New Zealand tourist towns don’t get much more iconic than Wānaka. It’s home to some of the best hikes in the country, a wide variety of activities to suit all types of traveller and one of the prettiest lakefront beach areas in New Zealand. There are so many things to do in Wanaka — I’ll show you the highlights and give you some tips on making the most your trip.
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Things to Do in Wānaka
There are a few things to do in Wānaka that are within walking distance of the main tourist area, but most of the others will require transport.
The beach in front of the main part of Wānaka is stunning and there is generally plenty of space. It does get busy during the summer holidays though. You can swim, do some sunbathing on the beach (the NZ sun is harsh though!) or grab some shade under one of the many trees behind the beach. There are heaps of other beach areas too — check out our post about the best beaches in Wānaka.
That Wānaka Tree
A little further along the beach (but still walkable) you’ll find That Wānaka Tree. It’s a partially submerged willow tree and is famous mostly thanks to Instagram. It’s still worth a look though, as it’s a photogenic foreground to a lovely backdrop of mountains.
Another spot which is easily reached from downtown Wānaka (around a 30-minute walk), Rippon Vineyard is surely one of the most scenic vineyards in New Zealand (and the world). The view over Lake Wānaka is one of the best you’ll see without doing a hike. You can do wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard although strangely there’s no cafe or restaurant.
If you’re keen on a winery tour, most of these start in Queenstown. There are plenty of options including the Otago Winery tour with Gourmet Wine and Food-Paired Lunch or join a Hop on Hop Off Bus which goes to Wineries in Queenstown & Gibbston Valley.
This is the only real “viewpoint hike” in the town itself and is a good option if you don’t have the time or energy for a longer walk. You’ll get good views of the lake, town and mountains from Mount Iron and it’s a good place to watch the sunrise.
Fans of surreal art, puzzles, mazes and illusions won’t want to miss a trip to Puzzling World. It’s a fun place to visit and the kids will love it. The indoor area has heaps of illusions and trippy things to look at, while the outdoor maze is a fun challenge to complete. There is nothing else like Puzzling World in New Zealand and is easily one of the best things to do in Wānaka (especially if the weather isn’t great).
Wānaka Lavender Farm
If you want to take some pretty pictures in fields full of lavender, you should check out Wānaka Lavender Farm. They only come out in summer, but if you time your visit right it is a special place.
Glendhu Bay is in my opinion the best stretch of beach in Wānaka and is one of the nicest lake beaches in New Zealand. The water is calm and clear, and the backdrop is your typically beautiful Wānaka scenery. There’s a camping ground there too – if you want to escape the town for a night or two it could be a good place to stay.
Walks in the Wānaka Region
Wānaka is the perfect base for doing the world class walks in the area. The ones below are all day walks, but there are multi-day hikes as well if you’re up for more of an adventure. Check out our post about the best walks in Wānaka.
The most famous of Wānaka’s hikes, Roys Peak takes you above Lake Wānaka for amazing views. It’s best seen at sunrise, which lets you avoid the crowds and the heat (it’s a straight climb uphill — easier in the cool early morning conditions!).
Isthmus Peak is a similar challenge to Roys Peak and is possibly even more scenic. There is more variety in the views on offer and it’s much quieter.
Diamond Lake / Rocky Mountain
A slightly easier proposition than the first two, this track takes you to a picturesque lake and then to the top of Rocky Mountain for stunning 360-degree views.
Rob Roy Glacier
Parts of the Rob Roy Glacier Track are currently closed, but hopefully it gets sorted soon as it’s an excellent walk. You’ll get up close to Rob Roy Glacier, with lots of mountain views and towering waterfalls leading the way.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Rob Roy Glacier is in Mount Aspiring National Park, but there are other hikes there as well. The walks to Liverpool Hut and French Ridge Hut look nice and seem like good places to try the New Zealand “hut sleeping” experience.
The road to the West Coast from Wānaka also passes through Mount Aspiring National Park. Interesting places to stop include the Blue Pools Track and the various waterfalls, including Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls and Roaring Billy Falls.
Other Things to Do in Wānaka
Still not satisfied with all the things to do in Wānaka that I’ve listed? Here are some more!
Lake Wanaka Cruise and Mou Waho Island Tour
We did the catamaran cruise to Mou Waho, one of the islands in Lake Wānaka and it was a great experience. There’s a lot to see on the scenic cruise but the best bit is of course, the visiting the little island (with its own small lake), which is the biggest reason this place has become famous over the last few years. The Mou Waho Island 3.5-Hour Cruise and Nature Walk comes highly recommended. There are other islands, including Stevenson Island and Ruby Island. Alternatively, you can do a Lake Wanaka Happy Hour Cruise.
Cardrona is home to a historic hotel, a fence with lots of bras on it and a ski field. It’s a short drive from Wānaka, and you can also drive up to the ski field (check the road conditions in winter though). Outside of the ski season, particularly in summer, you can do some walks, mountain carting or mountain biking.
READ MORE: Learn about the history of Cardrona Hotel
The Scenic Drive to Queenstown
The Crown Range, the highest main road in New Zealand, separates Wānaka and Queenstown. It’s a scenic road but isn’t for the faint-hearted — take some motion sickness medication if you need it!
READ MORE: 15 of the Best Things to Do in Queenstown
I haven’t done one yet, but I’ve heard the flights over the mountainous scenery near Wānaka are worth splashing out on including the Scenic Flight around Mt Aspiring & Glaciers and Scenic Flight with Glacier Landing.
This small lakeside town, around 15-minutes from Wānaka, is a much quieter alternative and could be a good place to base yourself (especially if you hate somewhat crowded tourist towns). There an excellent walk along the lakefront (Gladstone Track), lots of nice beach areas, the Isthmus Peak Track (it starts nearby) and a very scenic stretch of the Wānaka to Haast drive.
Cromwell, one of the main towns in Central Otago, is less than an hour’s drive from Wānaka and it makes for a good little side trip. There’s a cool lakeside area full of historic buildings and there is heaps to see nearby, including the Bendigo Historic Reserve, the tiny old town of Clyde and the scenic dams near Alexandra. Also check out St Bathans — it has one of my favourite short walks in Central Otago.
READ MORE: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Central Otago
Where to Stay in Wānaka
We recommend choosing a hotel with a view of Lake Wānaka or the surrounding mountains. Some great options with great views and within walking distance from the Wānaka lakefront include Edgewater Hotel Lake Wānaka | Altamont Lodge | Lakeside Apartments | Clearbrook Motel & Serviced Apartments | Wānaka Heights Motel. If you’re travelling in a campervan or looking for a place to camp, these holiday parks are situated close to town Mt Aspiring Holiday Park | Wānaka Top 10 Holiday Park. Another cool hotel to consider is the historic Cardrona Hotel.
Are you planning a trip to Wānaka? Check out our Wānaka travel guide for lots of tips!
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