just too mesmerized by everything else (Lotus-eaters amiright?). Just another thing to add to our bucket list!
Don’t forget your camera!
We always try and be as honest with every post we write and this one is no exception. Wanaka is an absolutely amazing place to visit, but you have to be realistic towards staying long term. It’s a huge tourist destination and maybe that’s the way it should stay for the majority of us.