Our guide on what to do in Wanaka
From dusk to dawn, Wanaka will fill your adventurous desires. From hiking to one of the most breath-taking views in all of New Zealand, to tasting the world’s best cheese scone (you heard it here first!). Nestled between the Crowne Ranges and Mt. Aspiring National Park, this Central Otago gem offers something special for every age and every interest. We guarantee you’ll leave this quaint little town with your soul feeling energized and yearning for more time in this idyllic spot. For where to stay in Wanaka, take a look here!
While there is an infinite list of must do’s in this wilderness of glaciers, beech forest, lakes and town – there are 10 things to do in Wanaka that you simply cannot miss!
See our top 10 must do’s on your trip to Wanaka…
1. Get your Instagram-perfect shot
Whether it be That Wanaka Tree or Roy’s Peak, Wanaka is a photographer’s paradise. Before social media put Wanaka on the map, this town was the best-kept secret amongst locals. But thanks to the mystical tree that miraculously stands alone centred in the lakefront amongst the Southern Alps and the infamous Roy’s Peak ridgeline that provides a backdrop more epic than any green screen ever could – Wanaka is a secret no more. Be prepared to queue up for your turn at capturing two of the most “Instagramable” locations in New Zealand. But, we promise it’s well worth the wait as it is impossible to take a bad photo in these picture-perfect locations!
2. Enjoy a scenic hike
From family-friendly walks around Lake Wanaka to challenging trails on Isthmus Peak, Wanaka offers outdoor adventures for any skill level. For those looking for a leisurely stroll, there is a well-groomed trail around Lake Wanaka’s waterfront, which offers beautiful vantage points along the way. You can start from the town centre and make your way to Glendhu Bay in a leisurely two-hour return trip. For those looking for a more challenging hike, Isthmus Peak is an absolute must. A four to six-hour return hike will bring you 1,385m up for a stunning panoramic view. that includes Lake Wanaka, Lake Hāwea and the surrounding mountain peaks. As a bonus for your efforts, there are no queues to get that epic photo of you standing along the dramatic ridge-line.
3. Explore Mt Aspiring National Park
A 40-minute drive from the town centre will bring you to one of New Zealand’s most stunning National Parks, which is booming with dramatic waterfalls, epic picnic spots and scenery straight out of Jurassic Park! For those somewhat short on time, you can enjoy a scenic car ride with plenty of short walks to nearby waterfalls such as Fantail Falls. Those wanting to splurge on a more adrenaline-filled adventure through the park can do so either via jet boat or helicopter ride. But whatever mode of transport you choose, it’s guaranteed to be epic. Just beware of the sandflies… and come prepared with lots of bug spray.
4. Take a dip in the Blue Pools
Another local’s secret that was made famous through the likes of Instagram, is the Blue Pools. This naturally occurring masterpiece is the perfect place to explore for all ages and abilities. Located at the entrance to Mt. Aspiring National Park and only a 20-30-minute walk from the designated carpark, the Blue Pools are carved out from a glacier-fed river whose teal blue hues look as if someone has dumped a bottle of food-dye into it. The water’s crystal clear nature makes it easy to admire from the swing bridge above, or for those brave enough to take a dip – explore from within the chilly waters itself! A trip to the Blue Pools is not complete without making your own cairn – a self-made stack of rocks along the river bed. The area is teeming with them and is your chance to leave a mark on this beautiful slice of paradise.
5. Enhance your senses at the Lavender Farm
Take in the calming aroma of the 10 acres of purple-popping lavender fields at the Wanaka Lavender Farm. While you stroll through the fields you can stop and say hi to the collection of farm animals, which include alpacas, donkeys and Shetland ponies. After your walk through the fields, reward yourself with a cup of tea, local honey samples or lavender ice cream. Don’t forget to bring a piece of the farm home with you, with a beautiful selection of locally made lavender products for you to choose from.
6. Go wine tasting at Rippon
Wine with a view, need we say more? This biodynamic lakeside winery offers some of the best vantage points of the surrounding area, which are best enjoyed with a Pinot Noir in hand. Rippon offers some of the most informative wine tasting sessions, with very generous pours. So, it’s not surprising that there’s a wait-list to have a go, especially since the wine tasting is free! If you’re needing a place to leave the kids while you enjoy your moments of peace sipping on your adult fruit juice, there’s a beautiful grassy knoll beneath the winery for children to run free and enjoy the sunshine. Win-win!
7. Have an adrenaline-filled adventure
Keen to have a heart-pounding adventure while in Wanaka? Well, the choice is yours! From white-water rafting, paragliding, jet-boating or skydiving, there are endless options to get that incredible endorphin rush. The skydiving in Wanaka is world class, with the scenery hard to beat as you get to enjoy a birds-eye view of the ocean, the Southern Alps, glaciers, lakes and the rolling hills – all in one death-defying jump. But then again, the white-water rafting or jet-boating in the Matukituki Valley offers a once in a lifetime adventure as well, with many of the activity options guaranteeing at least a half-day adventure.
8. Play in the snow
When winter rolls around, Wanaka and the surrounding region becomes an oasis for snow-lovers. Have your pick of tobogganing or cross-country skiing at the Snow Farm, practice your flips off the half-pipe at the Cardrona Alpine Resort or enjoy off-piece snowboarding run at the Treble Cone Ski Area. Every person’s snowy mountain dreams can become a reality and all can be reached from the town centre in under an hour, so you can truly maximize your day in the snow.
9. Get up close and personal with cows and a glacier… yes you read that right!
Only in Wanaka can you walk past a field full of cows and then up close to an active glacier in under two hours! It’s just under an hour’s drive from the town centre to the start of the Rob Roy Track and the drive alone is worth it! There are plenty of small fords (small river crossings) to get through along the way, so make sure you head out there in a 4WD. The wildlife out there is always unpredictable, from the cow-crossing traffic jams to a cheeky group of Keas plotting to steal your lunch. It’s also quite likely you’ll hear avalanches from the glacier while in-route, so there’s never a dull moment on this half-day return track.
10. Try the world’s best cheese scone
No holiday is ever complete without fulfilling a foodie fantasy and Wanaka sure does have a treat for you! Tucked away in a hidden alleyway off Helwick Street in the town centre is a place called Fedeli Café, aka home of the world’s best cheese scone. Offering their pantry and coffee selections for takeaways only, no adventure in Wanaka can be had without first indulging in the most scrumptious cheese scone and a top-notch cuppa, ensuring you’ll have enough energy to complete the day’s adventures that lie ahead.
Whatever adventures you decide to embark on, we promise that Wanaka won’t disappoint. Can’t wait to get to Wanaka? Take a look at our holiday homes in Wanaka and plan your escape now!