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There’s a reason that locals stay, and a reason that visitors return time and time again to Wānaka.

If you’re zipping through, stop twelve on day twelve of your trip, you’re not going to find out why. There are the mountains, yes; the lake too but, ultimately, it is the people and the community that makes Wānaka what it is.

people sitting outside together

Living life in the slow lane.

If the last few years of disconnect and uncertainty have taught us anything, it would be fair to say that, for many of us, “slowing down” would be high on the list.

Slow food; slow fashion; slow travel; the slow movement: there is a shift away from their fast counterparts and towards a healthier, more regenerative alternative. There is of course a time and a place for speed, but holidays in Wānaka are neither. Life in the fast lane just isn’t a thing here.

While for many, a trip to New Zealand might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there’s something to be said for choosing an itinerary that covers fewer kilometres but that gives you a real feeling for all that a place has to offer. A visit by air needn’t be a flying visit: rather than turbo charging your itinerary, take your foot off the pedal and hit cruise control.

girl standing and balancing on tree

Our local operators are leading the regenerative tourism movement.

Wānaka’s tourism providers, many of whom are key figures within the community, approach their businesses in the same way. A deep rooted value in New Zealand is that of kaitiakitaka: guardianship and a care of the land, and an ever growing number of tourism, accommodation and hospitality providers have this at the core of their business.

One of Wānaka’s most recent tour providers has embedded this in their name: Tiaki Tours. Owner/operators Enger and Hygi, long term locals, offer experiences focussed in one area, lowering travel time and carbon emissions (they are trying to find a commercially compliant hybrid or electric car as soon as it becomes an option here) and enabling their guests to engage fully with the region and its people.  Theirs is a regenerative, community and nature-connected approach to tourism, one that enriches their visitors’ experience and understanding of this remarkable country but also which leaves the land that little bit better.

There is a time-old adage when venturing outdoors: “take only memories; leave only footsteps”. Companies like Tiaki Tours and many others (Ridgeline Adventures, Eco Wānaka Adventures, WildWire Wānaka and Bike Glendhu to name just a few) take this a little further. Yes, leave only footsteps but, in the process, make your mark.

Wānaka and the broader region are home to communities that don’t just want to care for the land, they want to better it.

Grow Wānaka is a community gardening organisation that encourages and educates its members to become more self-sufficient in their vegetable production. SUCFree Wānaka has blazed a trail in the world of hospitality, diverting over 180,000 single use cups from landfill every year. Te Kākano is a native nursery and native habitat restoration project, run by local volunteers which has seen thousands of native plants grown from seed and planted throughout the region.

The newest community fund to launch, Love Wānaka, is determined to protect this place for generations to come.  These and many more initiatives took root in Wānaka and have spread to other areas. Communities in Wānaka play the long game: small ideas grow and become part of our lives while inspiring others to follow suit.

People planting native trees to regenerate the public land.

Don’t just travel well: visit better. For tips on planning slow, purposeful travel in the South Island check out Southern Way.