Nothing like a good old NZ road trip! Steve and Liv piled into a JUCY campervan and shot from Queenstown to Wanaka before springboarding into all kinds of nearby adventures.

With international borders opening up, my partner Liv and I decided it was just about time to pay a visit to our friends across the ditch. This wasn’t just about hitting the slopes, it was about exploring some parts of New Zealand’s South Island that I’ve never visited before, catching up with old and dear friends, and generally having an epic few weeks on the road, wherever it took us.

Enter our humble whip: the JUCY Cabana, a double bed campervan ready to hit the highway at a moment’s notice. We had our skis locked in the rooftop racks, and our hiking and camping kit in duffles and packs inside the van to make setting up the bed super easy. We found it easiest to set up the bed and leave it that way, moving our gear into the front seats when we would park up for the night.

When this all began at Queenstown Airport, we had days and days of classic Kiwi weather ahead of us – a mixture of rain, snow, wind, and sunshine. Four seasons in one day type stuff. Our grand plans of high mountain adventure would have to go on hold for just a minute, so we’d head to Wanaka and plan our next move from there.

Fast forward a couple of weeks: the storm has come and gone twice over and our adventure is coming to a close. We’ve cooked up four trip-defining adventures and experiences that made our time in Wanaka one to remember.

Want to win 10 nights in a JUCY camper and flights to Queenstown NZ, as well as a bunch of other goodies? Enter now!

 

Head to the West Coast

West of Wanaka, to Mt Aspiring National Park and beyond, is a truly mind-boggling expanse of alpine peaks, mythical valleys, and true wilderness. On a film shoot years ago I was fortunate to fly out to the coast from Wanaka and back in a helicopter. It was an unforgettable experience, but more than anything it sparked a curiosity that has stuck with me ever since. I’d dream of these far-flung corners of wilderness, where days on foot were the only way to travel.

As foreign as it may seem to Australian hikers, there are over 900 backcountry huts in NZ. Necessitated by the more extreme conditions of our southern neighbour, these shelters enable many journeys that would be otherwise impossible. In relative luxury too!

Once you move west of Makarora and towards the wild West Coast, it’s said to rain in excess of 300 days per year. When we saw multiple days of clear weather, we knew this was a chance we couldn’t miss to finally drive out towards Jackson Bay / Haast and explore along the way.

 

 

Our walk started with nearly 1000 metres of vertical through the idyllic Kiwi Beech forest, carrying three days of equipment, camera gear, and skis. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it sure was a direct way to travel from valley bottom to mountain top.

 

 

At sunset, we finally reached a snowbound hut, glad to be warm and cosy after spending a few hours wading through soft, deep snow. Over the coming days, we got the chance to ski nearby slopes, but just being in such wild terrain was everything we dreamed of when we planned this trip.

Head to Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park

Just a few hours’ drive away from Wanaka is the Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park – an almost mandatory experience for any mountain enthusiast. Aoraki towers above the valley at 3724m above sea level, almost double the height of most Kiwi ski fields!

When you arrive at Mt Cook village, it’s hard to ignore the imposing presence of the rugged, glaciated landscape that surrounds you. This is serious alpine terrain, made all the more impressive by the stark contrast between the high peaks and the totally flat valley floor beneath.

We had dreams of doing some backcountry skiing in the area, so after closely studying the weather and avalanche conditions for a few days, we decided to head out for a night in the Mueller Hut.

 

 

In classic Kiwi fashion, the climb up to the hut is 1000 vertical metres of walking track, ice, snow and tussock. Definitely a leg burner, especially with an overnight pack and skis onboard. If you’re going to tackle this one in the winter months, crampons, ice axe, and a calm weather forecast are essential.

 

 

We were made to feel rather insignificant, as we felt, heard and witnessed a number of large avalanches from Mt Sefton icefield, an adjacent peak just a few hundred metres away. Imagine a precipitously overhanging valley of ice with nowhere to go but off the edge of a 200-metre cliff. Watching the seracs tumble and detonate over the cliff is truly awe-inspiring.

We were joined at the hut by an enthusiastic group of climbers, filmmakers, and skiers off on all kinds of adventures in the epic surroundings. It’s all too often that you’re alone in the wilderness in New Zealand, so it was quite memorable for us to share the experience with some new friends.

Post up in town – it’s snowing outside!

Navigating whatever mother nature throws your way is the key to a successful trip here. There are times when going up the hill isn’t even an option, where it feels like mother nature is telling you to stay inside, recharge the batteries, and hang out. Luckily Wanaka has you covered on the down days!

 

 

A one-stop shop and local institution, Kai Whakapai is right in the heart of town and serves up coffees, treats, and mulled wine. Not far away is Big Fig, deserving of an honourable mention for dishing up the yummiest, healthiest lunch and dinner in town, with a focus on sustainability. It’s nice being able to walk in and actually wrangle a table no matter what time of day too, unlike a lot of ski towns that are just too busy for their own good!

We were over the moon to discover that Wanaka had an iconic old cinema, especially after we’d just pumped out our arms with a few hours in the climbing gym. We’ll forever remember watching the Elvis film in Wanaka’s classic cinema, with homemade cookies served up during intermission!

If you’re really feeling restless, there’s always the option of running away. Study the rain shadow effect, figure out where the rain is coming from and move in the opposite direction. Or just accept it. Make full use of the van and park your JUCY up in a lakeside car park, cook up a meal or enjoy a cuppa. Reading a book or watching a movie on the laptop as the squalls rage out the window is also an absolute treat. Almost therapeutic and highly recommended!

 

Get up the hill! Ride Treble Cone or Cardrona

No ski trip to Wanaka is complete, or even started for that matter, without some laps up at Treble Cone or Cardrona.

We were lucky enough to start the trip with a bluebird day after fresh snow, bringing the off-piste playground of Treble Cone to life. Nothing like 700 metres of vert to wake those legs up from their off-season slumber! Probably should have done those wall sits and squats, the place is an absolute leg burner.

Towering above Lake Wanaka and the mythical Matukituki Valley, chairlift views literally do not get any better.

 

 

If you’re coming in hot to Wanaka but haven’t been able to do a whole lot of skiing over the last few years, I’d suggest visiting Cardrona first up. That crispy corduroy is the perfect place to find your feet again, and you’ll be ready to go for the next powder day up at Treble Cone.

You can’t help but dream of packing up your things and moving to the mountains after spending a week in Wanaka. It’s actually a little bit overwhelming to realise just how many incredible outdoor experiences are possible here. Nature is so close and when the sun is shining the mountains really do call you.

Jumping across the ditch for a little stint of mountain life was made all the more special by the hospitality of our Kiwi neighbours. We also quickly discovered that when two JUCY vehicles cross paths out on the open road, a nod, smile and wave will always be exchanged.

It’s hard not to be restless knowing you’ll only achieve a fraction of all there is to see and do out there. It’s hard not to wonder what it would be like if this wasn’t a holiday, but your everyday. Yep, I think it’s already time to start planning the next trip!

 

Where to Stay

When in Wanaka, we parked our JUCY campervan up in Glendhu Bay Motor Camp and Albert Town campground, both were beautiful and relatively uncrowded! If you’re looking for somewhere more central to the bars and shops, check out the Top 10 Holiday Park which is only 2km from the centre of town.

Essential Gear

  • Waterproof hiking boots or trail shoes
  • NZ Topo 50 Map – available for Apple or Android
  • All your warm and waterproof layers, I mean all of them
  • Camera
  • A great book
  • Rooftop ski rack and snow chains for your JUCY campervan. It’s nice to keep the wet ski gear separate from the living and sleeping space
  • JUCY Cabana campervan rental

How To Get There

Wanaka is an hour drive away from Queenstown, or a five-hour drive from Christchurch. If it’s snowing you may need to take an alternate route to avoid a snowbound Lindis Pass (from Christchurch) or Crown Range (from Queenstown) so make sure you check the weather before setting off. If you’re heading down from Christchurch, Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park is on the way and has several iconic campgrounds for you to park up your JUCY.

 

Want to win 10 nights in a JUCY camper and flights to Queenstown NZ, as well as a bunch of other goodies? Enter now!