Whether you want to climb mountains, stroll along lakeside tracks or just relax somewhere beautiful, Wānaka has you covered. Our Wānaka itinerary will show you how to plan your days in one of the most popular (and scenic) tourist towns in New Zealand, as well as some ideas for road trips throughout the nearby region.
This post contains affiliate links — if you click one and buy something, we’ll get a small cut. It won’t cost you any extra and it helps us maintain this blog so we can continue to share our love for New Zealand!
Our Wānaka itinerary covers trips of up to a week, but you could easily draw it out for longer. I’ve listed ideas for each day but I’d suggest being flexible with your time. There isn’t much that requires advance booking and the weather can determine how good your experience is, especially when doing hikes or scenic drives. Your best bet is to choose a bunch of activities and then move them around according to the weather.
Three days in Wānaka
Three days in Wānaka is a good amount of time, allowing you to do one of the big day walks as well as a road trip or two and plenty of sightseeing close to town.
After arriving you’ll want to head straight for the beach. It runs along the front of town and is backed by a small number of bars and restaurants. It’s a great spot to get your bearings and enjoy the scenery Wānaka is famous for. There are lots of trees to relax under and the water looks inviting (cold though I’m sure!).
By day two you’ll probably want to get out and explore some of the pristine nature on offer. A great way to do this is on a day walk. Wānaka is home to two of the best day walks in New Zealand — Roys Peak and Isthmus Peak. Sunrise is the perfect time to do both of these walks — such an early start but definitely worth it.
For the rest of the day you’ll probably want to relax! Wānaka is great for that, but there are also some pretty relaxing activities you could consider nearby. These include is the drive up to Cardrona ski field (or the small town below it), a stroll around the Wanaka Lavender Farm, a boat trip on Lake Wānaka or maybe the drive to Cromwell (history / vineyards).
READ MORE: 18 of the Best Things to Do in Wānaka
Day three in our Wānaka itinerary starts off with one of our favourite activities — the boat ride to Mou Waho Island. It’s one of several islands in the lake and is the nest one to visit for tourists. The boat trip to the island is the perfect vantage point to see the stunning mountains that surround Lake Wānaka. Do this trip on a sunny day if you can.
Once at Mou Waho Island you can do the short walk up to a viewpoint. The viewpoint is above a small lake — quite a unique view.
The rest of day three depends on how you’re feeling. If you’re not too tired you could do another walk. Rob Roy Glacier is a great option (very scenic road to get there) and so is Rocky Mountain, which is much closer to drive to.
If you’re looking for an easy walk, and another solid sunrise option, check out Mount Iron.
Five Days in Wānaka
Another two days in Wānaka allows more time to explore the area nearby. On day four or five I’d suggest spending some time in Lake Hāwea (both a town and a lake) before driving some of the road towards the West Coast.
READ MORE: Need more information about Wānaka? Check out our Wānaka travel guide!
Lake Hāwea is a tiny lakeside town only 15-minutes from Wānaka. There are great views of the lake from the Gladstone Track, and with lots of entry points you can do small sections of it.
From there the road winds around Lake Hāwea, then Lake Wānaka before meeting up with the Makarora River. Isthmus Peak is on this road, so you could combine this road trip with that hike, especially if you’re up early for sunrise.
The road to Haast (West Coast) is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand. Drive as far as Thunder Creek Falls (75-minte drive from Wānaka) and you’ll see lots of nice road views, waterfalls and the Blue Pools. It’s the best route to take if you’re travelling all the way to the West Coast, but I reckon it’s well worth driving some of it and then returning to Wānaka if the West Coast isn’t in your plans. You could spend the night in Makarora too if you wanted to explore a bit more.
The other day trip I’d recommend is Central Otago. There are heaps of cool things to see, including historic towns, dams, walks, vineyards. A day trip from Wānaka could include Cromwell, Bannockburn (one of the best walks in the region), St Bathans, Poolburn Dam, Clyde and Alexandra. There’s way more than a day’s worth of stuff to do, so considering spending a night or two if you can.
A Week in Wānaka
If you’ve got a week in Wānaka it could be a good idea to spend the last couple of nights in one of the smaller towns nearby. Lake Hāwea is probably the best, but Makarora, Albert town and Cardrona are options too.
There are also other things to keep you busy in and around Wānaka. You could do another boat trip (Ruby Island/ Stevenson Island), do one of the day hikes you missed earlier or do an overnight hike in Mount Aspiring National Park (Liverpool Hut, Brewster Hut). A week in Wānaka means you can mix things up a bit. You could head over to the West Coast for a couple of nights or spend some time in Queenstown if you haven’t already. With pretty much limitless things to see and do in the region you won’t have any trouble filling up a week (or several weeks) in Wānaka.
What About Queenstown?
Queenstown is only a 45-minute drive from Wānaka. For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume you’ve already been (or will go) to Queenstown, as it’s the main town in the region and is where the airport is located. If you have a week in the region (Queenstown and Wānaka) you’ll want to split your days so you can see both. I’d go for four nights in Queenstown and three in Wānaka, or maybe even five and two.
Wānaka Travel Guide
If you’ve finished reading our Wānaka itinerary and need more help planning your trip I’ll be publishing a Wānaka Travel Guide very soon — stay tuned for that! Until then, send us an email or ask a question in the comments below if you need any more information on Wānaka.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island itinerary!
Latest posts by Jon Algie (see all)
- Top 12 Beaches in the South Island, New Zealand - February 9, 2023
- Second Beach, Dunedin - February 2, 2023
- Camp Road Track, Dunedin: Walking from Broad Bay to Larnach Castle - January 27, 2023