Wanaka New Zealand, a gem in the crown of New Zealand's South Island, is fast gaining popularity not just as a resort town, but as an embodiment of New Zealand's global reputation for offering the very best in outdoor adventure, cuisine, and stunning landscapes. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wanaka, against the backdrop of the spectacular Southern Alps, this town offers an unprecedented merge of natural beauty, relaxation, and fun-filled activities.
Blessed with a temperate climate, Wanaka New Zealand can be visited any time of the year. Yet, as every season unfolds its unique charm, it's wise to plan around your preferred activities. To experience our winter charms, come and visit us between June and August. If your interests focus on fishing, biking or hiking, visit us in summer, between December and February.
Getting to Wanaka is part of the adventure, offering majestic views of New Zealand. By road, Wanaka is around one hour's drive from Queenstown, through the Crown Range – the highest main road in New Zealand (with breath-taking scenery).
There are several lookouts as you climb the mountain and these are great spots to stop and grab some memorable photos. We love the descent on the Wanaka side, as the road snakes it's way through tussock covered hills. Beautiful.
Be sure to stop at the historic Cardrona Hotel on the way. If it's a sunny day, their outdoor eating area is a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal or a coffee. The hotel is one of the oldest in New Zealand, dating back to the gold rush days of the mid 1800's. The hotel has a range of accommodation available, and although we haven't stayed there, it would be a great base for a few days from which to explore the region.
Alternatively, the drive around Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka offers equally captivating views.
By air, Queenstown International Airport is the closest, a 50-minute drive from Wanaka. From this well-connected airport, car hires, and shuttles are abundantly available. For a more direct route, Wanaka Airport caters to charter flights and has scenic flights for the ultimate airborne sight.
Direct flights to Queenstown are available from our major airports in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
"Money Saving" tip
It's easy to get distracted when driving in and around Wanaka. There's so much to see that sometimes it's hard to fully focus on driving. BUT, a word of warning (speaking from experience). The local police patrol the roads with great enthusiasm, particularly on the Crown Range side of Wanaka near Cardrona. Please be aware of the local speed limits. You don't want any nasty surprises.
Once in Wanaka, top-notch accommodation of all sorts awaits you. From lakeside luxury resorts and quaint BnB's to backpackers hostels, there's something for everyone. If you're on the lookout for lavish comforts with stunning views, the Wanaka Haven is a popular choice.
Staying at the lakeside Edgewater Hotel offers not just panoramic views but also direct access to the lake for any waterborne activities. If you prefer a more budget-friendly option with a vibrant, warm atmosphere, the YHA Wanaka is a much-coveted location amongst backpackers.
A favourite of ours are the Moorings. Located a couple of minutes walk to the town centre, and offering beautiful lake views, we can't wait to stay there again. We usually stay in one of their studios, which have a kitchenette (good for cooking brekky before heading out for the day). They also have a range of apartments, and some luxurious 3 bedroom villas, ideal for larger groups (time to get our friends organised for a holiday lol).
Located next to the Moorings, the Lakeside Apartments offer fully self contained luxury suites overlooking the lake. And like the Moorings, they are just a short walk from the bars, pubs, and restaurants in the town centre.
We always choose somewhere with a lake view (it makes sense right?), and you can see a full range of what's available, and read customer reviews here.
Can we tempt your tastebuds?
To experience Wanaka's culinary scene, places like Kika, Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, and Big Fig offer an exceptional dining experience. Kika is known for its innovative menu and a welcoming cozy feel. If you crave Italian, Francesca's is the place to be. For a fast, wholesome meal, Big Fig is favoured by locals and tourists alike.
For casual dining options, Wanaka offers plenty of options too. Cafes like Federal Diner offer lip-smacking dishes, perfect for a lazy brunch. Also, don't miss out on the world-renowned Wanaka Pie from The Doughbin Bakery.
For excellent pub food, try Speight's Ale House. It's opposite the lake with wonderful views. They offer wide range of Speight's beers, a great selection of local wines, and generous serves of tasty pub food. The Lamb Shoulder shared plate is mouth watering.
Come and explore the great outdoors, Wanaka New Zealand style
Wanaka is well-known for its outdoor attractions, and rightly so. An absolute must-visit for adventure-seekers is Mount Aspiring National Park. Soak in the gorgeous alpine landscape of this heritage park while being engrossed in activities like hiking, mountaineering, fishing and jet boating. The scenery here will blow you away.
The Mount Iron Track is a popular choice for a short and easy walk, offering panoramic views of the town, lake and mountains. If long walks are your thing, try the Glendhu Bay Track, a beautiful trail along Lake Wanaka's shoreline.
Wanaka New Zealand - a winter wonderland
Each winter, Wanaka transforms into a snowy wonderland, attracting ski enthusiasts worldwide. With four accessible ski fields – Treble Cone, Cardrona, Snow Farm, and Soho Basin, the thrill on the slopes is just a few minutes’ drive away from the town center.
Cardrona is a family favourite, with a blend of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes. For off-piste terrain, head to Treble Cone — the largest ski field in the South Island, boasting long descents and legendary powder days. And the views!
Snow Farm is completely dedicated to cross-country skiing, with many trails winding through some of the most stunning scenery in Wanaka. Meanwhile, Soho Basin offers private skiing in cat-accessed terrain for a day of solitude and untracked powder.
The ski season generally begins in June and ends in October, with the peak snowfall generally being in July and August. The slopes stay open until late in the season, often with lesser crowds, offering some of the best spring skiing.
But there's so much more to see and do here
Among other attractions, the Puzzling World filled with illusion rooms, puzzle collections, and maze challenges, is a family-friendly spot that’s worth a visit, providing bouts of laughter and intrigue. We spent several hours there and still can't get our heads around some of the illusions, like "Following Faces" and the "Ames Room". Puzzling World caters well for kids with several interactive displays and a maze. We rate it a "must do".
Art enthusiasts would love visiting Rippon Vineyard, not just for its award-winning wines and stunning views, but also for the beautiful collection of art installed throughout the vineyard, truly a treat for the senses.
To connect with the local Maori culture, participate in an exclusive hikoi (walk) with a knowledgeable guide at WAI Wanaka, offering insight into local legends, traditional uses of native plants, and Maori customs.
Wanaka isn't just a summer or winter destination; it's a year-round attraction. The autumn in Wanaka particularly is a photographer’s paradise, when the landscape is a kaleidoscope of red, gold, and orange. The Wanaka Tree, a willow standing alone in Lake Wanaka, earns its most iconic status during this season.
In spring, Wanaka bursts back to life, with wildflowers sprinkling the landscape. It’s a gorgeous time to hit the trails again, go for a scenic bike ride, or try some water sports on Lake Wanaka.
The adventure doesn't stop on land in Wanaka. With Lake Wanaka at the very heart of this town, water sports are a significant part of the activity scene here. Try out kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, or simply take a refreshing swim in the breathtaking blue waters.
When we visit we always take a few minutes to walk onto the small jetty in front of the town. We will never cease to be enthralled with the huge trout casually swimming just below the surface. Note to self.......book a fishing charter for next time.
For fishing enthusiasts, Lake Wanaka and its surrounding rivers offer fantastic opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or new to the sport, the diverse waterways are brimming with brown and rainbow trout and quinnat salmon.
For some air-borne thrill, try skydiving over Wanaka, the drop zone with arguably the best scenic background anywhere in the world. it's not our thing, but the jump would be an exciting adventure to cherish.
Cinema Paradiso, a unique and quirky local movie theatre, is another one-of-a-kind attraction in Wanaka, featuring classic cars, sofas, and an interval complete with freshly baked cookies!
With its lakeside location and mountainous setting, Wanaka offers not just spectacular sights but also an atmosphere of calm and serenity. After a day full of activities, a casual stroll by the lake, enjoying the sunset is the perfect way to unwind. Or do as we do at day's end, and just relax on the balcony with a wine or beer, and take it all in.
Even for the retail therapy lovers, Wanaka won't disappoint. From artisan crafts, local produce, jewelry to outdoor equipment and clothing, the town’s boutique shops offer a distinctive shopping experience.
Wanaka New Zealand is home to several annual events worth timing your travel for. The Festival of Colour, an outstanding six-day event every autumn, celebrates art, theatre, music, and conversation. Another significant event is Warbirds Over Wanaka, an international airshow held every even-numbered year, utterly spectacular to witness.
Wanaka NZ is also a paradise for wine lovers. With several vineyards in and around Wanaka, sample some of New Zealand's award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling as you overlook the stunning landscape. Rippon and Maude Wines are some of the must-visit vineyards.
What sets Wanaka apart are the plentiful opportunities it offers to echolocate with nature. Perhaps it’s the call of a native bird, the rustle of leaves in a forest walk, or the lull of the lake against its shore... the town has a special way of making guests acutely aware of their surroundings and the beauty of the natural world.
Wildlife enthusiasts can visit Mou Waho Island, a predator-free reserve, home to the flightless Buff Weka, a bird species that’s extinct on mainland New Zealand. The island also boosts an interesting geographical feature – a lake on an island in a lake!
For a taste of history, visit the Wanaka Museum that captures the area's rich heritage. Housed in the Wanaka Community Hub, the museum’s interesting exhibitions often raise eyebrows and smiles.
The National Transport and Toy Museum charms visitors of all ages with a huge range of displays, many reminding us of our childhood days.
For some exciting mountain biking, Sticky Forest offers a network of trails through a pine forest: jumps, drops, and a fantastic view at the summit make it a popular mountain biking destination.
Talking about cycling, the Hawea to Wanaka trail is a beautiful journey along the lake, a scenic and peaceful ride that can be enjoyed even by beginners.
Between Wanaka’s stunning landscapes and the abundant attractions, this town embodies the adventurous spirit that New Zealand is known for. Whether you're looking for adrenaline-fueled adventure, a peaceful retreat, or a fun-filled family vacation, Wanaka is the perfect spot.
The landscapes in Wanaka are so picturesque that they have even been made famous on the silver screen. Parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed in this region – so if you've ever wanted to step into the movie's magical world, Wanaka gives you the chance!
In a nutshell
To sum it up, the beauty, diversity, and sense of adventure that Wanaka offers are unparalleled. It's the perfect balance of serenity and exhilaration, of nature and nurture, of awe-inspiring landscapes and heart-warming hospitality.
For those who have never been to Wanaka, the astonishing beauty of the place often leaves them speechless. Those who have visited before fondly refer to their Wanaka memories as unforgettable. And those who live here… are indeed the luckiest!
So, come and experience the beauty and attractions of one of New Zealand's most beautiful towns. Dive into the lake, climb a peak, ski down a mountain or simply savour a glass of award-winning local Pinot Noir on a golden evening. Choose your adventure, because in Wanaka, there’s something for everyone.
Finally, why should you choose Wanaka? Waking up to the incredible lake view, spending the day exploring the stunning landscapes, relishing a delightful meal at a local restaurant, and enjoying some of the most engaging activities - that's why! In every sense, Wanaka New Zealand provides a memorable holiday experience, one that leaves you with a longing to return again.
Come and see what all the fuss is about , here in Wanaka New Zealand.
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