I first met Liz in Spain when I presented at a workshop for travel bloggers. She sat next to me at dinner, her eyes bright, her hair long and blond and distracting; she would curl it around her fingers when she talked animatedly, explaining her plans for her site and her work. This was in 2012, and I was starting to get into public speaking, conquering the overpowering fear of getting onstage and trying to teach something of value despite feeling like I wanted to throw up. At the time, Liz was resolutely working toward the goal of building up an audience for her teaching in Spain website, and was taking the workshop in order to learn more about how to do so more efficiently.
In the years that followed we stayed in touch, and I watched as Liz went from teaching in Spain to travelling, to exploring New Zealand, to getting a long-term visa there and making Wanaka her home. Along the way, she built a huge and vibrant community around her expansive posts, the long photoessays and how tos, and — it has to be said — the occasional rant that got her into hot water. One thing was certain from her writing and photos: she loved her New Zealand, and she wanted everyone to experience it as she did.
To that end, when I visited the South Island, fresh off my traumatic learning to sail extravaganza that reminded me why conquering your fears with extreme immersion is not always the best idea, Liz put me in touch with Carla at the Lake Wanaka tourism board, and together they built a package of activities to showcase their beloved part of the country. There were plane rides in WWII planes, eco-adventures, and boat trips along the river.
Carla knew that I was obsessed with trees (I have a Pinterest board called Trees that Look Like Broccoli for a reason), and ensured that I stayed at a guesthouse right in front of the famous lone Wanaka Tree, right at the edge of the lake and photogenic in any light.
The activities are ones Liz and others have written about, but the WWII plane ride in Tiger Moths truly stood out, as my grandpa used to fly them in the war. It felt surreal and quite jarring to be in the front of one of those planes and their minimal controls, imagining how terrifying it must have been for him to be doing so not over a gorgeous lake in the middle of New Zealand, but in battle.
The following are a series of photos from my time visiting Lake Wanaka. Unlike most of my travels these were all provided by the Lake Wanaka tourism board and their partners, meaning that I did not pay for the activities.
I hope you enjoy the photoessay!
It’s hard to believe how much was packed into 5 days in Wanaka, not including the many meals and great conversations with Liz and Carla. Growing up on the east coast of Canada, with much smaller mountain than the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and no turquoise waters or lakes within lakes within lakes like Mou Wapo has on offer, I found my time in the region pretty damn wondrous.
I wanted to end on nostalgia. After years of travel that kind of wistful affection is something I struggle with. I used to think that everyone felt as I did, leaving pieces of myself in places that I visit. I realize now, after many long discussions with fellow wanderers, that it’s not the case for all of us. Many do feel similarly, but many simply move on. In my brain, however, I create this diorama of places and feelings, and drag some of it with me wherever I go.
In the case of Wanaka, what stood out was not just the landscapes and the flowers and the great conservation efforts, but also that feeling of being in a Tiger Month and being able to imagine only a small part of what my grandfather must have felt and gone through. He met my grandmother during the war, and proposed to her on that very day — it was, as he always said, love at first sight. Us grandkids have heard this story time and time again, and it always brings us joy. But at least for a moment I felt like I was even more transported into that memory, despite being in Southern New Zealand, flying over a very different landscape.
Though ideally I would have done what Liz did – plonk myself down and get to exploring for months on end – I only had five days. So I am grateful for Liz and Carla and all the businesses mentioned here for planning out my schedule for me and covering costs, and ensuring that I sampled some of what Wanaka has to showcase as their own.
Currently in NYC and heading to Toronto next, followed by family time in Montreal.