Wanaka gets the adrenalin pumping
WANAKA, a small town located in New Zealand's South Island, has often been regarded as the poorer cousin of adventure central Queenstown, which is two hours away.
Most visitors usually drive through Wanaka or stay over for only a night en route to Queenstown and the rest of the sights farther down in South Island.
However, I discovered that an extended stay in Wanaka yielded beautiful surprises and its fair share of adrenalin-infused adventures.
Wanaka is about six hours' drive from Christchurch. My travel buddy and I picked Wanaka over Queenstown because it seemed to be the more affordable option offering similar activities.
The area surrounding our hostel is full of scenic walking trails. A few trails surround Lake Wanaka, from which the town gets its name.
One such trail led up a hill, where the Rippon Vineyard and Winery is located. The winery offers free wine tastings against the beautiful backdrop of the lake and Mount Aspiring National Park.
One of Wanaka's more thrilling adventure activities can be found in the heart of the mountain.
Outdoor trekking operator Deep Canyon (www.deepcanyon.co.nz) offers guided treks through the canyons and valleys in the region, but these aren't just your regular hiking trails.
Before the trek begins, you are provided with a wet suit, a helmet and a harness. The routes go through rock pools, rivers and waterfalls and require participants to abseil down rock faces, slide down slopes created by erosion, jump cliffs and swim through rock pools along the route.
For people like me who are familiar with only urban landscapes, the experience of learning to abseil down a waterfall before plunging into a chilly rock pool was both daunting and exhilarating at the same time.
The second part of my adrenalin rush came during an activity on the Kawarau River, about 45 minutes' drive from Wanaka. The Kawarau River is a fast-flowing river with rapids at different points. The river is the playground for Frogz White-Water Sledging (www.frogz.co.nz), a company that organises river-boarding, an activity where participants use a body board to swim down the rapids.
The rapids look daunting, but the experience is not frightening as long as you're a strong swimmer.
Your guides will swim in front of and behind you and know how to help you if you meet any trouble on the river. An activity like this is an encounter with some of the forces of nature. Being tossed around by the river's rapids is the closest you get to being in a washing machine, and it makes white-water rafting look mild by comparison.
The town also has a number of art galleries and a photo gallery featuring artists who drew inspiration from New Zealand's unspoilt and vivid landscapes. Entry to these galleries is free, and it is easy to spend an afternoon admiring and appreciating what these New Zealander artists loved about their country.
After seeing such works, I was inspired to create some of my own, and got up at the break of dawn over a few mornings to see what I could photograph. My efforts were rewarded with a brilliant orange sunrise on the first morning.
On the final day of my stay, I woke up early again to see if I could catch another sunrise. The sky was overcast and it started to drizzle. Disappointed, I walked back slowly to the hostel.
In the carpark of the hostel, I paused and looked across a field towards the lake. Then I dashed back towards the shore - in front of me, a rainbow began to appear and it seemed to become more vibrant as I snapped away with my camera.
I departed from Wanaka feeling like my soul had been nourished by nature's beauty, once again reminded that some of the best things in life are free.