Find out about the history and flora and fauna of the Wanaka area.

Flora and fauna

Look out for bright red rata flowers along the lakeshore over summer months, and between Rumbling and Minaret Burns, the forested slopes have a grove of mature kahikatea in a damp gully. This is one of only two records of this species in the lakes ecological region.

Other trees and shrubs in these substantial forest remnants include matai, Halls totara, olearia or tree daisy, mountain akeake, broadleaf/papauma, koromiko, kowhai, rata, kamahi, lancewood/horoeka, fuchsia and mountain ribbonwood. At higher altitudes regeneration is well under way with mountain and silver beech, kanuka, manuka and inaka (Dracophyllum).

Invertebrate life abounds, so too bird life. The New Zealand falcon/karearea can be seen at higher levels. Lower down, among the regenerating bush, the forest species include fantail/piwakawaka, bellbird/korimko, parakeet/kakariki and wood pigeon/kereru.

Beneath the surface, Station Creek is particularly important for its healthy population of the native galaxiid, koaro, one of the species that in its juvenile form is known as the delicacy, whitebait.


In pre-European times, Maori used parts of the eastern Wanaka region as staging posts for seasonal food gathering trips. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea were used by the people of the Lower Waitaki to collect eel, duck, weka and fern root. Umi ti – underground ovens to cook young cabbage tree roots – have been found at Colquhouns Flat. There’s little other evidence of these temporary settlements.

European pioneers immediately recognised the potential for farming, and the first runholder, H S Thompson, took up the Wanaka run in 1859. By the late 1880s, however, mismanagement and devastation by the introduced rabbit, saw him pack up and walk off the property.

West Wanaka Station now has 6450 ha of freehold land, though, as a pastoral lease it was much larger. In 1966 over 11,000 ha of mostly high altitude country was surrendered under a Soil and Water Conservation Plan. It is now the Mount Alta Conservation Area, lying within the Te Wāhipounamu -South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

In 2005 West Wanaka Station completed the pastoral lease tenure review process. This brought a further 1000ha of conservation areas and reserves, allowing public access to areas of significant conservation and recreational value. 

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