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CRUISING LAKE WANAKA
Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake, and like the three larger ones can cut up rough, at times! It is, indeed, a lake of contrasts – often sunny, benign and almost suburban in Roys Bay, in the vicinity of the tourist mecca of Wanaka township, and very wild and unforgiving on a bad day up towards Makororo. On the border of Mt Aspiring National Park, Lake Wanaka is a magnificent place for a varied holiday of sailing, tramping, and other outdoor pursuits, with the civilities of the township – several excellent restaurants for instance – to provide the occasional break. Two weeks on the lake is not too long to explore it properly – and there are even sandfly-free spots to be found!
SOME BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT THE LAKE AND ITS WEATHER
Wanaka is 45.5 km long, with a surface area of 180 km2. It is of glacial origin, scoured out by ice to a depth of 311 m at its deepest point, with moraines and river terraces in the vicinity of the present lake outlet, the Clutha River, acting as a dam.
Mean annual rainfall at Wanaka airport is 700 mm/year, fairly evenly spread through the year. Rainfall increases steadily towards the Divide: 1,460 mm at Minaret Bay and 2,390 mm at Makaroro Station to the north of the lake. With the vast amount of rainfall in the lake’s 2,590 km2 catchment, water quality is very high (the lake is classified as oligotrophic), although floods can cause significant discoloration by suspended sediment. Sailors also should keep a good watch for floating logs and wood, particularly after large floods.
There are around 2,000 hours of sunshine in the southern part of the lake; the mean daily maximum and minimum temperatures at Wanaka in January are 23.9°C and 10.8°C (8.4°C and -1.2°C in July). For a yacht, water temperature might be more significant than air temperature; surface water temperature generally is around 13°C in January, and around 15-16°C in February-March, the warmest months.
The predominant airflow over Mt Aspiring and the Main Divide is from the west and northwest, as the windrose for Wanaka airport shows. There is also a significant component of southeasterly winds – Wanaka’s equivalent of a sea breeze, which can reach 20 knots in the evening. The observations at the airport show a rather surprising 2% (only) of calms.
Wind directions at the airport are somewhat affected by its location at the north end of the Pisa Range, and winds on the lake are even more strongly influenced by topography, because moving air tends to go round rather than over obstacles. Typically, then, under north to northwest conditions the wind blows from the north directly and strongly down the northern arm of the lake, is funneled between the two islands Mou Waho and Mou Tapu and The Peninsula, and diverges out into Bishops Bay and towards Roys Bay. Northerly winds are commonly strong down Stevensons Arm, also. Winds commonly are particularly strong and gusty in the area between Mou Tapu, Roys Peninsula, The Peninsula, and Damper Bay; it can be blowing 25-30 knots here, while there is a 5-10 knot breeze at the marina in Roys Bay. In other words, great caution is advisable before venturing out onto the main body of the lake: check for whitecaps before sailing past Eely Point under full main! Glendhu Bay tends to have relatively light winds, but yachts heading towards the anchorage in Parkins Bay may well encounter severe gusts sweeping down from Paddock Bay. Also, when out on the main body of the lake, crews should keep an eye open for a dark line on the water advancing towards them from windward, accompanied by the noise of surf. You have about two minutes to put a reef in the main!
As with most South Island lakes, there is a strong diurnal variation in winds, with calmest conditions commonly experienced in the early morning, a breeze blowing up from mid to late morning, and rather robust conditions through the afternoon.
OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION
These notes are based on several visits to Lake Wanaka, but we acknowledge that local sailors have far more extensive knowledge of the varying moods of the lake than we do. Two older cruising notes/guide have been useful to Silmarillion’s crew, Lake Wanaka: a cruising guide, by Lenore and David Strang (NZTYA Newsletter, May 1994), and A trilogy of lakes: some notes about sailing on the Central Otago lakes Hawea, Wanaka and Wakatipu (provided to us by the Otago trailer yacht squadron). Sea Spray also published a very interesting article, Six days on Lake Wanaka, by David Strang in February 1986.
Other essential items are the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Boating Guide: Lakes Wanaka & Hawea, and the Department of Conservation leaflet Lake Wanaka’s Islands.
The lake is covered almost completely by NZTopo50 map CA12 (Minaret Bay), with the area to the north of Albert Burn on BZ12 (Makororo) and Ruby Bay on CB12 (Cardrona).
BOAT RAMPS AND OTHER FACILITIES
There is really only one launching site that we would use for launching and recovering Silmarillion, that at the marina in Wanaka township. There are three concrete ramps, a jetty, ample parking, a nice toilet, and the yacht club. Wanaka township has pretty much everything one is likely to need – supermarket, good hardware store, fuel, Mexican restaurant, boat dealer. There are other launching places, such as from the beach at Glendhu motor camp, but there is little reason to use those in the vicinity of Wanaka township in preference to the marina. On the road in from Haast Pass, there is a launching ramp at Wharf Creek that exists primarily to serve boats crossing to the stations on the western side of the lake. (A ramp at Camp Creek further south is not marked on the QLDC Boating Guide or NZTopo50 map). They might be possibilities for a yacht coming in from and returning to the West Coast, but they are reported to be short, exposed to the northwest, and not usable at low lake levels.
THINGS TO DO
To explore the lake takes a good week of fine weather. The most popular part of the lake is to the south of Mou Waho, and rather few boats venture north thereof. The northern arm is exposed to strong northerlies which work up quite a chop, and it is quite a lonely place – cars on SH6 heading to and from Haast Pass may not recognise a yacht in trouble.
There are numerous beaches around the lake shore that provide warm and sunny spots for lazing – depending on wind direction, of course. Perhaps the most popular of all (apart from the Glendhu motor camp shoreline) is the beach on Stevenson’s Island; there are beaches also at the southeast end of The Peninsula, on the northwest shore of Bishops Bay, at Bremner Bay, Damper Bay and Colquhoun’s Beach. Incidentally, there are a number of ski lanes that yachts should avoid – see the QLDC Boating Guide.
There are lots of walks and other activities around Wanaka; a particularly good source of information is DoC’s leaflet Wanaka Outdoor Pursuits – and a visit to the DoC office in Wanaka (phone 03-443-7660) is a must before heading out onto the lake, if only to get the updated 5-day weather forecast. The Damper Bay track from Wanaka round to Glendhu, the Eely Point Walk, Beacon Point Walk and Outlet Track from Wanaka all the way round to Albert Town bridge, and the Minaret Burn Track all provide well-graded walks with fine views of the lake – a pleasant change from being on board. Away from the lake shore, there are numerous other opportunities for exercise, perhaps during a break from life afloat.
The yacht club at Wanaka has well-attended races on Thursday evenings, starting at 5 p.m. The trailer yacht fleet includes several Noelex 25s, and participation in a race could be a highlight of a visit to the lake.
The three sketch maps mark anchorages throughout the Lake (note differing scales). Silmarillion has used most of those marked for overnight stops, except for those few that are suitable for southerly conditions (for some reason – perhaps because they tend to be quite short-lived – we have never encountered southerlies on Wanaka!). We haven’t provided the level of detail for anchorages that is found in a coastal cruising guide because, somehow, identifying the right spot to anchor in a bay in a lake seems to be easier than in a tidal bay, and is very dependent on the direction and strength of wind on the day. At all locations marked on the sketch maps, it is possible – and in most cases desirable – to tie the stern back into the shore, with the anchor in deeper water offshore.
The suitability of all the anchorages mentioned depends both on wind direction/strength, incoming swell, and lake level, which can vary over 3 m. There are none that are reliably all- weather, so skippers should be flexible in their plans, and be prepared to return to the marina if the weather forecast is unpromising or conditions deteriorate.
A skipper and crew should always keep a good lookout for underwater hazards – especially fence lines and sunken logs – when coming into an intended anchorage. This is especially true in places like Homestead Bay near the mouths of the major rivers, as inflowing rivers carry a lot of floating debris into the lake during heavy rain. There are a few navigational hazards, principally fence lines, rocks and shallows, few of which are marked. The skipper is responsible for the safety of his/her boat, so keep a good lookout, especially off points!
Southern lake (see sketch map A)
In Roys Bay, overnight mooring is possible inside the permanent moorings about 0.5 km west of the yacht club, although this place is subject to waves coming in from the main lake in a strong northerly. Alternatively, it is possible to moor on the west side of Ruby Island, which is surprisingly sheltered in view of its exposure. The bottom drops steeply and is rocky so the holding is not good, except at the northern end where there are shallows and shelter is provided by a spit.
An especially popular destination is Stevenson’s Arm (although beating up through the narrows can be hard work in a northerly). The beach on the southwestern side of Stevenson’s Island is a beautiful spot, and there is also a sheltered beach on the eastern side of the island as well as another sheltered spot on the mainland just to the east of the island. All these are deservedly popular. There are pleasant walks on Stevenson’s Island (it is a weka sanctuary), and also campsites (so other boaties may be in residence, too). The islet to the south of Stevenson’s Island has a small north-facing beach that could provide southerly shelter.
At the southern end of Stevenson’s Arm, on the point at Mt Burke station, there is a small, sandy beach that provides good shelter and a pleasant anchorage, although it is right next to the station’s outbuildings. At the northeast corner of Dublin Bay, at the mouth of Rods Creek, is another sheltered spot, although there is a fishing bach here and probably a few cattle. There are beaches on the southeastern shore of The Peninsula opposite, although these are not suitable for overnight stops except in very settled conditions. In entering this part of the lake, skippers should stay outside the beacons that mark the end of the shoal extending out from Beacon Point, and also should keep an eye out for Bull Island.
In the southwestern part of the lake, the most popular anchorage is at a small beach on the northwestern shore of Parkins Bay, next to a conspicuous rock outcrop. This spot is remarkably sheltered from the prevailing westerlies/northerlies, given the violent way that the wind gusts out of Paddock Bay. It is possible also to anchor right at the western end of Parkins Bay, at a very sheltered beach, and there is also a small beach in the sheltered cove on the peninsula at the north side of Glendhu Bay – its main drawback is that the sun doesn’t reach the beach until around 10 a.m. Southerly shelter is reported at the southeast corner of Paddock Bay.
Two more anchorages that offer northerly shelter in the most popular, southern part of the lake are at Homestead Bay and Fisherman’s Cove. Homestead Bay features quite a lot of driftwood on the beach – not a good sign – but is popular with waterfowl – usually a good sign! (Keep an eye open for submerged fence posts, also). It also offers easy access to the track across to Colquhoun’s Beach, so is a good spot from which to get some exercise. As wind strength increases out on the lake, both Homestead Bay and Fisherman’s Cove become increasingly subject to gusts and waves coming down the lake from the north. (This is true, of course, of any anchorage). Southerly shelter is reported at the southeast corner of Homestead Bay, although Silmarillion’s explorations weren’t very promising. In any case, the shallows in Homestead Bay that are created by sediment brought down the Matukituki River must be treated very carefully.
Northern arm of the lake (see sketch map B and C)
North of Mou Tapu, sheltered anchorages are rather widely spaced, and the lake is much more wild than in the southern part. In most places, the hillsides plunge steeply down to the lake edge, and the lake bottom drops off steeply to a flat bottom up to 300 m deep. There are reports of anchorages at the mouth of Rumbling Burn and Minaret Burn, but these must be very dependent on suitable lake levels, as Silmarillion hasn’t found them yet.
Proceeding northwards, there is a small area of shallows and beach that provides northerly shelter 1.5 km northeast of Minaret Burn, near the prominent point on the western shore. There are a couple of sheltered coves here, too, but deep water presents problems for anchoring. Southerly shelter is possible at the east end of Colquhoun’s Beach, and in a small hidden cove on the north side of Mou Waho. There is a jetty on the east side of this island, which is well worth a visit in order to take a walk up to Arethusa Pool – but only in calm conditions (and watch out for the shoal to the east of the island).
Proceeding northwards, the next shelter is in Minaret Bay. The outer bay is a very pleasant anchorage – the best spot seems to be in the lee of the large rock outcrop in the middle of the beach – but is very subject to gusts until the boat is right into shore. It is also possible to find shelter in the inner bay, next to the old jetty; the wind tends to blow along shore, so tying back among the willows must take account of this. Also, the launching ramp is in regular use, so it should not be obstructed.
Further north again, Snag Bay is used by Minaret Bay station for boat access, and again provides reasonable shelter – although it can be very gusty in strong northerlies. Selecting the best spot is simply a matter of watching exactly how the wind is moving, and being prepared to move! It is possible to walk from here up to the Albert Burn (the station manager may give permission to take a direct line across the deer paddocks), a tramp that is well worthwhile, to get into some remote country relatively quickly. There are reports of anchoring in the mouth of Albert Burn, but, again, Silmarillion hasn’t found this feasible.
Up towards the Makororo Delta, there is another spot providing northerly shelter on the western shore across the lake from Boundary Creek, and the point on the eastern shore where Boundary Creek enters the lake offers southerly shelter. The Makororo delta is worth a visit, but has little to offer in terms of anchorages (except temporarily, for angling).
Paul Mosley, Silmarillion