Wanaka is a picturesque town located in the heart of the Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. This stunning destination boasts crystal-clear lakes, snow-capped mountains, and breathtaking natural scenery that will leave you in awe.
It is a popular destination for those who love the outdoors, offering an abundance of activities such as skiing, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. In this blog post, we will explore some of the top things to do in Wanaka, from exploring the stunning landscapes to experiencing the unique culture of this charming town.
Whether you are seeking adventure, relaxation, or a combination of both, Wanaka has something for everyone. So, let’s dive in and discover the top things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand!
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Best Things to Do in Wanaka
When thinking about what to do in Wanaka, the first thing that will come to most people’s mind is going on a few hikes.
The area around Wanaka offers hikers an abundance of opportunities to commune with nature and take in some of the most incredible views New Zealand has to offer.
Anytime you are hiking in New Zealand it is essential to come prepared with good hiking shoes, plenty of water, and warm clothing, as the weather can change rapidly in this mountainous area.
Here are five hiking options of different lengths and ability levels that you can choose from when visiting Wanaka.
Roy’s Peak – The trailhead for Roy’s Peak is located just a few minutes drive from Wanaka, and the route is well-marked and easy to follow. The climb to the summit is challenging, but the stunning views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains make it all worthwhile. The hike takes around 5-6 hours round trip and includes steep inclines, rocky terrain, and open grassy fields.
Rob Roy Galcier Track – This moderately difficult hike covers approximately 10 kilometers round-trip and takes around 3-4 hours to complete. Along the way you’ll be treated to stunning views of towering waterfalls, dense rainforests, and the majestic Rob Roy Glacier itself. The track is well-maintained, with well-marked paths and plenty of opportunities to rest and take in the stunning surroundings.
Diamond Lake Track – The track is a 4.8 kilometer loop that will take you through breathtaking scenery and past stunning alpine landscapes. The trailhead is easily accessible from Wanaka and takes about an hour to complete, making this one of the easier hikes on this list. Along the way, you will encounter a wide variety of flora and fauna, including native birds, wildflowers, and towering trees. The highlight of the trail is undoubtedly the panoramic views of Diamond Lake and the surrounding mountains, which are truly awe-inspiring.
Isthmus Peak – This 16-kilometer trek is challenging, but the spectacular scenery makes it worth the effort. The trail will take you through tussock-covered hills, past streams and waterfalls, and up to the peak where they can enjoy a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The hike takes approximately 6-8 hours to complete and is best enjoyed during the summer months when the weather is warmer and more stable.
Mt Iron – The hike takes about 3 hours round trip and provides breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. The hike to the summit is moderately challenging, with a well-maintained trail that leads through beautiful beech forest and up steep switchbacks. Once at the top you are rewarded with panoramic views of the region that make the effort well worth it.
Cruise the Lake
Lake Wanaka is a stunning glacial lake which you can access from right in the heart of downtown Wanaka.
It is one of the largest lakes in the country, stretching over 42 km in length and surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges. The crystal-clear waters of the lake reflect the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape, making it a popular spot for photography and outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and kayaking.
To really enjoy the calm waters of Lake Wanaka, you’ll want to take a cruise. Most cruises are short, so they won’t take up too much of your time, usually ranging from 1-3 hours, some have a specific theme.
Here are a the best options available for a cruise on Lake Wanaka:
- Stevensons Island 2 Hour Cruise and Nature Walk
- Happy Hour Cruise
- Water Taxi & Mou Waho Island Tour
- Ruby Island 1 Hour Cruise and Photo Walk
The Lavender Farm in Wanaka is a beautiful and serene place located just 5 minutes drive from town and in the heart of the stunning Southern Alps.
The farm features an expansive field of fragrant lavender, which blooms from December to February, the best time to visit this Wanaka attraction.
Visitors will find a variety of lavender-based products, including essential oils, soaps, lotions, and candles. You can also enjoy a leisurely stroll through the lavender fields or relax on the farm’s picnic tables and take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The Wanaka Tree
#ThatWanakaTree, yes a tree has its own hashtag, but rightly so! No one goes to Wanaka without stopping off for a photo at the famous tree rising from the lake.
One of the most photographed places in New Zealand, appears out of the stunning blue Lake Wanaka with an equally stunning backdrop of snowcapped alps. My recommendation is to check it out at different times of day if you have time. The colours of the lake and mountains change with sunrise, sunset and full sun.
To find the tree, you can either walk there from town along waterfront pathway which will take no more than 20 minutes, depending on where in town you start from.
Alternatively, driving there is even quicker. Park the car near The Wanaka Watersports Facility off Mount Aspiring Rd and take a short few minute walk along the beach. You can’t miss the tree at this is one of the most popular attractions in Wanaka and is always full of people.
Skiing or Snowboarding
If you are visiting Wanaka at the coolest time of year, generally June until October, then skiing and snowboarding should be on your list of things to do in Wanaka.
Wanka is a very popular destination for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. With its breathtaking views of the Southern Alps and vast terrain, it offers a world-class experience for all skill levels.
There are two main ski resorts in the area, Treble Cone and Cardrona Alpine Resort, both of which offer a variety of slopes and facilities.
Treble Cone is the largest ski resort in the South Island, and its steep terrain and challenging runs make it a favorite among advanced skiers and snowboarders. The resort boasts over 550 hectares of skiable terrain, with the longest run being 4 kilometers. Treble Cone also offers stunning views of Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps.
Cardrona Alpine Resort is another popular ski destination, with a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes. The resort is known for its world-class terrain parks, which attract freestyle skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Cardrona also offers childcare services and a range of other activities, making it a great family-friendly destination.
The Crown Range and Cardrona
The Crown Range is scenic route from Queenstown to Wanaka and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The drive itself can be challenging due to the steep and winding roads, but the stunning views make it all worth it. As you climb higher, you can see the expansive valley below and the snow-capped peaks in the distance.
One of the must-visit spots along the way is Cardrona, a charming alpine village situated in the heart of the Crown Range. Cardrona is home to a popular ski resort, but it is also worth visiting during the summer months when the snow has melted and the area is transformed into a lush green paradise.
While there you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on the many trails that surround the village. There are also several cafes and restaurants to choose from, including the famous Cardrona Hotel, which has been a favorite among travelers for over 150 years.
Like nearby Queenstown, Wanaka offers adrenalin junkies the chance to let loose and experience some of the best adventure activities in the world.
Leaving from the Wanaka waterfront you will skim across shallow water, over sand bars, through rapids, and around rocks at speeds in excess of 80 kilometers per hour while taking in stunning snow-capped mountain views. And this is all just to get to the ultimate destination of this short tour.
You will then enter one of the world’s swiftest-flowing rivers, the Clutha River where you will experience the iconic Hamilton Spin, a high-speed maneuver causing the boat to spin rapidly on the spot.
Your expert driver will raise your adrenalin, demonstrating the maneuverability of the jet boat and pushing it to its absolute limits, safely and skillfully navigating you on an unforgettable adventure.
Admire some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery and picturesque landscapes as you freefall from above at 200kph, sound like something you’d enjoy?
Your experience starts when you walk in the door and meet the awesome frontline crew. Receive a full briefing and gear up. Before you know it, you’ll be meeting your tandem instructor and climbing into the plane for the incredible scenic flight to altitude.
During your 20-minute flight over the Southern Alps, your instructor will point out Mt. Cook, Mt. Aspiring, the Southern Alps, a number of lakes and the Clutha River.
Once you’ve reached your chosen altitude, it’s time to leap. Experience the pure adrenaline rush of freefalling at 200kph above the stunning Central Otago landscape. After 25 to 60-seconds of freefall, catch your breath and enjoy the smooth flight under canopy safely back down to the drop zone.
The area surrounding Wanaka offers some of the best rock climbing opportunities in the Southern Hemisphere.
Choose from a 2 hour beginner waterfall cable climb or a 4 hour intermediate waterfall cable climb, depending on your fitness and skill level.
For both climbs, your adventure begins at Twin Falls Waterfall, located 20 minutes from Wanaka town. You will meet your guides, grab your helmets and harness and head over to our practice climb for your safety briefing.
On the beginner experience you’ll have approximately 1 hour scaling vertical and horizontal rock climbs, crossing suspension bridges over pools and discovering hidden waterfalls. At the end of this trail, take the opportunity to stop for a small snack and drink, admiring the stunning panoramic views over farmland, mountains, and Lake Wanaka.
And on the intermediate route you will be climbing up 350m of vertical cliffs, crossing over blue pools, and braving suspension bridges. Take the opportunity to stop on a bridge next to a huge cascading waterfall for an unforgettable photo. When you reach the summit of the climb, relax at the base of the 60m waterfall for lunch.
One of the best ways to see the stunning scenery around Wanaka and the Southern Alps is on a scenic flight.
From Wanaka you have two options, both are a bit pricy but for this once in a lifetime experience, I see it as a must-do when in this part of the world.
Option one is a 35 minute scenic flight with glacier landing. Soaring into the sky, fly over the tussock-covered hills of the farm and into the alps over remote mountain peaks, covered with deep, glacial-carved valleys. Gaze at the otherworldly landscape, with its deep blue chasms and stunning glacial caps. Landing high on a glacier overlooking the Alps, you’ll enjoy a photo stop with guaranteed snow year round prior to returning to the hangar.
Option two is a 1 hour flight that includes not one but two glacier landings. As with option 1, you will fly over the tussock covered hills of the farm and into the Southern Alps over remote mountain peaks with deep glacial carved valleys and year-round glaciers. Get up close to Mt Aspiring, the highest peak in the country outside Mt Cook National Park. On a good day, you can see all the way to the ocean and all the way to Mt Cook. Enjoy 2 separate remote alpine landings with the opportunity to take photos with spectacular backdrops. For most of the year, one of the landings will be on snow (not guaranteed).
Puzzling World is a unique and fascinating activities in Wanaka which is fun for people of all ages. This world-renowned puzzle and illusion destination, attracts thousands of visitors every year. The park is filled with numerous intriguing exhibits, displays, and activities designed to challenge the mind and stimulate the senses.
One of the most popular attractions at Puzzling World is the Great Maze, a massive labyrinth that covers over 1.5 kilometers of twisting and turning paths. The maze is surrounded by a picturesque landscape, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Wanaka.
Another famous exhibit is the Ames Room, which creates an illusion of perspective distortion. When viewed through a peephole, visitors can see two people standing side by side, one appearing to be a giant and the other a dwarf. The room is a perfect example of how the mind can be easily fooled by optical illusions.
Puzzling World also has a gallery displaying some of the world’s most famous puzzles and optical illusions. Visitors can try their hands at solving a range of puzzles, including the Rubik’s Cube and the Tower of Hanoi.
Located on the doorstep of the Central Otago wine region, Wanaka is a great place to experience some of New Zealand’s best wine, and doing a tour will ensure everyone in your travelling group can enjoy a few drinks safely.
There are three tours on offer in Wanaka, all offering convenient local accommodation pick up and drop off, included tastings and a small amount of local food to taste as you visit each winery.
Check out more about each of the tours below by clicking on the links:
- Half Day Small Group Wine Tour
- Full Day Small Group Wine Tour
- 5-Hour Wine Tour & Maori Culture Experience
Accommodation in Wanaka
Wanaka has a tonne of luxury apartments and chalets being a ski resort town. But there are also plenty of other options nearby to town and the lake that you can look at too. These three are all walking distance to town and the lake.
Budget – Wanaka Backpackers Bothy
Mid-Range – Wanaka View Motel
Luxury – Lakeside Apartments
Over to you!
Which of these Wanaka things to do are you looking forward to the most?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.