Wanaka, a breathtaking paradise nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. Surrounded by towering mountains, pristine lakes, and a plethora of outdoor adventures, this charming town has captivated the hearts of travellers from around the globe. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or simply in search of a serene escape, Wanaka has something to offer for everyone and this Wanaka itinerary covers it all.
In this blog post, I’ll unveil an exquisite Wanaka itinerary in 2-3 days that will take you on an unforgettable journey through Wanaka’s awe-inspiring landscapes and hidden gems. From exploring the town’s vibrant streets to embarking on thrilling outdoor activities, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the wonders of this remarkable destination.
Prepare to be mesmerized by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wanaka, hike along breathtaking trails, indulge in gourmet delights, and discover the cultural treasures that define this idyllic slice of New Zealand.
So grab your camera, lace up your hiking boots, and join me as I delve into the magic that awaits on this Wanaka itinerary in 2-3 days.
Best Time to Visit Wanaka
Wanaka is a year round destination. When to visit really depends on what you want to do.
If its hiking and glorious sunshine you are after then the summer months, December to February will be best. If its skiing and snow sports, then you’ll want to visit in the winter months, June to August.
However the shoulder seasons in autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November are also a great option. In September and October there will still be enough snow for snow sports and in March and April the weather is glorious.
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Car Hire in Wanaka
Due to the fact that New Zealand is an island, most people visiting Wanaka will need to hire a car when they arrive to help with getting around.
For all my car hire bookings I use and recommend Hertz. I’ve found they offer the most comparable prices, let you search and compare multiple vehicle types and they have a great customer service team who can help if you come into any unexpected troubles.
Accommodation in Wanaka
There are plenty of different options for accommodation in Wanaka with most of the best options being located near the lakefront and town centre.
Here are three accommodation options to suit all budgets that I recommend you check out. All are centrally located, highly rated and come with excellent facilities.
Budget – YHA Wanaka
Mid-Range – Wanaka View Motel
Luxury – Marina Terrace
2 Day Wanaka Itinerary
Day 1 (Part 1) – The Lake and Town Centre
The best way to get yourself started on your visit to Wanaka is with a short walk around the town centre and down to the lake.
The lake is right on the edge of the town centre and the town centre itself is quick small, so this will be a quick walk just to get yourself orientated and take in the first of many beautiful views you’ll be seeing over the next few days.
Start with a stroll along Ardmore Street which runs directly parallel with the lake. Have browse through the boutique shops and take in the lake views.
A short wander up Helwick Street will also give you the chance for more browsing.
Along the lake there is a pathway that runs for many kilometres in both directions. I recommend you take a walk for as long as you feel like it, take a seat from time to time at one of the many benches along the way and take in those views.
If you can walk a little a further, take the path around the western side of the lake for about 20 minutes and you’ll find the famous Wanaka Tree.
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
Day 1 (Part 2) – Cardrona, The Crown Range and The Lavender Farm
Once you are orientated with the town, jump in the car for a little exploring on the fringes of Wanaka.
First stop Cardrona with a very scenic drive over the Crown Range. The drive is only about 20 minutes from the centre of Wanaka and offers some very stunning scenery as you traverse the first part 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. I highly recommend you make the Cardrona Hotel your lunch stop.
Once you’ve had the chance to explore the Crown Range and Cardrona, set off back towards Wanaka, making a stop at the Wanaka Lavender Farm.
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.
This is also a great spot to grab some cheeky afternoon tea and enjoy the views!
Day 2 – Hiking!
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 for day 2 of your Wanaka itinerary.
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.
Enough Time for 3 Days in Wanaka?
The Wanaka itinerary above only just touches the surface of Wanaka must see attractions. If you have more than 2 days in Wanaka, even just one more day then you have plenty of options.
You can easily make this a Wanaka 3 day itinerary by taking an awesome day trip on the third day. Here are few popular options to choose from and you can find more suggestions here.
Jet Boating on the Clutha River
Jet boating in Wanaka is easy. 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.
Self Guided Bike Tour
Any place famous for the outdoors is best explored on a bike, so if you love to ride and can handle being on the saddle for 30km or so, then this is tour for you.
To begin your ride on one of the best bike trails in Wanaka, you’ll jump on an included shuttle that will collect you from Wanaka Town Centre and take you to the neighbouring town of Hawea where you have the time to check out the village and grab a coffee.
Once you are caffeinated, it is time to jump on your bike and set off for the Hawea River Track. The easy riverside track has fantastic views of the surrounding mountains as you pass towns like Albert Town, where you can stop for a drink.
As you continue the path will take you along the Clutha River, which leads into Lake Wanaka. Before arriving back into Wanaka Town Centre, you’ll ride along the lake, past the famous Wanaka Tree and other beautiful spots to stop and take in the breathtaking views.
The standard tour includes a normal bike, however if you don’t fancy peddling all 30km, then you can upgrade to an e-bike to save your legs for all the hike you’ll like be doing while in Wanaka.
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 wine tours in Wanaka on offer, 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 – On this half day small group tour you’ll be tasting local award winning wines matched with local produce.
- Full Day Small Group Wine Tour – Enjoy a full day in a small guide tasting wine and a gourmet lunch at one of the local wineries.
- 5-Hour Wine Tour & Maori Culture Experience – Enjoy wine tasting and a local produce platter on this small group tour which also includes manaaki (hospitality) of the local Maori community.
More Time Than 3 Days in Wanaka?
This is already a pretty packed itinerary with lots of different things to see and do in and around Wanaka. Should you wish to extend your stay in Wanaka or in the South Island of New Zealand for a few more days (or more!), then these posts will help you do just that.
Over to you!
Which part of this Wanaka Itinerary are you most looking forward to doing?
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.