High Country Heritage in Lake Wanaka
The Lake Wanaka region has a rich and colourful history, from its earliest nomadic people; to the pioneering European settlers and the gold rush; right through to the emergence of the popular visitor destination of today.
A testament to the vivid heritage of New Zealand, the region has seen its share of settlers. There is evidence of a spiritual and healing village at The Neck (between Lakes Wanaka and Hawea) of the earliest people to inhabit this land – the Waitaha Nation. To early Maori it was a place of learning and relaxation, a welcome stop on their journey to collect pounamu (greenstone) from the mountains and river valleys in the Southern Alps.
In the early 1860’s gold was discovered in the rivers and mountains of the Lake Wanaka and Central Otago regions. Thousands of gold prospectors from as far afield as Europe and China flocked to the regions establishing settlements and staking claims on the land. The remnants of these villages can still be found today in the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka, and many other places in the region. The iconic Cardrona Hotel is a legacy of this era with its historic restaurant and bar, and provides a fascinating glimpse into yesteryear.
Where once was gold there are now thriving high country stations, farms and ski areas. Mountain bike, hiking and walking trails also wind through old gold tailings and historic farmland, and vineyards sit among the strikingly sculpted landscape created by the thirst for gold.