Fishing - Horse Riding - Walking, Tramping, Mountaineering
Life at Whare Kea focuses a lot on the gentle lap of water. And spring is a spell that offers endless scope for taking a splash in the multiplicity of waterways that constitute so much of this sumptuous adventure land in Central Otago. The hearts of the fishing fraternity beat hard at the prospect of wading into these streams that promise the ultimate achievement – a great catch in what is classed as one of the wonders of the fishing world.
Anyone will tell you that NZ is a fisherman’s paradise. But when it comes to the specific art of fly fishing Wanaka and its cascading surrounds of rivers and streams could make you think you were in Mecca. The choice of waters in which to stake your claim to a catch is almost overwhelming. Spotting a sparkle of a shiny fin as they snake through the streams and the prospect of tempting a larger than ever anticipated trout in the 3 kilo range with a tenderly chosen fly, is magic.
Dry? Wet Casting upstream with a dry fly and across stream with a wet fly is the concept and with luck a fish will "rise” to take the bait. Best on warm still evenings with a lot of insects swarming around. (Memo – take the insect repellent.)
With all that excitement – an oxymoron known best to the fisher alone (for the uninitiated and innocent who offer company – take a book.) This is a solitary business that requires minimal conversation and maximum quiet. Seekers of solitude and many silent thoughts make outstanding fly fishers. And even the most garrulous can reveal a hidden side when wading the waters - a love of getting away from the crowds and finding the peace of remote areas which offer a stretch of river for you alone. Surrounded by an abundance of wide open spaces strewn with scrub and steep tussock sloping up to the mountains and rocky crags to reach the snow covered peaks and glaciers looming high above a sparkling lake below– any aspiring fisherman’s cup, runneth over.
But the crystal clean streams and the rewards of VERY big fish make the waters of the Matukituki, and those cascading streams of The Hunter with its unique braids a true fishing idyll. As is its sister Dingle Burn – the one flowing into the northern part of Lake Hawea and the other entering the north eastern arm of the same lake. Revered by Maori and Pakeha alike this area of swampy flatlands, shingle braids, precipitous jutting hills with their torrents of tumbling waters rushing to the grandfather of all rivers’ edges is utopia to an eager fisher in waders with a rod. For the less intrepid there’s Timaru Creek – on the Eastern side – not quite so remote and also full of prey. The abundance of fish plus the spectacularly lush scenery is as good as it gets.
The Clutha too – the upper reaches from the outlet to Lake Dunstan - offers a vast population of brown and rainbow trout which lie deep within the pools and runs flowing over gravel and stone beds and around humungous boulders. Like so many of the waterways even though it makes its start on the shores of Lake Wanaka, the Clutha also connects with Lake Hawea by means of the Hawea River which joins some 3 km downstream.
Casting at twilight on a warm summer evening is amazing for its rise. The middle reaches are not heavily fished. Probably because of access difficulty and a willow lined river bed which makes it tricky. But the lower Clutha is most popular with its open shallow gravel bars. But for the canny – the deeper waters or the lees of snags are where the bigger fish lurk.
Interestingly – unlike many of the outdoor activities embarked upon from a Wanaka base, where the experts will willingly point out the areas of excellence for achieving your goals to pretty well anyone who will lend half an ear at the pub, the fishing fraternity have a different take. It’s important to tread carefully when revealing the well of abundance. Divulging a prize fly fishing spot known only to locals can reduce its bountiful return if not wipe it out entirely through the over-enthusiastic casting of visiting anglers. So a guide is a must if you want to share their secret places and hence ensure the line tightens more than twice.
Also rivers change after floods of winter and old favourites might have disappeared offering new excitement (an oxymoron in fishing jargon when quiet and solitude are paramount) especially at early season. But the Makarora valley provides many different types of tributaries and the main river is regarded by those in the know, as one of the best road accessible rivers. With a massive drainage basin catchment it keeps any pressure at bay for the local Makarora poker faces that defend their terrain with determination.
Fortunately for those who have Whare Kea as their base, the ultimate pleasure of making a brown or salmon trout catch can result in taking it back to the kitchen (rather than tossing it back into the stream) where chef James Stapley will prepare a feast for the taste buds as it is freshly flipped in and out of the fry pan.
There is a lot to recommend the saddling up a horse and making your way through the undulating countryside, splashing through a stream or two and stopping en route on a tussock hillside to unpack a picnic prepared by the Lodge kitchen.
It’s also a pretty appealing way to see the countryside around Wanaka. These sunburnt tawny stretches of land peppered with old poplars and knotted willows with gnarly roots reaching for moisture make the walks and runs of pony trekking varied and numerous. After all that’s how the original pioneers got where they were going so why not follow the same path and learn a little of times gone by in the process? Take a route towards the Cardrona Valley where you can see a vast expanse of rugged, ragged rock face here and there glowing green with an overlay of newly planted vines.
The Cardrona Valley is another locale made famous by the gold rush days. And investigating its past while walking the land makes a fascinating passage. Known more as the place for passing prospectors and packers when it was first established back in those days or yore, it gradually became a popular halfway town reminding many of their roots back in the Scottish uplands.
Cardrona’s colourful history is captured in the Cardrona Hotel, the Cardrona Hall and Church and also the annual Cardrona Folk Music Festival (a rollicking affair probably best sighted on two legs rather than four).
What you can guarantee while trotting along the hills is a magical view of some of the most sought after farmland in the country. Beautiful grassland dominated by snow tussock - a unique grass of clumping growth with stems fanning out from a central bunch. Known by the climbers as the place to put a firm grip when in danger of falling. It holds fast. Originally burnt off by farmers these days the tussock is valued - a vital component of the native ecosystems and also immensely appealing to creative landscapers. Wander in the clean warm air by the Carron River until it opens out to the township and marvel at its ancient beginnings. Go quietly enough and a takahe in its black and red splendour may come in sight or the myriad birds like the yellowhammer, rifleman, brown creepers and green finch or the tail flicking pipit may swoop past in fearless flight. Not forgetting the inimitable flightless weta an unusual ground mate in these parts.
As spring turns to early summer it becomes haymaking time so the sight of tractors sharply mowing down the knee deep blades is pretty well a guarantee on horse trek. That or a vision of the freshly mown grass being raked into rows before being transformed into a multiplicity of big round hay bales before being carted off for storage. It’s also pretty noisy this time of year. Ewes and their lambs are being brought down from the hills so there’s a lot of bleating to be heard as mothers try to find their offspring and the dogs bark furiously in an often fruitless quest to call them to heel. Once finally in the pens then there’s the whir of the machinery of all kinds indicating that this is a season of much activity rather than just a saunter round the hillside.
Pass by a hillside or a field and the fruit is ripe for the picking. Fortunately some enterprising prospectors saw that the gold of the apricot might bear just a little more fruit than the gold of the nugget and in time Central Otago golden apricots have reached world status with the foodie fans. Raspberries – both red and white – ready to be gathered and freely available announce it is jam making time. And a reminder of the abundance of what this place called Wanaka can offer. With the wind in your face and a saddle beneath your seat – meandering through this splendid landscape with its aura of magical present interwoven with the myths and legends of the tangata whenua and the memories of the magnificent pioneering achievements that have made it so, make a marvellous adventure both physically and in the mind.
WHARE KEA BESPOKE EXPERIENCE:
Wilderness, Wine and Cuisine
After a prelude of canapés and pre dinner drinks dine on a delicious five course degustation menu specially prepared by Chef James Stapley before retiring to sleep soundly in preparation for a country adventure. Next morning after indulging in a superb specially cooked breakfast take a walk along the lakeside Millenium track towards Wanaka township to Rippon vineyard where your guide will meet you. Mount your horse for a trail rise through the vineyard learning the history along the way and finish with a tasting of the spectacular award winning Rippon wines. Afterwards stroll for a picnic lunch along the lakeside walking track.
Wilderness Wine and Cuisine Package for two people/two nights - $3620
With its wide open spaces, massive mountainous backdrop and the glistening crystal waters of its lake, Wanaka is the place to find your inner soul on whatever level. For the exploring spirit it offers craggy ranges and the steepest cliffs to challenge even the expert; but Wanaka for the uninitiated, who simply want to dwell in its blissful nature, is a heavenly offering of lush foliage, gently sloping hills and endless chances to discover an ongoing scenic extravagance pretty well unsurpassed this side of the equator.
Peace and tranquillity provide the ultimate charm with a plethora of paths to follow. Find your own pace – climb swiftly or slowly stroll – all the time marvelling in the alpine paradise this corner of the world has to offer. Surrounded by mountains moaning with the movement of deep ravines and glaciers – the serenity for the stroller is beyond dreams.
Filled with ice some 20,000 years ago, the Wanaka and nearby Hawea Basins have over time been smoothed by the constant rub into gentle hilly slopes which when mounted lead to a breathtaking vista of vast waters and majestic mountains. Ka Tiritiri o te Moana or the Southern Alps began as layers of sand and mud in the sea floor. Some 220 million years ago. Intense heat and pressure uplifted this mass to form crags and peaks. All lushly laden with native vegetations like kanuka, manuka and kohuhi along with the silver beech. The air is filled with birdsong from the native fliers in the shrubland; bellbirds, kingfishers, silvereye and the hawk. And found as fodder are grasshoppers and dare we mention, weevils along with black butterflies amongst the flowering herbs like mountain daisies and buttercups. This is where the ancient Maori camped and named it Kaika Paekai, place of abundant food. And for the explorer Haast Pass (or Tioripatea) was one of the routes used by Maori groups travelling to the West Coast in search of greenstone (pounamu)
Diamond Lake which lives up to its name in every way is filled with moments when you can only wonder at how this landscape has been created.
If you switch shoes move onto the bluffs and climb a rock or two specially if there is no ice around Glendhu Bay will brace your spirit and for the more intrepid seek out Rob Roy Glacier which gives a nice ambling stroll after the heart stopping helicopter ride, over some of the most spectacular scenery you could hope to see in your life – while gasping at the glory of it all including another huge waterfall (made even more famous by that base jumping video The One) take note of the Kea (namesake of Whare Kea) cheeky little native birds that will stop at nothing to get their booty. Not for the fainthearted this one, but after a brisk stroll over the swing bridge from Raspberry Flat over the Matukituki, a wee gorge takes you through beautiful beeches, glorious alpine vegetations and then the greatest view of all Rob Roy itself.
Mou Waho Island is a favourite to find bird song and scenic stunners – with the added pleasure of a cruise for about half an hour over a pristine lake. Nestled into the Wanaka shores – a remnant of the Ice Age; and also a stopping point for steamers travelling upstream - an easy climb upwards takes you past Arethusa Pool, an exquisite tarn of water scattered with the smallest little plots of hills. Taking a completely different tack, an easy walk ( though you need a helicopter to get there) is Dragon Fly Peak - a steep tussock slope that traverses over grass and scree across ridges so high you could be in heaven with only the cascading waterfall to remind you this is earth.
WHARE KEA LODGE BESPOKE EXPERIENCE:
Lake Cruise and Nature Walk
Take a leisurely cruise to Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve – home of the Buff Weka (one of New Zealand’s most endangered native birds) then make an easy climb through native bush to Tyrwhitt Peak. Stop at Arethusa Pool (a lake with even more islands in it) en route then at the top take a look at a 360deg. View before giving back to the environment and planting a native tree. Four hour trip $180 per guest.
For the more intrepid a tramp round these parts means a few days out in the open. Now widely popular it eventuated around the 1950s when motor cars became standard household fare and a drive to the country to explore - a hitherto unknown pleasure.
It also requires the addition of several “musts” and preferably a guide. Pack up your proper clothing (merino wool works) strong walking boots, sleeping bag, poles, locator beacon and food. First aid is practical. A tent luxurious.
But it also means seeing views you have only glimpsed in National Geographic. The Wilkin River with its wildly dangerous waterfall face and possibility of falling rock offers a glimpse of the world that is the Gillespie/ Rabbit Pass – classed as the longest guided trek in NZ. And no better way to experience the marvels of nature. Mt Aspiring Park is World Heritage Area because of its spectacular glaciers, peaks, waterfalls and variety of alpine plants. And the Kea’s home.
Looking for totally untouched nature? Lake Crucible, nestled under Mt Alba is the answer; a leftover of the Ice Age with its amazing sight of little icebergs floating on the surface. It’s a trek for the intrepid. Helicopter in to fathom the depths of the Siberia Valley (aptly named) the raging rivers like the Matukituki, the fabulously lush forests and mountain magnificence. And study the wildlife reference book before you are drowned in the wealth of plant life 80% of which is found nowhere else in the world. From flora like the kowhai, beeches of every variety, Snow Totara, Cabbage Tree, Matagaouri and fauna such as the inimitable kea, tern, plovers, oystercatchers, tomtit, falcon and the beautiful bellbird. Spellbinding wing flashes against lush forestation cast an indelible image into the mind.
Names like the Wilkin (one of the country’s greatest treasures), Lake Lucidus, Lake Castalia and Jumboland or Waterfall Flats (known round these parts as one of the treasures of the trail) all take the exploring soul into the wilderness that is this wonderland called Wanaka. Here’s a place to escape – but remember fitness and fearlessness are a prerequisite in order to enjoy the delights of the valleys, mountains, rain forests, meadows, waterfalls and hanging glaciers.
Whare Kea book
Find out more about the book
Great Outdoors Blog
Whare Kea Lodge Boating
Springtime at Wanaka. Sprouts of green leaves. Sprigs of pink blossom. Golden daffodils. Cloud-white fleece on newborn lambs. Puffy white breasts of the wood pigeons gorging on bursting willow buds. A sky filled with bird wings – terns, dotterels, pied stilts and oystercatchers returning from a northern winter to breed on the river banks.