Published Oct 13, 2009

While the drive to Wanaka was long, and rainy, and, worse than both, unexpectedly so, such that it sapped our energy, the fact is that Wanaka might be our favorite place in New Zealand so far. Wanaka is the red-headed stepchild of the nearby, and much more famous, Queenstown. Both towns are on a beautiful lake, both have a gold-mining history, both offer great outdoor options nearby, but Queenstown is much larger. I’m not sure about Queenstown yet, but Wanaka was beautiful, cute, filled with friendly people and good meals, and a great time all around.

We stayed at the lovely Te Wanaka Lodge where they took good care of us, even cooking me a special breakfast two of the three days we were there. If you look on their rooms page, that’s the room we stayed in! Funnily enough, the wide-angle lens they shot the room with makes it look smaller, it was actually warm and spacious and blessed with both towel heaters and bed warmers — staples in NZ it seems, especially the towel heaters. They even greeted us with champagne!

The first night we had some of the best lamb either of us has ever had — Mrs. DJ L’il Bit ordered a lamb special at Botswana Butchery. We also had our first proper drinks at a bar in New Zealand, and discovered both their incredibly weak pours and their native gin, 42 Below South, which I would recommend to anyone who wishes their gin tasted more like vodka.

We also had a day of relaxation, which included a stop at a pub by the lake for some incredible fish and chips made from the local blue cod, and a swing by Cinema Paradiso to see a fairly amusing New Zealand rom-com in the comfort of a couch, rather than your ordinary movie theater seat, with fresh-baked cookies at intermission. Lovely weather really made the whole thing.

And then we had a day of adventure — the Siberia Experience. Starting about an hour outside of Wanaka, we caught a little plane to the remote Siberia valley; Mrs. DJ L’il Bit was the co-pilot:

The plane took us through imposing mountain ranges, banking to and fro so that we could see the harsh, unspoiled environment around us:

Finally, we landed in the serene-looking Siberia valley, only to have to cross an ankle-deep stream fed by glacial run-off. Let me say that glacial run-off is just as cold as you would think, and there was nothing to do but get soaked.

Then it was a hike on a mountainside path, enjoying the beech forest.

Finally, a jetboat picked us up to head back down to civilization. What’s a jetboat? Well, apparently, back in the ’50s some Kiwi said “I wish I could go down very shallow streams in this boat” and came up with the idea of going faster, armoring the boat bottom, and basically skipping across the top three inches of water. We didn’t even have three inches and there were some big thunks as we hit riverbed stones. The boat driver frankly enjoyed scaring his passengers and headed straight for every bend, rock, and tree in the river, before whipping the little boat around it and into the water; and then there were the times that he told us to hold on tight and just spun the boat in a fast, tight circle about its prow.

That was a big day out. Next: Doubtful Sound.


The pictures are incredible! Your posts make me want to visit New Zealand.
BTW, did you ever take a class with Prof. Voigt? He is the most famous Kiwi in LA! =)

anyone who wishes their gin tasted more like vodka.

Vodka tastes like something?

Hey, I have a question for you: How did you plan this trip? I’m assuming you’re not just winging it, phoning a day in advance to your next destination — you made the full series of lodging reservations before you got there, right? And for the activities, too? Or are you leaving some days free to try things recommended by locals? Was a travel agent involved?

I booked my Oz trip through a travel agent, but friends have told me you can do things a lot cheaper by “just going”. But I tend to think I’d end up with a much poorer quality of experience taking that route… It’s possible, though I could book things individually on my own for less, w/o covering the agent’s cut. (Xta and I have been discussing possibilities for what to do for our own honeymoon next fall, so this is on my mind.)

Re: the gin tasting like vodka… that wasn’t a compliment.

We booked the trip through a travel agent. We probably could have done it ourselves given more time, but we had rather the whirlwind engagement and would not remotely have been able to figure this trip out in the time available. Talking to some experts along the way really helped us narrow down where we were going to go, actually; we initially were leaning towards Grenada, which happens to have incredible deals at this time of year… because it’s hurricane season. Good thing someone told us that!

And, Asbed, I did have a class with Voigt, as well as interactions with him outside of class; I decided I could go to NZ anyway.