My Journey to Wanaka

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Move to wanaka

Some of the biggest changes in our lives are prompted by a journey or two.

So I guess it’s safe to assume I go through a lot of life changes since I always seem to be on a journey. Though to be perfectly honest, I am getting pretty sick of packing up everything I own, and starting over in a new place. Again. Again. And again.

There, I said it.

I want to nest. I want my own place. Obviously I still want to travel the world, have amazing adventures, meet cool people, and eat weird food, but I want to be able to come back to my own space at the end of it, and fall asleep in my own bed.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

My travel style has evolved a lot over 7 years and I imagine it will continue to change as I grow older – please note, I don’t say grow up, that will never happen if I can help it! But this past year has been educational in the sense of me realizing I am not meant to be a long-term nomad. I would much rather take trips back and forth and come back to a home.

Now all I have to do is find a home. Sigh, why is nothing easy?

In February my lease in Wellington ended and I headed off the magical region of Queensland, Australia for 3 weeks. Because this was a last minute trip, my North Island road trip that I planned was postponed til I got back, and changed into a North and South Island road trip as I made my journey from Auckland to Wanaka, which would hopefully be my new home.

No big deal. Except I was so tired and burnt out from my Aussie adventures that the last thing in the world I wanted to do was travel at that point. Where’s stability when you need it?

To be honest I had a little meltdown the day I got back because it literally seemed to be a mountain in front of me before I would find a new home in Wanaka. But like with so many things in my life, I knew it would be good for me and I would regret it if I didn’t, so I began the long journey deep down south.

This is a pattern with me. I inherently hate change but I force myself to embrace it because I know in the long run it’s worth it and will make me happy. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

So after I got over my hissy fit, accepted my situated and mentally prepared to have a rocking time, I was ready to roll!

So come with me on a visual journey from almost the top of New Zealand to the bottom in photos, and all iPhone photos to be exact. Enjoy!

Move to wanaka


For some reason Auckland doesn’t get the best rap in New Zealand. While it is actually a pretty cool city, sprawling outwards instead of upwards making it’s exploration challenging to your everyday tourist.

Written off by many, I was happy to spend a day there meeting up with a college friend and walking around in the sunshine around Mt. Eden and grabbing a fabulous brunch at one of the many trendy cafes around the neighborhood.

Afterwards we visited the actual Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano covered in grass with an awesome crater that looms over the neighborhood. How cool is that? I wish more metropolises had volcanoes you could climb.

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The Coromandel

If there was one area of the North Island I was keen to explore, it was the Coromandel, one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets. The Coromandel has always been popular with Kiwi’s on holiday. A large peninsula that juts out alongside Auckland, it is a treasure trove of hidden sandy beaches, turquoise waters, soaring forests and deep forests.


I spent a few days based in Whitianga right on the beach, waking up to the waves crashing gently with amazing sunrises and sunsets every day. It was glorious.

Move to wanaka

The first night I rented a shovel from my hostel and headed out to the famous Hot Water Beach. When the tide rolls out, you can dig a hole in the wet sand and reach natural hot springs. The water fills up the big holes you dig creating a natural hot tub.

It was pitch dark and the stars were coming out as I made my way down the trail to the beach with just a shovel, towel and beer for company. No iphone. No camera.

When I got there, the party had already started, and it seemed a bit weird to be all by myself. Eventually I just started digging my own little hole but before long the walls collapsed and with the changing springs, I was joined by another group of travelers.

In the end, it was still a good experience, I made some new friends, and sitting in the hot water listening to the sound of the waves with steam drifting across the bright stars. Sipping my beer, this was just what I needed to welcome me back to New Zealand and put me in a better mood.

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The next morning dawned with a magnificent sunrise as usual before I headed down to Hahei Beach to go kayaking with Cathedral Cove Kayaks.

Te Whanganui-A-Hei, aka Cathedral Cove, is *probably* one of New Zealand’s finest beaches, made famous in movies like the Chronicles of Narnia and in Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us video. In short, it’s pretty freaking beautiful.

Because it’s in a marine reserve, Cathedral Cove Kayaks is the only company that’s allowed to land on the beach. Otherwise you can walk into it on a track from Hahei Beach that takes about 30 minutes.

I’ve been dying to go here for years and getting to experience from the water made it all the more special.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

As I arrived on the beach, there were several groups heading out at once. I started chatting to a fellow American named Joy, who as it turned out, went to my same university way back when!

As a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, a tiny women’s college in New England, that’s saying something. I NEVER encounter alumns around the world, let alone end up sharing a kayak with them in New Zealand. For me, and for pretty much any lady who graduates from MHC, there is a love for that place and the women who go there that is unexplainable. It’s as if we are all a family, no matter where we are in the world, all united by a love of the college.

And after my soppy emotional state from the previous day, that was just what I needed.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Paddling out through the turquoise waters was breathtaking. In some places you could see way down straight to the bottom. Eventually we arrived at Cathedral Cove and it was even more magnificent in person.

Our guide prepared our coffee or beverage of choice right on the beach while we wandered off to explore the cove, wandering under the great rock cave and along the water.  I really haven’t seen such a magnificent beach before.

We ended up having a great group of people in the kayaks and had an awesome time paddling around. I ended up spending the whole afternoon with Joy, which was just what I needed to get back into tip top happy traveler state.

I love those serendipitous travel moments and encounters, don’t you?

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Before leaving the Coromandel, somebody somewhere mentioned New Chums Beach to me as a must-see stop in the area.

Googling it, I realized it was a secluded white sandy beach that you had to hike to. Like so many places in New Zealand, hike was an understatement. That beach is not easy to get to which makes it hidden from regular old tourists.

I spent the entire walk wondering if I was going in the right direction and trying not to break an ankle scrambling over slippery seaweed covered boulders as the tide came in. Luckily, my perseverance was rewarded and I emerged at one side of a long completely deserted white sand beach. Gold mine!

This of course meant I had to go skinnydipping. As you do.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka


Sadly my time in the Coromandel was cut short because I realized my next stop, Mt. Taranaki near New Plymouth, was about to get slammed by a cyclone in a few days and every time of accommodation was booked out the following weekend due to a massive music festival, Nomads, coming to town.

Normally I don’t even book accommodation in advance in New Zealand. There is always a place to stay and prices are usually cheaper if you show up the day of without a reservation. So when I was perusing possible places to call in New Plymouth, I was astonished to find everything was 98% booked for the dates I wanted – unheard of in New Zealand.

So I booked it to get over there as fast as possible.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

After many hours in the car, I was passing through a blip of a town called Piopio near Waitomo where I had gone caving with the glowworms. Out of the blue I noticed a sign that read “Hobbit filming location” indicating right. On a complete whim, I turned down the road and followed it for several kilometers through farmland partly over unsealed not knowing what waited for me at the end. I love adventure!

Finally I popped out at Hairy Feet Waitomo,

Wandering inside, I realized I struck gold.

Being the total nerd that I am and noticing the drastic cliffs emerging from beautiful green farmland, I immediately recognized it from scenes from the first Hobbit film, where Bilbo and the dwarves encounter the trolls.

Dun, dun, dun.

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Chatting with Suzie the owner, I realized this was the place for me. We spent the next hour and half touring around the farm and learning about how everything was shot here and what it was like.

Can you imagine owning a farm and then one day having Peter Jackson and his crew rock up to your front door wanting to shoot a massive feature film there?

It was too cool to spot out places from the film and even just explore the area in and of itself. The towering limestone cliffs are magnificent and the lush green forests are beautiful to wander around in.

Oh, and the sheep!

I plan to write more about my experience with Hairy Feet Waitomo so I don’t want to give away too much now. Just know that it was spectacular, and I am so glad I followed my instincts (and the signs) down that road.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka


Besides the Coromandel, my other must-see on the North Island before heading down south was the famous Mt. Taranaki on west coast. An enormous, perfectly conical volcano, it towers over the flat surrounding countryside and almost looks fake.

This I had to see for myself. And ideally, climb it.

Being a big fan of big mountains, I really wanted to see the famous Mt. Taranaki for myself. And until I met my friends over at Living a Kiwi Life in Wellington, I didn’t think it was actually achievable.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Driving down to New Plymouth, the city closest to this monster of a volcano, my eyes grew wide and my heart started beating fast as soon as I saw Taranki rising up from the horizon at sunset.

I’ll be honest, my pictures don’t do it just. It is fucking massive and incredibly steep, almost as if it’s erupting straight from the ground. Polling in at 2,500 meters (8,000+) feet straight from the ground, it’s a whopper of a mountain. And you don’t want to mess with it either. The second deadliest mountain in New Zealand, it’s already claimed 2 lives this year.

Of course I didn’t let that stop me.

My first day in the area I spent hiking around the Egmont National Park, exploring the waterfalls and beautiful dense forest, while the giant mountain loomed behind me.

I was trying to decide if I was crazy enough to attempt a summit climb. I had only one day left of good weather before the cyclone arrived, and you don’t want to be anywhere near the top if a storm rolls in. It had already snowed once this summer, trapping people at the top who had to be rescued.

Move to wanaka

An 8 to 10 hour day hike, the DOC (Dept. of Conservation) lists it as “moderate” which translated from New Zealand English to the rest of the world means “really fucking hard be prepared to cry.”

However, I was prepared to give it try, knowing that it would kick my ass. I am happy to report Taranaki lived up to its reputation, and it was single-handedly the hardest thing physically I have ever done.

10 hours of sweat and tears made up my journey to the top and bottom of this monster volcano. But I did it. All by myself. It was a beautiful experience and something I can look back fondly on now that my bruises have disappeared and my legs can function normally again.

I’m glad I did it but you won’t find me in a hurry to try climbing it again any time soon.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Wellington to Picton

My journey back to Wellington was bittersweet.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I never thought I would enjoy living in a city, let alone the capital. But suddenly and quickly Wellington stole my heart.

6 months later I didn’t want to leave. However, I didn’t come to New Zealand to live in a city, and I knew if I didn’t give the South Island a chance in Wanaka, I would regret it. So even as I was tearfully packing and saying goodbyes, I made a promise to myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always come back to Wellington.

So with everything I owned packed away in my tiny red car, I made my way to the harbor to catch the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry to the South Island.

Traveling between the North and South Islands by ferry is a kiwi right of passage, literally.

Move to wanaka

Only 3 hours sail between Wellington and Picton, it’s a beautiful way to travel. I wish there were more ferry options available around the world instead of flying. Standing on deck, I waved goodbye (I actually did wave too, cheesy!) to my beloved Wellington with tears in my eyes.

Sorry I was so damn emotional on this trip. What’s happening to me?

At this point I had no idea what was in store for me down south, with no friends in Wanaka yet or any idea of a place to live. Obviously it was scary saying goodbye AGAIN to everything familiar and comfortable in exchange for uncertainty.

But like all things in life, chances tend to pay off.

Sailing with perfect weather and a pod of dolphins jumping alongside the Bluebridge Ferry should have  been some indication that things were going to work out just fine.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka


In Nelson I was finally able to be reunited with a friend of a friend and was treated with perfect sunny weather! After an emotional journey across the sea, it was just what I needed to be greeted by friends and to relax.

One of my favorite things about travel blogging is the fact that I have been able to meet so many cool, friendly and interesting people around the world.

Nowadays with social media and everything, it has almost changed how we travel, and it has definitely shrunk the world, that’s for sure!

I was also keen to see Nelson because many friends and readers told me that I would really enjoy living there on the South Island. Keeping my options open, I definitely felt at home in this artsy, beautiful town on the top of the South Island.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

The next morning K arranged the best surprise in the history or surprises and took me to visit the Ringmaker aka Jens Hansen the jeweler who made the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings movies.

Too cool right?!

I had absolutely no idea that that was in Nelson!

A family run business that made more than 40 variations of the One Ring for the films, it’s now run by Jens’ sons in the same workshop and jewelry shop, and it’s a great way to spend the morning in Nelson.

I managed to behave myself and resisted the urge to buy a solid gold movie ring, but I had a blast trying all the different ones on, especially the massive 8 inch ring used for the reflection shots and close ups.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have my future wedding ring picked out.

“One ring to rule them all.”

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West Coast

After a sad goodbye from Nelson, I began to make my way south along the west coast, retracing my steps from my recent trip with Haka Tours.

I love the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s wild, untamed and really beautiful, in a rugged way. The further south you go, the bigger the mountains get, and the views just get better and better.

Stopping for the night in Greymouth, I left early the next day to get to Wanaka.

Of course since I have the attention span of a baby, I had to pull over every 20 minutes or so for photos. Surprise surprise.

In New Zealand, driving in and of itself is its own attraction.

Move to wanaka


And after what seemed to be a million hours in the car, I finally made it to Wanaka.

And in true New Zealand fashion, a friend of a friend of friend of Syd from Nomadically Inclined (who I have yet to meet in person), agreed to host me while I looked for a house.

I love living in a small country.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

House hunting in Wanaka is challenging.

In a town of about 5,000 people, there aren’t a lot of options. Not to mention it’s a seasonal town too – growing massively in winter when all the skiers and snowboarders flock down from the northern hemisphere looking for a place. Prices shoot up in the winter months, and many landlords hold out knowing they can charge double then.

And while there are some places listed online, most is done word of mouth, posted on an ad on a board at the grocery store or in the weekly Messenger. I will take this moment to appreciate the fact that Wanaka is a time warp and still use print to spread news, along with buying and selling things.

Just another reason the community here is so fantastic.

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After viewing about every house for rent in Wanaka, I finally moved into a place after a week. 2 days later, I realized the landlord who was living there was absolutely batshit crazy, and I made the choice to move out ASAP.

As fate would have it, another listing popped up online, and on a whim I went over to see it. Apart from being the cutest house in Wanaka with a beautiful garden, mountain views, and a quirky interior that I fell in love with immediately, V, roommate #1, was the coolest person I’ve met in New Zealand.

A kiwi who has lived overseas in Europe for a long time and who shares my passion for travel, she has decided to come back to NZ and make a home in Wanaka. This is only the beginning of our bizarre similarities.

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

Move to wanaka

From living in Paxos, the most random island in Greece, which I fell in love with last summer (seriously, nobody knows about Paxos, let alone has been there!)

Needless to say, I moved in that afternoon, and the rest is history.

While everything fell into place quickly in Wanaka, and it took me less than a week to fall head over heels in love with this little New Zealand town, finding a comfortable happy home with an awesome roommate was my biggest fear.

Switching houses was almost like fate, and I am so happy and proud of myself that I stood up for myself and changed an uncomfortable and unhappy situation when I had the chance. And it all worked out just like it was supposed to. Phew.

Move to wanaka

In fact, in the 2 months I’ve been in Wanaka, it’s the happiest I’ve ever been in recent years.

It feels like everything is working out like it’s supposed to and I finally feel like I’ve found where I belong, at least for now.

Wanaka is incredibly special, and even now it’s hard for me to articulate all my feelings about it, but it feels like the place I’ve been searching for for years.

Wanaka feels like coming home.

Have you ever made a big move or moved abroad? How did you cope with the uncertainty? Who wants to visit me in Wanaka?

Move to wanaka

Many thanks to Bluebridge for ferrying me over to the South Island and to Cathedral Cove Kayaks for boating me around the Coromandel. Like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me.

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76 Comments on “My Journey to Wanaka

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  1. That’s it Rachel! The story took us on the journey emotionally as well.

    Did I mention my eyes were somewhat moist reading the pain at the beginning…
    (nice 21C out in Christchuch, so it wasn’t related to the polar blast heading for Wanaka.)

    And the nostalgia of seeing photos again from recent adventures is so – “connecting” 🙂

  2. I love allof your pictures. The ones from Cathedral Cove look like the scene in the 2nd Narnia movie. I just had to point that out lol. Can’t wait to read more of your adventures!

  3. Trusted friend(s) overcome the uncertainty. I think the journey is better when shared. Seems you’re doing that lots via the internet…

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