Lake Wanaka NZ and the township of Wanaka, are one of our favorite places in New Zealand. The spectacular
lake side town is around one hours drive from the better known
, and is located roughly between the South Island's
wild West Coast
regions. It's a great place to stop for a few days, particularly if you
are traveling between the West Coast and Queenstown or Dunedin.
This region of soaring mountains and deep alpine lakes is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes, and a popular year-round holiday destination.
And just like Queenstown, Wanaka is a stunningly beautiful town. Perhaps a little less "hectic" than Queenstown, the Lake Wanaka region has a charm all its own.
The town centre is located lakefront, making it the perfect place to enjoy a meal and a drink (or two) while gazing across the lake towards the distant snow capped peaks. It's one of those places that always seems to offer a perfect blend of "serenity" and "action".
Wanaka is located in the Southern Lakes area of the South Island, and is around 6-7 hours drive South of Christchurch.
From Christchurch the most direct (and picturesque) route is via State Highways 1, 79, 8 then 6. This route will take you past Lake Tekapo, and the turnoff to Mt Cook.
those places make wonderful overnight stops if you want to break the
If you happen to be coming from the West Coast you will follow State Highway 6.
Please see our State Highways map.
Top 5 things to do in Wanaka
There's so much to see and do in Wanaka, and you can scroll down the page for lots of information on this beautiful region.
But to save you some time, we've come up with our Top 5 things to do in Wanaka.
We've based our list on personal experience together with reviews given by our customers.
So, without delay, here are our selection of Wanaka's best activities:
Ever been canyoning?
Just imagine an activity that combines swimming, jumping, climbing, sliding and abseiling all in one!
That’s exactly what you can expect on this canyoning adventure in the stunning Mt Aspiring National Park.
Your small group tour (limited to just four or five lucky canyoners) takes you to a beautiful isolated spot, where you will be amazed by the jaw dropping beauty of this special World Heritage listed area.
You don’t need any experience, but a good level of fitness and being able to swim are important.
A picnic lunch and transport are included
To learn more, just click on the button below:
Don’t drink and drive, we will get you there and back!
After being collected from your hotel, it’s off to some of the region’s best boutique wineries.
During the day you will visit up to six vineyards, where you’ll experience some award winning wines and delicious food.
Relax as your experienced guide introduces you to some beautiful scenery, and to some of the wonderful vineyards that have made this such a special part of New Zealand.
Meet some of the local people responsible for putting the region on the “wine map” in New Zealand, whilst tasting a great variety of their wines, including Rieslings, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Rose.
It’s not important whether you are a wine novice or a connoisseur, you’ll have a great time.
And at the end of the day you’ll be dropped back at your hotel, with lots of memories of a fabulous day out.
Come and climb next to a waterfall!
Yes that’s right. Your half day Via ferrata adventure takes you to Wanaka’s Twin Falls, an absolutely beautiful spot in the mountains outside Wanaka.
If you love waterfalls and amazing scenery, combined with a bit of adventure, then this half day tour may be just the thing.
There’s a tour for beginners (no climbing experience necessary), or one for those of you with some experience.
Be prepared to climb ladders next to the waterfall and to cross bridges over the falls.
Take the opportunity for a swim in secluded pools, and remember to bring your camera.
Your tour includes an experienced guide, full instruction on the use of the Via ferrata system, snacks and water.
It’s an awesome way to experience this beautiful region.
Don’t delay, enquire now by clicking on the buttons below:
Ride a horse in the high country!
Say goodbye to city life and come out into the hills around Cardrona (20 minutes from Wanaka) on your unique half day pub trek, on horse back.
Don’t worry if you have never ridden a horse, as full instructions and training are provided.
After you are introduced to your trusty steed, its time to make your way into the Cardrona valley.
Be prepared for some awesome scenery, and some expert commentary about the region’s history, including the gold rush of the 1800’s.
Your ride takes you through a working farm and includes a river crossing.
At the half way point it’s time to dismount at the historic Cardrona Hotel, where you hitch your horse to the rail, then head inside for a complimentary drink
After a drink your guide helps you mount up before following the Cardrona River back to base.
It’s a unique way to see the countryside, and one that we recommend you try.
To learn more, just click on the button below:
Bike along the Rail Trail
We have to say at the outset, that this is not a bike ride for thrill seekers!
Your Central Otago Rail Trail ride takes you along a gentle, scenic, thirty five kilometer section of this famous trail.
The old train lines were built way back in the gold rush to open up a link from Dunedin to the gold fields.
But these days, there are no trains, just the trail that now hosts riders through this lovely part of the South Island.
Beautiful scenery abounds as you make your way through lush farms, over old viaducts and bridges, and through tunnels.
Suited to riders of all ages, it’s a gentle two hour downhill ride, on one of the safest and most scenic of New Zealand's rail trails.
Included are all necessary equipment, hotel pick up and drop off, and a great gourmet lunch at the old farming town of Omakau.
It’s a self guided tour, but your support vehicle will meet you at various points along the way to offer guidance and information about the trail and the region.
What a great relaxing way to see Central Otago.
To learn more just click on the button below:
As a holiday destination, Wanaka has something for everyone.
During the long,
hot summers, local rivers and lakes are bustling with holiday makers enjoying a range of water based activities like
, water skiing and fishing. Local trout are plentiful, and it always
amazes me when I stand on the small jetty in the Wanaka town center and
see huge trout swimming just meters below!
The surrounding mountains contain extensive hiking tracks, mountaineering and rock climbing sites for enthusiasts. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has heaps of information on the various walks in the area.
During winter in Lake Wanaka,
the scenery changes, and snow covers the surrounding peaks, creating a winter wonderland.
In my opinion, winter is the prime time for photographers, and it's very hard to accurately describe just how beautiful the region is during winter. The mountains surrounding the lake provide top ski and heli skiing facilities, attracting snow lovers from around the world.
Several alpine resorts are easily accessed from town.
Treble Cone is the South Island’s largest ski and snowboard area. It's famous for its amazing views over the region, and its huge, uncrowded runs.
Cardrona is located between Wanaka and Queenstown. With dedicated slopes
for beginners and intermediate skiers, chutes for the advanced, and an
extensive freestyle park, Cardrona has something for skiers and
snowboarders of all skill levels.
And if you are a freestyler, then Snow Park is the place for you. As the largest terrain park in New Zealand, Snow Farm caters for freestylers of all skill levels. Great design makes Snow Farm THE freestyle choice for snowboarders and skiers in New Zealand.
You can learn more about skiing in the region HERE.
For the more adventurous, how about a private helicopter tour , a vintage plane ride or a back country 4WD tour?
Wanaka is popular for its canyoning sites. Guides take canyoners into the
Matukituki where they experience crystal clear pools, chutes and
As New Zealand’s premier rock climbing destination, the area around nearby Mt Aspiring National Park boasts hundreds of sites, that range from grade nine to grade thirty.
Thrill seekers are well catered for in the region. A tandem skydiving experience is perhaps the best way to see the region (if you are game!). Dropping from 15,000 feet, you will experience up to 60 seconds freefall over this amazing alpine region. Alps, glaciers and lakes unfold below you.
Lake Wanaka is also a prime fishing destination. Brown and rainbow trout and salmon abound in the pristine waters of local lakes, rivers and streams.
One of our favourite family activities in Wanaka is Puzzling World. This unique complex contains a large maze, and many interactive puzzles and illusions.
It's a great place for kids and adults alike. You can sit at
tables and test your skills (and patience!) unravelling a range of
puzzles (which are also available to buy), test your navigation skills
in the maze, and marvel at our favourite, the Hall of Following Faces.
A great place to spend a few hours.
Every two years Wanaka comes alive with Warbirds Over Wanaka. This dynamic airshow attracts over 65,000 visitors to Wanaka and is the largest Warbirds show in the Southern Hemisphere.
Featuring a range of historic and current warbirds, static and aerial displays, Warbirds Over Wanaka is something special for Warbird fans.
The next show will be
held on the 25th, 26th and 27th of March 2016.
Lake Wanaka NZ - A Little History
The name Wanaka comes from Oanaka, meaning 'place of Anaka' in Maori (Anaka was a Maori chief).
Until the early 19th century,
Lake Wanaka was a summer home for local Maori. But in 1836, a Maori tribe
from the north attacked and virtually destroyed the settlement.
In 1853, a man named Nathaniel Chalmers was the first known European to view Lake Wanaka NZ. But it was the discovery of gold in the 1870s that brought significant numbers to the region. So rich were the gold reserves that at one stage there were nearly two hundred gold dredges working the local Clutha river.
The original settlement was founded in 1863 and was known as Pembroke, so named after a British colonial secretary. It was not renamed as Wanaka until 1940.
Tourists began coming to the region around 1881 following the launch of a
paddle steamer on Lake Wanaka NZ. And since that time, the region's
popularity has grown steadily to the point where it is now a favourite
New Zealand destination for many. It's visually stunning, has lots to do
for people of all ages, and has a wide range of attractions to suit all
An interesting piece of local history is the historic Cardrona Hotel. Located around 20 kilometres out of Wanaka at the base of the Cardrona ski fields, the pub is a favourite place of ours for a meal and a glass of local wine. In fine weather, the outdoor dining area is a great place to sit and pass a couple of hours. On colder days, the roaring open fire welcomes visitors. It's also mid way between Wanaka and Queenstown on the Crown Range road.
Wanaka NZ - A Little Luxury?
Lake Wanaka NZ has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets.
One of our favourites are The Moorings. Located close to the town centre, they offer a variety of room configurations including studio units, and 2 or 3 bedroom apartments, many with stunning lake views. The rooms are clean, modern, and spacious.
Sitting on your deck, sipping a local wine, and looking over the lake to the snow capped peaks is pretty hard to beat. Highly recommended.
And if you are looking for a special treat, Wanaka has several luxury accommodation choices.
Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet has luxury accommodation on the edge of Lake Wanaka, and an alpine chalet on a mountainside near Mt Aspiring national park. The chalet, accessed by scenic helicopter flight from Whare Kea, is a base for heli-skiing, ski touring and picnics on the mountainside.
Maple Lodge Wanaka is surrounded by seven acres of maple trees, in a quiet, peaceful location. Decorated in a traditional rustic theme, guests can relax by the fire in the comfortable lounge area or gaze at the stars from the jacuzzi. Maple Lodge is the perfect base from which to explore all that this wonderful region has to offer.
How do I find accommodation in Wanaka?
You can read reviews and search through the huge range of Wanaka accommodation by clicking HERE.
Nature and Wildlife In The Lake Wanaka NZ Region
Wanaka is a home to several species of rare native birds and plants.
The endangered buff weka can be found on Mou Waho island, a dedicated nature reserve located in the middle of Lake Wanaka.
A large brown flightless bird, the buff weka was a food source for early Maori and European settlers. It
was saved from extinction by the Department of Conservation (DOC), who
developed a relocation programme to Mou Waho, where they now thrive. Mou
Waho is also home to several other birds such as the wood pigeon, the
native falcon, and the bellbird. Gecko (a small lizard) and rainbow
trout also live in the island's forest.
The views from the top of Mou Waho are stunning, and you can see 360 degrees. The island also has its own small lake, the Arethusa pool.
Not enough? Here are some more suggestions for things to do in and around Wanaka.
* Take a scenic flight in a plane or helicopter and experience some of the most amazing views in the world.
* Make the most of the region's waterways. Kayak on Lake Wanaka NZ, take a lake cruise or fishing trip, experience a thrilling jetboat ride, try your hand at canyoning or white water rafting.
* Enjoy a round of golf on Wanaka's picturesque course.
* Outdoor fun is never far away - take a sightseeing or photographic tour, or a leisurely horse trek.
* Visit Wanaka's many attractions such as the National Transport and Toy Museum, Warbirds and Wheels, and the Cardrona Adventure Park (ride a quad bike or take a ride in a monster truck).
* Experience some of the region's fine wines at one of the many local wineries.
* Visit local artists in their studios, or stroll through the many local gift shops and boutiques.
Enjoy Lake Wanaka.
Some Interesting Facts About Lake Wanaka NZ
* The Clutha river, which is New Zealand’s largest river by volume, has its source in Lake Wanaka.
* The Crown Range road, between Wanaka and Queenstown, is New Zealand’s highest main road, with a peak of 1121 metres.
We highly recommend this route (provided the weather conditions are favourable). The views are absolutely brilliant.
* The road to Haast Pass on the West Coast took more than 30 years to build due to the rock in the area.
* Lake Wanaka is mentioned in the Mission Impossible III movie.
State Highways Map