The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)
Wanaka — Lake of Dreamy Beauty
It was a description overheard in a hotel lounge last year that gave me the urge to visit Lake Wanaka.
A superb lake lying almost in the heart of majestic mountains, and girded by snow powdered foothills—a lake of many delightful bays, seen through the delicate tracery of willows and populars—a lakeside with groves of English trees, a deserted garden, rich with roses in summer-time and carpeted with daffodil's gold in spring—a place where lacy snowflakes gently fell in late autumn, winter and early spring.
It sounded like a dream-place, especially to a being who had spent practically all her life in a seaside North Island town, where a fall of snow went down in the town's history, and, longing for mountain scenery, had to be satisfied with—on clear days only—distant views of solitary Mount Egmont.
My opportunity of visiting Lake Wanaka came in early winter. When I voiced my intention of going south, my friends shuddered, drew their chairs closer to the fire, and uttered loud and forcible protests against such folly. Undaunted, however, I set out and after a very comfortable and interesting journey through Canterbury and unique Central Otago, I stepped off the train at Cromwell, the busy little town associated so much with New Zealand's own romantic gold, fresh from the bowels of Mother Earth. There I joined a service car and in “no time” was spinning along a broad highway lined with stately poplars. For thirty miles I purred along beside rich undulating pasture-land, and, en route, crossed mountain streams and the beautiful Clutha River—a ribbon of blue gracefully threading its way over the smiling countryside. Lastly, the car glided down a gentle incline, and there immediately before me in breath-taking loveliness reposed Lake Wanaka. In a second I was standing on the lake's very shore, realising the place I looked upon was even more beautiful than the place I had dreamed about for a whole twelve months.
For, although it was mid-afternoon on that winter's day, the little paradise lay bathed in golden sunshine. The lake sparkled like an immense sapphire—a gem zealously guarded by ranges of magnificent glistening snow-covered mountains appearing to commune with the very heavens. Purple hued foothills besprinkled with snow, nestled beneath the inspiring mountains, and closer at hand was the charming, sight of noble oaks, giant forests, birches, and sedate poplars. Weeping willows dipped their leafless tresses in the crystal clear waters, and in the distance a mountain stream burbled merrily. And all the time tui, bell-bird, thrush, blackbird, and warbler, sang with all their springtime rapture, the gentle lapping of Wanaka's water making a perfect accompaniment for such classical singers.
Feeling my cup of joy was filled to overflowing, I wandered up to the beautiful hotel, built almost on the lake's shore. Mrs. Mann accorded me a most friendly welcome. Tiny birds of exquisitely tinted plumage fluttered in the glassed-in porch, and gay coloured pot-plants and geranium flowers tapped their pretty heads on the sun-kissed panes.
My bedroom opened on to a balcony commanding a divine view of page 33 mountains, lake, and sky. And it was from that balcony that I daily watched night close on Lake Wanaka. Each evening King Sol—in golden splendour—sank down behind the mountains, leaving in the western sky a trail of multi-coloured glory. Under the sunset spell the lake looked like a fiery opal, mountains changed to an ethereal blue, and delicate pink and lilac hues tinged the entire landscape. Each evening I gazed enrapt, asking myself, “Can there be a more heavenly world than this?”
The air at Pembroke—the picturesque little hamlet built on the shore of Lake Wanaka—is wonderfully invigorating. It miraculously drives the lassitude out of the human frame wearied with toil or weakened by illness. The peace that enfolds the haven is soothing to ragged nerves and balm to aching hearts.
It was on a morning soon after my arrival at Lake Wanaka that I fully realised what a truly great artist Jack Frost is. After an early breakfast a fellow guest and I scaled Mount Iron, less than an hour's easy climb. A white mantle lay over the landscape, and, as we ascended the springy track, we frequently paused to admire the exquisite sight of dainty wild flowers, some pale green, others lavender and pink, all wearing fairy-like frockings of silver frost. The ferny glades were silvered, too, and lifeless branches and twigs were transformed into things of sparkling beauty. At the summit a magnificent view awaited us. Long white clouds rested half-way down the mountain sides, a silver mist hovered over the lake which on that crisp morning looked as smooth as a sheet of glass and pale as mother of pearl. Turning from that sublime picture we looked down on the fertile Cadrona and Clutha valleys where flourished some of the finest stations in the district.
On a lovely day some tourists motored me to Lake Hawea—Wanaka's sister lake. Hawea is just a pleasant run from Pembroke, and is a perfect little jewel set in the heart of the hills. Palely shaded stones cover the lake's shore, and from a distance give the effect of a decorative band of mosaic work. But most fascinating at Lake Hawea are the wonderful reflections of the distant mountains. As the shadows lengthen one could easily mistake the reflection for the reality.
I enjoyed golf at Pembroke on the fine links commanding superb views of the lake and mountains. I went for a delightful launch trip to Pigeon Island. This verdure clad island is situated on lake Wanaka just twelve miles from the shore. It rises 480 feet above lake level and has the unique feature of a lakelet a few feet below the summit. The lakelet is known to Europeans as Paradise lake.
But one cannot dwell in Arcady for ever, and the morning came when I had to take my leave of Lake Wanaka—the lake of quiet, dreamy beauty. I did it reluctantly, but with the firm determination to return as soon as possible and visit fresh scenes in the lovely land of cold lake and mountain. And from choice it will be winter time when I go there, for to a North Islander, ice covered ponds, snow-flakes gently falling, must ever hold much of the enchantment of fairyland.page 34