Wanna Go to Wanaka

Life is about not knowing…taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
~ Gilda Radner

Raising kids tends to turn a person into a planner. From the time they make their newborn arrivals, children can lead even the most free-spirited of people to become creatures of habit. Feedings and nap times evolve into school routines and practice schedules. The kids get older, but family life continues to involve significant planning and orchestration.

Our family seems to have broken that habit during this journey. Over the past year, we’ve become progressively more and more open to the unknown. Last summer we planned out our housing at least a month in advance, but here in New Zealand, now almost a year into our travels, we’ve become a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of family. As it turns out, this new mode of going without knowing has created some incredible opportunities for us.

Take, for instance, Wanaka. We first came to this quaint town nestled by a gorgeous lake in New Zealand’s Southern Alps during our first week in the country. Beautiful scenery, great restaurants, fantastic hiking (aka – “tramping), fun playgrounds for the kids. What more could a nomadic family ask for?
Sunrise in Wanaka

Wanaka playground


We quickly knew our 4-night stay was not going to be enough time in this awesome town, but the upcoming two-week break for the New Zealand school systems meant it was impossible for us to find reasonable housing in this popular outdoor mecca. We’d just have to make the most of our short time in Wanaka.

Then our last day there we got to talking with another family as our kids ran around on the playground together. We wound up going to their house for an impromptu dinner and getting to know Rob, Natalie and their three children. At some point in the evening they asked if we’d want to stay in their house a couple weeks later when they’d be away for vacation. Perhaps this was just the wine talking, but we said yes anyway.

Only because we’d adopted a more go-with-the-flow attitude in our travels were we able to take advantage of their generous offer. After seeing the southern region of the country, we backtracked up to Wanaka for a week to stay in the home of our new friends. We fed their cat, Bandit, and picked up where we’d left off in exploring the area.
Our house in Wanaka
Wanaka kids

Our first night back in town one of those strange coincidences we keep running into happened yet again. Trey Ratcliff, the creator of Stuck in Customs and a photographer who’s inspired Brian to expand his photography hobby into a true passion, posted on his feed he would be in Wanaka for an InstaMeet event. The Wanaka Tourism Board happened to be hosting a free photography conference that very same weekend drawing bloggers and photographers from throughout New Zealand. Less than 12 hours later Brian was riding in a helicopter on his way to shoot photos from the top of Roys Peak. He spent the next two days networking with seasoned photographers, learning new techniques, entering his first photography contest and even chatting with Trey Ratcliff himself.

InstaMeet Wanaka gathered at The Tree

InstaMeet Wanaka  Chris Burkard presentation

Our unexpected return to Wanaka became a highlight of our time in New Zealand. Brian spent the week inspired and productive. Emily made a new friend in the neighborhood and got invited for a sleepover. We explored everything Wanaka had to offer – the beautiful hikes, the nearby glacier, the star-filled nights and the Aurora Australis in the southern sky.  Even Wanaka’s cineplex is unique, with airline seats and dental chairs in the theaters and an intermission featuring fresh-baked homemade cookies. Needless to say, the kids hated to leave this town, and we’re so glad our family was able to have another week there, thanks to the generosity of some new Kiwi friends.
That Wanaka Tree at night

Kite surfing on Lake Wanaka


Milky way in Wanaka

Night sky in Wanaka


A walk on Lake Wanaka

Wanaka Hand sculpture

Girls at Puzzling World

Such is the irony of life. Brian and I had been more planned and scheduled for the benefit of our kids, yet as we’ve let ourselves go with the flow, we’ve seen how much better the experience has been for the whole family. In fact, our next adventure in impromptu traveling will happen next week. The family who rented us our house in the town of Bluff earlier this month reached out to us and offered us a place to house sit as well. We shifted our anticipated travel plans a bit, and we’re now making our way up to the Kapiti Coast on the North Island. We’ll get to know this family for a couple days and  then take care of their adult dog, five-month-old puppy and pet pig for the rest of the week. To say the girls are excited would be a gross understatement. Every morning Ali asks if we’re “going to that pig house today.” Evidently good things come to those who wait…until the last minute to plan their housing in New Zealand.

If you like the images on our site, you can vote for one or more of his entries in the InstaMeet Wanaka Photo Contest by April 30. Contestants were required to submit a trio of photos from specified locations around Wanaka. The links to Brian’s photo entries are provided below. Clicking “vote” will prompt you to log in through Facebook or Twitter and then return to the image and officially vote for the photo.

Entry #1 – A Well-Timed Jump

Brian jumping in Lake Wanaka

Entry #2 – Photo of a Photographer
Mt Iron in Wanaka

Entry #3 – The Wanaka Tree
Brians climb up to photograph the Wanaka tree

About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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  1. Hah! I was wondering why your photos were so much better than mine….Now I don’t feel so bad, y’all are semi-pros. Care to share what kind of camera/lens you are using? Thanks.

    1. Thanks HomeschoolDad! I started the trip with the Sony a7, but that stopped working in December after only 7 months and Sony wouldn’t replace it out of the country. I was forced to ship that one back to the US for repairs and then scrambled to find a good camera store to buy the Sony a6000 ($700 body). This contest is to win the a7 II, a camera I’ve wanted since it was released. I use a 10-18 mm wide angle, 35mm prime and occasionally my 28-70 mm, but not as often. I’m in need of at least 2 more lenses that I might buy in the coming months.

    1. I’m so sorry “Anonymous”. When I try the links to their site they work fine. The process of voting on their site isn’t all that strait forward.

      You need to click “Vote”
      then connect a Twitter or Facebook account to their page (this can be removed after you vote if you like)
      Then click vote again.

      Thanks again for the effort. Let me know if it was something else that was difficult.

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