Leaving Franz Josef was the first travel issue where my bus didn't have me scheduled as planned, and I learned a few valuable things.
1. Book Ahead. Although I took the KiwiExperience bus specifically, I think this holds up for most tours in peak season. Thankfully, I immediately contacted the office about this, and it was satisfactorily resolved.
2. Show Up. Even though I didn't have a guaranteed spot on the bus that day, I made sure I was there at 7:15am to fill any possible vacancies. In waiting, I was in just the right spot for another city bus to come along with a helpful driver. She gave me information about taking the Intercity Bus for $40, which I ended having to do.
3. Have Cash. I needed $40 for this last-minute scramble, and there's only ONE ATM in town. After I took out my money, the ATM was out of order. Sorry, town.
4. Consider Hitchhiking. I have only done this once in my life in Hawaii, and I was scared out of my mind; however, it's much more the norm in NZ. I'd still hesitate hitching on my own, but I saw many people do this with successful outcomes. (Still, be smart and do it at your own risk. I never hitched here, myself)
Once all of the bus travel was sorted out, it was 3 1/2 hours by car, and almost 7 hours by bus from Franz Josef to Wanaka. I stayed within the BBH group at Wanaka Backpaka, which proved to be a good move.
BBH is a group of independent hostels, listed on a slightly backwards system, but once you arrive at a highly-rated hostel, you're more likely to have a nicer experience than your average backpacker lodge. I personally like these better than the YHA group because of location and often a more modern feel. Membership also means discounts on random activities, like my $5 discount at the Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef.
What struck me initially about this town was the heavenly lakeside beauty, but I was disappointed in the swanky resort feel and attitude in some shops.
The shore is great for picnics and play time, including kayaking, boat cruises, and swimming. All are weather-dependent and will be cancelled last-minute. Heading to the iSight is a great way to get started on figuring out the activity of the day.
I could have rented a bike, but I opted for some walks around the lake, with the "Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka" as the main attraction. It's the most photographed tree in NZ, for good reason. I certainly took my share of photos, and am sure each day and season offers a unique backdrop for any viewing.
The city itself ended up being very expensive, with very few inexpensive food options. This was disappointing, but thankfully the hostel had a nice, big kitchen and grill, not to mention a spectacular view of the lake. For affordable food in town, try out Relishes Cafe.
Before leaving, I made sure to see a movie at Cinema Paradiso. It's not only a cute theater from the outside, but inside, I was charmed with warm cookies offered at intermission. The big seats are comfy, and the cookies are delicious! This is a must-do, but isn't exactly cheap.
While it's an especially beautiful city, situated outside of busy and ultra-touristy Queenstown, it left me wanting for some less expensive options and a more casual atmosphere. As a local friend described it..."it's quite flash these days," leaving me wanting for more. Fortunately, I found that kinder atmosphere in Queenstown.
Lake Wanaka links and information:
Map to get there from Franz Joseph, by car and bus.
Wanaka Backpaka is a lovely lakeside stay, with very helpful, friendly staff.
iSight is a great resource in every city to get your bearings and find your activity.
Cinema Paradiso is a fun place for a movie. They even offer dinner beforehand.
Relishes Cafe has good food for close-to-reasonable prices.
Skiing in winter is quite popular here.
Rippon Winery makes for a nice day walk above the lake.