New Zealand tourist towns don’t get much more iconic than Wanaka. 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.
Things to Do in Wanaka
There are a few things to do in Wanaka 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 Wanaka 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.
That Wanaka Tree
A little further along the beach (but still walkable) you’ll find That Wanaka 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 Wanaka (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 Wanaka 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.
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 Wanaka (especially if the weather isn’t great).
Wanaka Lavender Farm
If you want to take some pretty pictures in fields full of lavender, you should check out Wanaka 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 Wanaka and is one of the nicest lake beaches in New Zealand. The water is calm and clear, and the backdrop is your typically beautiful Wanaka 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.
Hikes in the Wanaka Region
Wanaka is the perfect base for doing the world class hikes 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. I’m going to write a full post about the hikes in and around Wanaka, so I won’t go into too much detail here.
The most famous of Wanaka’s hikes, Roys Peak takes you above Lake Wanaka 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 Wanaka 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 Wanaka
Still not satisfied with all the things to do in Wanaka that I’ve listed? Here are some more!
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 Wanaka, and you can also drive up to the ski field for some great views (check the road conditions in winter though). Outside of the ski season you can drive up and do some hiking.
The Scenic Drive to Queenstown
The Crown Range, the highest main road in New Zealand, separates Wanaka and Queenstown. It’s a scenic road but isn’t for the faint-hearted — take some motion sickness medication if you need it!
I haven’t done one yet, but I’ve heard the flights over the mountainous scenery near Wanaka are worth splashing out on.
This small lakeside town, around 20 minutes from Wanaka, is a much quieter alternative and could be a good place to base yourself (especially if you hate somewhat crowded tourist towns). There are some short walks close to town as well as a nice beach area and Isthmus Peak is nearby.
Cromwell, one of the main towns in Central Otago, is less than an hour’s drive from Wanaka 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.
Mou Waho Island
You can do a boat tour to this island in Lake Wanaka and it seems like a fun experience. You can hike on the island and there’s even another small lake on it — we hope to make it there soon!
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