Heading Past Hāwea

April 29, 2022
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ON the way to the Haast Pass/Tioripatea highway from Queenstown, you arrive at the lakeside resort town of Wānaka, which I have blogged about previously, and from there Lake Hāwea, where the journey takes the form of a lengthy lakeshore drive, first along Lake Hāwea and then, after crossing over at a spot where the two lakes nearly join, the northern arm of Lake Wānaka. This spot where the two lakes nearly join is called The Neck, and is overlooked by a mountain called Isthmus Peak (1386 m or 4,547 feet).

Isthmus Peak is not very high by New Zealand standards but still slightly higher than Ben Nevis in Scotland and possibly with a better view, of the two big lakes with interesting shorelines and islands and higher mountains behind them, including the serious peak of Mount Aspiring / Tititea, ‘The Matterhorn of the South’.

The overall area covered by this post. Background map data (2022) from LINZ via NZ Topo Map, CC BY 4.0. Some placenames have been added for this blog post. For all the maps in this post, north is at the top.

As a place-name, Wānaka means a place of learning, traditionally a place where the lore of a tohunga, that is to say, a shaman, is learnt: which is a pretty good sort of a name to have! The town was called Pembroke until 1940 but then became Wānaka to match the name of the lake and perhaps also in deference to the 1940 centennial of the Treaty of Waitangi.

At the time, many people thought the name commemorated Anaka, a past hero, and the name is recorded thus in the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

But according to Ngāi Tahu's cultural mapping guide Kā Huru Manu, those who thought Wānaka mean the place of Anaka mis-heard the name. You can see more about Wanaka in the Wikipedia entry for the town and the lake, which includes a discussion of the naming issue.

Lake Hāwea is named after an early group of people said to have been specially selected to take part in a voyage of exploration, in a waka (canoe) named Hāwea, under a chief named Taiehu.

Hitting The Road to Wānaka

I began by leaving Queenstown and driving seventy or so kilometres to Wānaka, often spelt Wanaka without the tohutō or macron. Most of the journey is via the Crown Range Road, which starts with a couple of magnificent lookouts over the Queenstown area, and takes you past the Snow Farm Nordic ski area, the Cardrona alpine skifield and the famous old pub at Cardrona. I've blogged about all those places as well.

One of the Crown Range Road lookouts

As the following map shows, there are masses of walks and hikes in the area of the two lakes, which are crossed by Te Araroa (the long path), New Zealand's great national hiking trail.

Map from the Wānaka Outdoor Pursuits brochure, New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), October 2019, CC BY 4.0

The town of Wānaka is a lovely little place, famous for the Instagram meme of #ThatWanakaTree, growing all gnarled and Japanese-looking out of the lake.

#ThatWanakaTree, late winter 2020

At Wānaka, which I've also blogged about quite a bit already, you can hike up Mount Iron to look west over Lake Wānaka into the alpine Matukituki Valley, which I've blogged about as well. You can look all these places up on my website, I don't really need to link to them.

At 548 metres in height, Mount Iron towers 269 metres or 883 feet above the lakeshore.

Mount Iron in Wānaka. Map data (2022) from LINZ via NZ Topo Map, CC BY 4.0.

Looking westward from Mount Iron over Lake Wānaka into the Matukituki Valley and the Southern Alps. Photo by Jason Pratt, 4 November 2009, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

America's Fortune magazine describes the hike up Mount Iron as one of the four top short walks in New Zealand. And yet it is in a suburban park!

Heading Past Hāwea

The town of Wānaka is smaller than Queenstown, and the village of Lake Hāwea is smaller still.

At Lake Hāwea village. The next five photos are all taken at Lake Hāwea village as well.

There's a dam at the outlet of the lake, close to the village. Lake Hāwea was raised by twenty metres or a bit over sixty feet at the end of the 1950s, as part of a hydroelectric programme. Presumably they didn't want to raise the lake any further, in case it spilled over the Neck into Lake Wānaka.

In town, a couple of nice places are the Esplanade Reserve and Esplanade Beach, which also lead onto the Gladstone Track. The Gladstone Track then turns into the Breast Hill Track, which has spectacular views. At 1,398 metres or 4,587 feet, Lake Hāwea township's own lookout peak, Grandview Mountain, is a lot higher than Mount Iron; though admittedly not so close to cafés.

Lake Hāwea, from State Highway 6

State Highway 6, the road to Haast and beyond, leads up the western side of Lake Hāwea past a place called Craig Burn at the foot of the Matatiaho Conservation Area, and a mountain called Isthmus Peak, before cutting over the Neck to the eastern shore of Lake Wānaka. The Isthmus Peak walk, which takes four or five hours if you go to the peak and back, or longer if hike in a loop from Craig Burn, is really popular.

The Matatiaho Conservation Area (green) and the track to Isthmus Peak, between Lakes Wānaka and Hāwea, from the DOC brochure Matatiaho Conservation Area (May 2010). May now be CC BY 4.0; otherwise, Crown Copyright is reserved.

I was going to stay the night at the Craig Burn carpark, but it only had a rather horrible long drop toilet, so I wasn't interested.

On the west side, you can also drive from the Neck along the west side of Lake Hāwea on Meads Road past the common start of the Kidds Bush Nature Walk and Sawyer Burn Track, as far as Hunter Valley Station.

You can also drive up the east side of the lake on the Timaru Creek Road past the Te Araroa Trail and tracks on the Timaru River, after which it becomes the Dingle Burn Station Road as far as Dingle Burn Station and the Dingle Burn Peninsula Track.

Various other huts, tracks and four-wheel drive roads continue north on both sides of the lake, on up into the Hunter River catchment.

Just before I went on this trip, I was given the name of an app to use, called WikiCamps New Zealand. It's a really amazing app to use. When you plug in Lake Hāwea, which is the next place I went to, the app has got hotels, it's got the Lake Hāwea Holiday Camp, and the freedom camping, now called responsible camping, locations, where you can camp for free as long as you have a toilet in your vehicle.

The app also has everything you can do in and around the area, including all the tramping tracks and lookouts.

I would like to hike the Te Araroa east of Lake Hawea one day. It leads to the Ahuriri River, and along with the usual tramping huts there are classy places to stay in that area, such as the Birchwood Homestead near Snowy Creek Gorge, halfway between Lake Hāwea and Lake Ōhau.

What else? Wānaka is also the site of the popular airshow called Warbirds over Wanaka. WOW is one of the few opportunities Kiwis have to see fighter jets in action, since the RNZAF no longer has any. Though, the ones that show up at WOW are mostly of a vintage fifties sort such as the elegant-looking Hawker Hunter, captured doing some very thrilling low flying in and out of local ravines in YouTube footage from 2012's WOW. And of course, that perennial favourite the Spitfire, of which there are no less than four airworthy examples in the country. Plus, a whole host of other flying machines old and new, prosaic and fantastic!

If you liked the post above, do check out my book about the South Island! It's available for purchase from this website.


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