In 1972 Lou Reed released his second album (you know, the vinyl kind) which included the song, “Walk on the Wild Side”. It would be his biggest hit, and interestingly the album was co-produced by David Bowie. Also on the album was the song, “Perfect Day”, and so my weekend in Wanaka encompassed two songs on this album…a perfect day, and a walk on the wild side.
Wanaka is a small town…though it has grown since I last visited here 6 years ago from 7500 people to about 9000. Still, given the grandeur of the setting, it’s amazing there are not more people that live here. (The uber rich have bought up quite a bit of the land around the lake…I won’t give up names, but you can google it). If you have been to Lake Tahoe (in California/Nevada), coming to Wanaka would be like visiting Tahoe in about 1950. Imagine that. One of the most famous sites here is the Wanaka Tree (seen above), a willow growing just offshore with its trunk partially submerged in the lake. Sadly, some vandals cut down some of the low hanging branches earlier this year (yes, it even happens here), so the picture I took on Saturday may not look exactly like some the pictures from Instagram. Wanaka is situated at the base of Lake Wanaka (there is one river draining the lake, the Clutha River, whose outlet is near the town). It is the 4th largest lake in New Zealand, 42 km at its longest length and some parts of the lake are 1000 feet deep. It is surrounded by mountains (and, as you might have guessed, was formed from a glacial melt), and these mountains provide much of the fun activities the area provides. It is currently the tail end of ski season, but there were still many skiers and snowboarders in town at the end of the day. But I was there to hike…and specifically to hike Roy’s Peak.
About 3/4 of the way up this 8km trek to the peak is a lookout that is one of the most famous vistas in New Zealand. How famous, you ask? Well, search Instagram for Roy’s Peak, and you’ll get a taste. On my way up, I passed a young woman hiking the trail, and I kid you not, in a red knit dress and black leggings. I thought to myself, ‘that seems arduous…and a bit odd’. On my way down from the peak, I came upon this woman…who has stopped at the famous look out to ensure her photograph of the Roy’s Peak climb was astonishing. I have never felt so underdressed…it was like going to the opera, in Levi’s.
If you wonder why there is no selfie of me…how could I compete with that???
It is a 4000 feet climb to the top of Roy’s peak; a slow steady and unrelenting climb up. Slow and steady, because every time you look out at the views, you have to stop and take a picture. I must have taken 50 on the way up (and another 50 on the way down). It’s almost impossible to describe the beauty seen on this hike…and in particular on this last weekend of winter, to hike the trail on a cloudless day with temperatures requiring only a single layer of clothes. Talk about a ‘perfect day’!
As I neared the summit, the snow went from patchy to confluent..but it was never really much of an issue this being so late in winter.
I thought the downhill would be easier than going up…and in many ways it was. But it was 8km of steep downhill, and I vaguely remember someone told me to never do a big hike in new boots (OK, I may have been the one saying that to someone else)..but out of necessity I broke that rule on Sunday. The price was a blister or two…but I was happy to pay it, given rewards I had just reaped.
Since I “had” to drive through Central Otago to get back to Dunedin, I thought why not nurse my sore feet with a wine tasting (someone to put my feet up, so to speak)? Central Otago, unlike the West Coast of the South Island (or Dunedin, for that matter) is a desert. Dry, tussock dotted hills surround a valley that warms in the summer sunshine. The perfect place to grow grapes…and make amazing wine.
So my weekend in Wanaka ended Sunday evening. My legs were a little sore, my feet talked to me just a bit through the evening, but my spirit was high. Lou Reed would have been proud..I had taken a walk on the wild side, on a perfect day. For the record, I did not pluck my eyebrows or shave my legs. (You’ll get it…listen to the song).