Here’s a fun fact – even though I spent 25 years of my life in Texas (which borders Mexico, if geography ain’t your forté), I never once celebrated the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos. Whether it was from being too hungover from all the Halloween’ing, or avoiding the prospect of having to paint my face with any actual level of skill, Dia de los Muertos usually passed by with the same kind of passive interest as Labor Day, only with way more flair and less ridiculous rulings about the appropriateness of wearing white pants.
Funnily enough, one of our best gal friends in Queenstown is from Mexico City, and along with our English roommate (who I’m convinced was a Latin lady in a previous life), we made the plan to travel from Queenstown to Wanaka for a weekend of fun in the sun and Dia de los Muertos celebrations at the local brewery. Yes yes, y’all.
Dia de los Muertos: Wanaka Style
While our friends decided to use their employee discount to stay at the fancy pants Oakridge Resort, which includes several outdoor hot pools and is located just outside of town, our broke asses booked a $60/night cabin at Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park, which, to our delight, was perfectly lovely and not at all sprinkled with previous tenants’ pubic hairs. Hooray!
After arriving early with plenty of time before the party, we decided to make a quick detour past Wanaka and spend the afternoon lounging at Lake Hawea, a gorgeous, mostly protected lake that’s perfect for swimming when it’s too windy or crowded at Lake Wanaka.
With a long shoreline and plenty of room to spread out, it’s relatively easy to spend an entire day here without running into anyone else. Just note that there is absolutely no shade, and since the ozone layer in New Zealand is weak as hell and the sun is actively trying to melt us all alive, be sure to pack extra sunscreen. Also a hat, which is the main reason Peter fashioned a sarong headband and I wore his Dia de los Muertos hat, the first reason(s) being that it is equal parts comfortable and whimsical and I do what I want, damnit.
Also beware that the water, while crystal clear and absolutely stunning, is so cold that it makes you temporarily forget the sun is dangerously close to turning you into a human-colored crayon. Here’s hoping your internal body temperature is higher than the rest of ours, because holy mother of bbrrr.
Rhyme & Reason Brewery
Having been to this funky, cozy brewery once before, we were excited to hear the folks at Rhyme and Reason Brewery were throwing a Dia de los Muertos party, including a taco truck, face painter, piñata, photo booth, costume contest, games and spooky decorations.
Possessing zero talent when it comes to intricate face-painting, I decided to purchase a set of $2 Dia de los Muertos inspired face stickers, which is honestly the best $2 I’ve spent since 1999. Paired with some skeleton tights and battery-powered Christmas lights strung through a flowered black lace veil, I call that an easy costume win.
As opposed to Queenstown, Wanaka is full of actual Kiwis, so it was a refreshing change of pace to hang out with locals for once.
Plus, the quesadillas and tacos from Amigos Food Truck were delicious and the opposite of some of the lukewarm Mexican garbage we’ve been served previously in this part of the world. The only bummer was the fact that they made no last call, which, as the only food source in a brewery full of painted, tipsy buffoons, makes you an amigo of approximately no one.
Owners Jessica and Simon are extremely friendly and laid back, and their range of delicious beers, including the Halloween-themed Tripel Treat topped with cotton candy, are worth a visit in and of themselves. Our personal favorite? The Joy Rider Pale Ale. Beer for the win, homies.
And because our previously-mentioned English roommate, Adam, has lived in Queenstown for years and makes ‘social butterflies’ look like hermit crabs with a speech impediment, we ran into some super hospitable friends of his who invited us to an after party, by which I mean a “bush doof,” the chosen Aussie and Kiwi terminology for a rave in the woods.
The Bush Doof
For a town with a population of less than 7,000 and a daytime crowd that looks more like your average Sunday brunch crowd than Coachella on acid, Wanaka sure has some surprises up its sleeve.
Thinking ahead as a favor to our sober selves, we reserved a taxi to pick us up from the literal “bush” at 3am, and were pleasantly surprised to find that all the cab drivers knew exactly where we were and where to pick us up. The perks of a small town, am I right?! Imagine calling a cab from the woods in a remote area outside of Las Vegas and saying “Yeah, I’m looking for a ride for 4 people. I’m surrounded by dirt and trees and it’s dark, but I could have sworn we recently went over a bridge… can you be there?”
After watching 3 drug-induced fire dancers light themselves on fire and busting more than a few moves on the dance floor (see: dirt ground), it was time to go. Plus no one wants to see photos of themselves at a bush doof, so this is the only preview you get.
Surprisingly non paint-covered and 89% hangover-free, we woke up, grabbed some breakfast pies (when in New Zealand…) and went to Lake Wanaka for a quick nap in the sunshine.
Soon after, we decided to go on a little midday jaunt to Eely Point, an easy walk from town that’s ideal for boating and picnics, or both. Should you happen to own a boat and are reading this, let’s be friends! I’ll supply the picnic items. We were admiring the dinosaur at the kids playground along the way and also couldn’t help but notice the large “SATAN IS REAL” graffiti on the side. Those Kiwi hoodlums have a sense of humor.
And as we always do when in Wanaka, we made reservations for a delicious lunch at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, our collective pick for the best restaurant in town. Order the gnocchi, polenta fries, pear walnut salad and tiramisu, and when not in need of a full-body detox, a glass of wine or three.
Wanting to end the day on a relaxing slash delicious note, we went to see a movie at the adorable local Cinema Paradiso Theater, which brilliantly stops the movie halfway through to serve freshly baked cookies. Is there anything better?! Ahh yes, they also serve beer. Hats off to you, cinema owners. And cookie makers. And beer makers! Y’all make the world go round.