20 wild photos from the Wanaka flood in New Zealand

With any luck, the Wanaka Tree might disappear entirely...

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This spring in New Zealand has been a wild one, bringing on a flood in Wanaka.

Here in Wanaka, where I call home, in the heart of the Southern Alps, it’s been raining, raining and raining some more.

Considering it’s usually hot and dry and cold and dry as a general rule, this is rather unusual. Spring is generally windy but warm, teasing us for a beautiful summer ahead.

For all my fellow northern hemisphere inhabitants, spring in New Zealand runs from September to November.

With the snowmelt that feeds into the rivers, the lake level was already high.

Two weeks ago, the typically white beaches that outline our stunning Lake Wanaka were completely submerged beneath shimmering blue water, with the iconic Clutha River running high and fast.

Our mountains were bright green, lush and verdant, an unusual sight, but one that I love. Usually, a dry part of the country, come springtime our hills and valleys generally turn green with the snowmelt.

And then a week ago it began to rain properly. And I mean torrential rain for days, the likes of which we don’t usually see.

Cue the latest Wanaka flood.

Lake Wanaka has a history of flooding since the town was founded. Everyone was wondering if this year’s flood would top the 1999 flood when the lake came up so far that the New World was a meter underwater.

wanaka flood

Lucky for us, the rain has stopped just in time, as the water was spilling across the main road and lapping at the quickly stacked sandbags across the lakefront shops. Phew!

While the vibe of Wanaka is changing fast as the world catches on to how cool this wee mountain town of New Zealand is, the pride of the locals still runs deep. With everyone rallying together to protect the downtown and prep for the flood, it raised my spirits to see the community passion still alive and kicking.

Anyone who has ever visited Wanaka knows it’s unique.

wanaka flood

As the rain briefly stopped on Wednesday, December 4th, I made my way to the lakefront to have a good look at the state of affairs. The water was lapping over park benches, the jetties were gone, and the lakefront parking lot was covered in driftwood.

The clouds momentarily lifted, revealing snowcapped mountains and thundering waterfalls.

And our iconic Wanaka Tree, the infamous willow tree in the lake, looked like it needed a snorkel.

wanaka flood

Not only were all our beaches gone, but the lake was ever so slowly creeping across the grass towards the town in Wanaka.

Curious, I drove out to Treble Cone towards the Matukituki Valley, and I wasn’t disappointed.

By Glendhu Bay, the water was already spilling over onto the road. The waterfalls were thundering, much bigger than usual. The small wooden bridge in West Wanaka, which straddles the Matukituki River was shaking; brown water rushed down from the mountains into the lake.

It was terrifying, and I quickly returned home. A few hours later, the road was closed off from flooding.

wanaka flood

With the South Island doused in the rain, washing away roads and bridges this spring, it’s put it into a stark reminder that we are at the mercy of mother nature down here, especially in the mountains.

New Zealand is still a wild place, with big mountains, glacial rivers, and waterfalls galore. Hello, that’s why we all want to visit here. But it comes with a price. Mountain weather can be intense, and when it comes knocking, we have to listen.

It’s not all that uncommon for big storms to close roads and impact travel on the South Island. It’s happened a handful of times around Wanaka since I moved here six years ago.

If you’re planning to travel around New Zealand, I recommend checking NZTA’s (New Zealand Transport Agency) website for the most up-to-date maps on road closures.

wanaka flood

Usually, I’m not the kind of person who goes out to photograph something like this. When I’m home, I am not always inclined to pick up my camera. For the past few years, camera = work.

But I’m hoping to feel more inspired this year. I’m looking to challenge myself to take photos of things I might normally would otherwise. So it was time to drag my lazy bum off the sofa and have a little look at what our lake was up to. Camera in hand and with no agenda, I headed to the lake

Here are some photos from the Wanaka flood this year.

Have you ever experienced a flood on your travels? Have you seen anything like this? Any stories from the Wanaka flood to spill? Share!

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

wanaka flood

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9 Comments on “20 wild photos from the Wanaka flood in New Zealand

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  1. great photos btw, that tell a tale of both scenic and reality and they really pull a person into the moment photographed.

  2. Beautiful photos.. I’ve never experienced this kind of flooding in my travels and I think it would be pretty frightening if you’re going through it for the first time and don’t quite know what to expect.

  3. I can remember the flooding in Yorkshire, 2004. We had to evacuate the campsite because it had turned into a lake, York was flooded and in the news we heard a nearby village was literally washed away… I was really lucky not to get my sleeping bag and stuff wet, but friends of mine weren’t so lucky… But the church was really nice and let them stay there and dry their gear 🙂

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