Explore the South Island’s majestic alpine landscapes and rest, revive and unwind in one of New Zealand’s premier resort towns, Wanaka, Otago.
Lake Wanaka #thatwanakatree, South Island
TAKING A SELFIE IN WANAKA
Visitors are drawn to the lakeshore and #thatwanakatree. Admittedly the solitary Wanaka willow is undeniably picturesque, the lone willow seemingly floating on the lake. #thatwanakatree with is dropping slender branches framing the view of the Southern Alps is the theme for zillions of instagram shots. For the hardy there is the slog up the sheer slope of Roys Peak. Visitors queue to snap a quick shot of yourself in a selfie pose as a human dot against the vastness of the outstanding mountain and lake scene below.
Roys Peak is part of millions of outstretched arms backdropped against a striking landscape. Plus the selfie looks scary … is the person going to plummet off the mountain. Yet while Roys Peak is the destination for many there are plenty of original relatively undiscovered corners for the selfie pose, the couples or family photo capturing the holiday spirit. Check out Wanaka where to take a selfie and enjoy finding new places to express yourself.
WALKING, STROLLING OR HIKING
Walking, strolling or hiking the choice is yours. The scenery provides the magic.
There is a walk, a hike and day tramp for everyone in Wanaka. The bonus is the beautiful outdoors year round with scenery people would like to bottle and take home.
Unmissable short walks include:
- Wanaka lakeside stroll, from Bremner Bay to Glendhu Bay
- Eely Point, Lake Hawea
- Diamond Lake and pack a picnic and swimmers
Stretch the legs and lace up the hiking boots:
- Rob Roy Glacier walk an extraordinary embracing native beech forest, river valleys and terminus of Rob Roy Glacier
- Matukituki Valley walks
- Lake Wanaka outlet walk discovering the charms of the upper Clutha River
- Roys Peak, someone got to do this and, of course take a selfie
- Mt Iron Summit with its sweeping views of Wanaka, the alps and the lake
For more ideas about best walks in Wanaka check out Wanaka 11 walks for families and the dedicated tramper, #thatwanakatree key facts and other beautiful places to visit in Otago.
Lake Hawea, Wanaka, South Island
What can I do if it rains while visiting Wanaka, South Island?
A place that celebrates snow and ice is definitely the place to be when the weather is chilly. And forget the wet weather gear Wanaka has the answer with several outdoor shops stocking your sized clothing.
BIKE, CYCLE OR WALK CENTRAL OTAGO
Wanaka’s local cycle trails provide scenic lakes, mountains and the outdoors with a touch of comfort with cafes and wineries a heartbeat from the trail. Close by Wanaka is the Otago network of bike trails with Lake Dunstan cycle trail a mere 51 km distance.
Otago cycle trails, Wanaka, South Island
- Hawea River Trail
- Outlet Clyde River Trail
- #thatwanaktree shared cycle trail to Glendhu Bay
- Road trails embracing views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea
- Mountain Bike Parks from Card
Dedicated cyclists must-go list with Central Otago cycle trails at the top must include Wanaka on the bucket list. The cycle trails are shared with walkers and even horseback riders creating a mix of interests. For walkers it is very easy to pick a short section or even loop back on a section and meander through the visually impressive scenery and sights of long ago gold mining activities.
READ MORE about getting there and key facts about Central Otago four cycling & walking trails attractions and things to do – Best Bits.
The star of the show, Lake Wanaka’s average water temperature is 8.9°C – 20.0°C. Bracing dip is another word for chilly. No wonder plenty of people swim in a wetsuit.
ADVENTURE CLASSICS – AJ HACKETT BUNGY JUMP ANYONE?
You can travel the short distance to the Karawau Gorge for a classic, bungy jump into the canyon with rubber bands around your ankles. For New Zealand kiwi style adventure Wanaka dishes up the goods with everything from rock canyoning to sky diving or sustainable journeys to the high country beyond.
ADVENTURE IS IN WANAKA’S DNA
Every holiday deserves a treat, or several. Wanaka is packed with tour operators offering exhilarating adventure options from high wire balancing past waterfalls to adrenaline laced rock climbing. Equipment for skiing, summer sports or active outdoor pursuits adds up. Who doesn’t want to SUP or kayak to a marine reserve and picnic on a remote beach.
Perhaps the idea of jet boating to a quiet place to fish feels like heaven or an expensive way to fish. Glorious scenery is free, it is what to do while in Wanaka that costs. Wanaka offers airborne heights where you land on a glacier or the wild calls with horse trekking or 4WD into the pristine alpine landscapes.
There are professional guides specialising in almost everything outdoors from fly fishing, hunting, tramping and hiking and experts on the flora and fauna. Check out a few of the tour operators Wanaka Adventures and decide which ticks your bucket list.
Kawarau historic suspension bridge, AJ Hackett Bungy Jump location, Wanaka
NEXT CHAPTER BOOKSHOP AND CULTURE IS ALIVE & WELL IN WANAKA
@Next Chapter Bookshop
Find what to do on a rainy day in Wanaka or need a great book to read under a shady tree. Forget about that instagram fabulousness of Roys Peak, bathed in warm light. Wanaka has lots to do and see on rainy days. Unique experiences Wanaka style add a flourish to the damp day outside.
- Next Chapter Bookshop is an independent bookstore with plenty of paper based gifts for the hard to please from amusing cards, quirky bookmarks
- Puzzling World is a must-go regardless of the weather. Amusing mental challenges and lots of entertainment for all age groups.
… read more Wanaka 6 indoor attractions to visit.
WINE TRAILS AND VINEYARDS IN WANAKA AND CLOSE BY
Wanaka wine region is classic Central Otago pinot noir with some family vineyards having stretched their wings with Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Rose and Riesling.
Wanaka wine region is the northernmost area of Central Otago with a cooler wetter climate than interior Central Otago. Lake Wanaka modifies the severity of frosts yet adds an additional challenge of moisture laden air. The long hot dry summers are classic Central Otago in Wanaka which encourages the development of ripe fruit complexity without the loss of precious acidity. While Pinot Noir is the local favourite family vineyards have stretched their wings with Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Rose and Riesling.
… read more WANAKA WINE & CRAFT BREWERY (+ GIN DISTILLERY) TRAILS
WHAT TO DO IN WANAKA WITH THE KIDS?
Wanaka has found the recipe for family holidays. Perhaps it is the stupendous grassy foreshore with plenty of space for kids to play (playgrounds, ice cream vendors, kayak and SUP) or the small town feel to the town centre. Wanaka offers kids (and the young at heart) puzzles and mysteries at Puzzling World, adventures from jet boat tours to working deer farm tours.
The town is pedestrian friendly with the lake separated from the town by a large grassed foreshore and limited speed zone road.
FAMILIES, WHAT TO DO IN WANAKA?
Here are 11 ideas …
Glendhu Bike Park awesome views, Wanaka
- National Transport and Toy Museum must go, cafe, vehicles to clamber over, plenty of room to explore and nearby is the Wanaka Lavender Farm with its great gift shop
- Glendhu Bike Park where the view is extraordinary and rent a mountain bike
- Lismore Bike Park, fun, free and easily accessible from Wanaka’s town centre and locate #thatwanakatree close by for a group photo
- Walk from #thatwanakatree to Glendhu Bay
- Try out skiing in winter at Cardrona or Treble Cone with its extensive family packages
- Try biking local trails in summer
- Dinner at the local popup food carts in town, great catering and pretty town landscaping with plenty of seating
- Kayak Lake Wanaka or pick one of the tourist adventures and go jet boating
- Walk the Outlet Clutha shared trail with some patisseries in the backpack
- Puzzling World is fun, amusing and a challenge to the senses. A must-go attraction.
- Relax on the lake foreshore, consider whether to purchase an ice cream or coffee, think about hiring an SUP or do nothing but watch the kids swim.
Kayaks launch guided tour Lake Wanaka near #thatwanakatree, South Island
SHOPPING, RETAIL THERAPY
Relax you are on holiday without a big block retailer in sight. Small town vibe with individual operators carefully selecting goods and services suitable for your next adventure or wine trail. Outdoors stores specialise in both summer and winter activities with snow boards stacked next to swimmers. The curated clothing shop is next to an interesting art gallery or perhaps it’s time to rest between excursions in the cafe overlooking Lake Wanaka.
Check out the stores behind the main street cafes, THE PRECINCT. The Precinct is a chic contemporary space with a range of gift shops and hospitality stores inhabiting the spaces. The Precinct neatly links to nearby streets with a short 10 minute walk to the massive off street parking space
Wanaka is serviced by supermarkets, pharmacies and banks making keeping in touch a breeze as well as a place to collect foodie treats for an impromptu picnic.
- BASE STREETWEAR. Base Streetwear is the go to fashion and streetwear store in Wanaka, New Zealand. We’ve been around for over 20 years.
- BELLA of Wanaka. Sophisticated women’s clothing to smart casual gear for a day on the lake.
- DEVal Boutique women’s clothing selected collection of international and local designers with the option of a personal styling session.
- GLOWING SKY. Timaru, South Island knitwear company with cool linen pants.
- UNTOUCHED WORLD. Premium soft, fine merino clothing cool in summer with the ability to keep you toasty warm in winter.
- WOOLS OF WANAKA is a local family-owned business specialising in New Zealand made merino wool and possum fur blend clothing. Merino wool is the finest wool and when mixed with possum fur creates a superior product that keeps you warm yet is lightweight. Our extensive collection includes knitwear for Men, Women, Children and Baby. Other related merino wool products include knitting yarn and blanket throws.
- THE PICTURE LOUNGE – NZ PHOTOGRAPHERS GALLERY
- GALLERY 33. Wanaka’s Contemporary Art Gallery. Gallery 33 exhibit a range of contemporary artwork including paintings, sculptures and jewellery from leading New Zealand and Australian artists
- SHOPPING, OUTDOORS CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES, WANAKA
- RACERS EDGE. Wanaka’s specialist ski + bike + outdoors. Meet the employees who are usually found outdoors on their day off.
- MT OUTDOORS any sport, Mt Outdoors has the gear on hand.
- OUTSIDE SPORTS a national brand with a presence in Wanaka.
- BIKE LOUNGE has stores in Wanaka and Queenstown – we offer everything you need for a great ride in the Southern Lakes.
- WASTEBUSTERS. Shop knowing you are contributing to upcycling and resource management while browsing Watesbusters community opportunity shop.
@gallery thirty three
WANAKA MARKETS, FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
What a calendar, it’s packed with festivals, events and challenges. Wanaka is often fully booked accommodation on the dates. Get in early to secure your spot.
@Wanaka Artisan Market / Jodie Rainsford
- WANAKA ARTISAN MARKET – farmers market run year round
- WANAKA SUNDAY CRAFT MARKET
- WANAKA FESTIVAL OF COLOUR
- WANAKA BEER FESTIVAL
- WANAKA TE KAKANO PLANTING SESSIONS
- Free live music at Edgewater Resort (summer)
- Wanaka A&P Show
- RIPE WANAKA Food and Drink Festival
- Wheels at Wanaka
- NZ Mountain Film & Book Festival
- Wanaka Warbirds and Wheels event
- Challenge Wanaka Adaptive IS part of the Triathlon Festival.
- Wanaka Red Bull Foxhunt Challenge, Downhill mountain bike event Red Bull Foxhunt is coming to New Zealand tracks for the first time ever where 150 riders will come together at Cardrona
- Wanaka Parkrun Every Saturday, Parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. Wānaka Parkrun started in February 2018 and they are proud to have a truly beautiful course beside the lake
- Crankworx mountain bike challenge
- Motatapu bike, run, stagger challenge
Wine trails and vineyards with drop dead gorgeous views.
The only difficulty facing visitors is deciding which vineyard to patronise.
@Monkey Farm Wanaka
WANAKA ROAD TRIPS
Wanaka is an ideal location to explore Central Otago. Wanaka’s location is a natural hub to explore Otago. Savour views of glorious mountain ranges and the semi-arid desert plateaus of Central Otago with its gold mining heritage. Join the dots on a road trip around the lower South Island. Nearby is Cromwell, Alexandra and Clyde creating opportunities for day trips or an overnight stay.
The Bannockburn Sluicings, Central Otago
CAN YOU VISIT CROMWELL IN A DAY FROM WANAKA, OTAGO?
You can easily visit historic Cromwell in a day from Wanaka. One way the trip is less than an hour. Key highlights
- Bannockburn Sluicings (historic gold mining site)
- Heritage Cromwell with its original schist buildings and Victorian streetscape
- Lake Dunstan for an al fresco meal
… read more WANAKA ROAD JOURNEYS, INSPIRATION FOR DAY TRIPS
Can I fly to Wanaka, South Island&
Wānaka airport is 10 minutes from town and has scenic and charter flights, the nearest domestic and international airport is Queenstown Airport which is 60 minutes away. See our flights to Wānaka and buses to Wānaka page.
Is there a public bus service around Wanaka, South Island?
Wanaka has a resident population of less than 12,000 people making a public town bus service unviable. There are several shuttle buses to destinations such as Puzzling Word, Raspberry Creek car park (Rob Roy Glacier walk) and popular walking tracks. Biking is a breeze with cycle hire companies readily including transport as part of the package.
What are the free things to do in Wanaka, South Island?
The outdoors is amazing and it’s free. Your holiday should not be about stressing about the cost of entertainment especially when families are involved. Let’s get you out and about without breaking the bank. Check out Wanaka Things To Do and See for Free – Best Bits and get inspired. And click on Wanaka walks and hikes for outdoor activities where the only thing needed are boots and water / snacks / clothing.
What should I wear in Wanaka, South Island?
A town that celebrates the outdoors is casual with hiking boots and activewear part of the streetscape. Bring layers as even in summer it can be chilly in the evening.
What is the weather like in Wanaka, South Island?
Wanaka has a below average rainfall with extended periods of hot dry summer weather. Summer weather is mid-January to late February with an average temperature in the mid-20c. Winter season average temperature is in the single digits.
The warm season lasts for 3.3 months, from 6 December to 17 March, with an average daily high temperature above 18°C. The hottest month of the year in Wanaka is February, with an average high of 20°C and low of 10°C.
The cool season lasts for 3.0 months, from 26 May to 25 August, with an average daily high temperature below 9°C. The coldest month of the year in Wanaka is July, with an average low of 2°C and high of 7°C.
Source Wanaka Climate, Weather By Month, Average Temperature (New Zealand).
Winter – Wanaka is unlikely to experience snow however at night the temperature usually drops below freezing. The average night temperature is -2c. The height of winter is June – July.
WANAKA MOUNTAIN RANGES HEIGHT
- Mount Aspiring: 3,033 m
- Mount Roy: 1,578 m
- Mount Iron: 740 m
- Treble Cone: 2,058 m
- Black Peak: 2,289 m
WHERE IS WANAKA LOCATED?
Wanaka is located in the province of Otago with the nearest international airport Queenstown approximately 1 hour drive over the Crown Range Highway.
Cardrona historic hotel vintage vehicle
Which is the better place to stay, Queenstown or Wanaka?
Wanaka is a quieter version of Queenstown with lakes, mountains and the outdoors the key calling card. Wanaka has a depth of adventure and tourist attractions similar to those offered by Queenstown and Rotorua. The ace in the card for Wanaka is the close proximity to the two largest ski resorts in New Zealand, Cardrona and Treble Cone.
Another drawcard for Wanaka is the lakefront with its extensive foreshore and beach holiday atmosphere. Wanaka is both budget wise and activity wise a better option for families and visitors focused on getting outdoors for walks, hikes and biking.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT WANAKA?
- #thatwanakatree the photogenic prop to zillions of insta feeds
- Wanaka Station Park with massive Himalayan cedars, giant sequoias and the unambiguous poplar tree
- Lake is truly massive, the 4th biggest in NZ and very accessible. The lake sits at 300 metres above sea level and accompanying extensive shoreline
- An island in the lake with a lake nestled within the island Mou Waho
- Lake Wanaka is the outlet for NZ’s deepest and 2nd biggest river, Clutha / Mata-Au
- Surfing Hawea River
Lake Wanaka iconic much photograhed tree
WHAT DO QUEENSTOWN AND WANAKA HAVE IN COMMON?
- Beautiful blue lake
- Framed by sheer peaks dusted in snow
- Wineries nearby with vineyard cycling trails
- Adventures galore from bungy jumping, skydiving and everything in between
- Front row seats in cafes with a cold drink in hand
- Polished visitor vibe with tourism the main economic activity
Queenstown dubbed the ‘adventure capital of New Zealand’ wins hands down with the sheer scale of tourism operators. Visitors will need to ensure they have pre-booked their chosen activity and have budgeted for impulse buys.
WHAT IS THE EASIEST WAY TO GET TO WANAKA?
The easiest way to get to Wanaka is by car or motorhome. Check out our Wanaka travel distance table and you can see Wanaka is 1 hour from Queenstown and its international and domestic airport.
Distances from Wanaka
||Queenstown resort town
||Via Crown Range Rd 1 hour or 69 km
||Queenstown resort town
||Cromwell 113 km 1 ½ hours, (SH 6)
||Milford Sound (Fiords) scenery
||343 km, 4 ½ hours (via SH 6, 4)
||Cromwell (Bannockburn Sluicings, Gold Mining Centre)
||56 km, 45 minutes
||Alexandra (curling, ice skating)
||89 km, 1 hour
||Clyde (river cruises, jet boating)
||91 km, 1 hour
||Karawau Gorge (bungy) adventure
||89.5 km, 1 ¼ hours (via SH6)
||Haast Pass, Blue Pools
||72 km, 1 hour (via SH 6)
||Lake Tekapo scenery
||99 km, 2 ½ hours (via SH 8)
||Aoraki, Mt Cook scenery
||208 km, 2 ¾ hours (via SH 8, 80)
||Christchurch premier South Island town, travel hub
||543 km, over 5 hours (via SH1, 8)
||Dunedin historic town with wildlife on Banks Peninsula
||275 km, 3 ½ hours (via SH8)
||Waitaki Valley wineries, extraordinary geological landscapes
||165 km, 2 hours (via SH8 & Lindis Pass)
SH = state highway. As always check road conditions with NZTA, New Zealand Transport Agency before departing.
Bus Queenstown to Wanaka | Cheap travel with InterCity. InterCity operates a regular bus from Queenstown to Wanaka. The InterCity bus leaves Queenstown at Athol Street and arrives in Wanaka at the Log Cabin on the Lakefront, 100 Ardmore Street. Your journey will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
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BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE
Best Bits travel guide is published by nzjane.com. Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.
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