Wanaka shares many of the characteristics that draw millions of tourists to Queenstown each year – the mountains, the lakes and the outdoors – yet it enjoys a far smaller profile. In many ways it's the little brother to Queenstown – many would say the cooler little brother. While it doesn't have as many hotels and restaurants or the large bar scene, it still has a few great attractions of its own, and respectable eating and nightlife.
During winter, Wanaka is used as a base for skiing and working in Cardrona, Snowpark/Snowfarm and Treble Cone and has a true 'ski town' vibe. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that half of New Zealand's Olympic skiers and snowboarders call Wanaka home. During the summer it's a busy holiday town for New Zealanders; many of the houses in town are baches (holiday houses). Lake Wanaka, New Zealand's fourth-largest at 192 km2 (74 sq mi), is also a popular boating destination (it's warmer than Lake Wakatipu), as is the nearby Lake Hawea.
Wanaka is pronounced similar to the phrase won a car. Many international tourists before have made the mistake of pronouncing Wanaka as if it rhymed with tanker, much to the locals' amusement.
Wanaka is a two-kilometre detour off State Highway 6, via State Highway 84. From State Highway 8, Wanaka is a 30 km detour via State Highways 8A, 6 and 84.
Approximate distances and times (non-stop):
- Queenstown: 70 km (1hr 10min) via Crown Range Road, 112 km (1hr 30mins) via State Highway 6
- Fox Glacier: 265 km (3hr 15mins)
- Christchurch: 430 km (5hr 15mins) via Lake Tekapo and Lindis Pass (SH 79 and SH 8),
- Dunedin: 280 km (3hr 30mins) via Roxburgh (SH 8)
Several bus companies connect Wanaka with Queenstown, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, Christchurch and Dunedin. Most buses arrive and depart from the Log Cabin at 100 Ardmore Street, on the lakefront opposite the Wanaka i-site information centre. Ritchies run 10 trips a day (5 from Wanaka, 5 from Queenstown) to and from Wanaka. All trips are via Queenstown Airport, cost for an adult is $NZ23 one way $NZ40 return. They will pick up from hotels in the CBD's at both ends of the trip.
Wanaka is compact and located on the lake shore. It is an easy walk to shops and restaurants and a number of operators offer car or mountain bike hire. Also, if you're interested in getting around the area, perhaps visit Lake Hawea, there is a new local carpool system that works on a gold coin donation for a ride.
- 1 National Transport & Toy Museum, beside Wanaka Airport. Daily (except 25 Dec) 8.30am-5pm with extended hours in summer. Has aircraft, cars, trucks, motorcycles, fire appliances, military vehicles and tractors, clockwork and battery powered toys, porcelain dolls, teddy bears, pedal cars and money boxes. Adult $17, child $5.
- 2 Puzzling World, 188 Wanaka Luggate Hwy (2km heading north from Wanaka), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 08:30-17:00. Its major feature is the Great Maze, a 1.5km two-story maze of confusing passages. It also features dozens of optical illusion rooms and a large puzzle centre, cafe and gift shop. Check out Wanaka's version of the Leaning Tower and the incredible roman toilets. Tumbling Towers: free, Great Maze: $18/12, Illusions: $18/14, Combined: $22.50/16.
- Wanaka Beer Works (at the Transport & Toy Museum). Tours M-Sa 2PM. Learn about the brewing process and sample a brew or two in the tasting room.
- 3 Warbirds & Wheels, Wanaka Airport. Daily. A museum of classic and vintage automobiles and motorcycles, and war planes, including an A-4 Skyhawk, a Strikemaster, a Vampire, and a Hurricane. It replaced the Fighter Pilots Museum. Adult $20, child 5–15 $5, student $15.
- World of Deer (near the Transport & Toy Museum). Opened in Sept 2018. Museum on the history of deer in NZ and deer antler carvings. Also has a shop selling deer products including carvings and food supplements, but not meat. Some of the carving is done in China.
Wanaka is a mecca for outdoor adventure; day hikes, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, boating on the lake or rivers, horsetrekking, skydiving, scenic flights and more. There is also a range of hiking and mountaineering in the rugged and spectacular Mt. Aspiring National Park World Heritage area; and skiing in the nearby skifields - Cardrona, Treble Cone, Snowpark/Snow Farm, and further afield near Queenstown Coronet Peak and the Remarkables. The multitude of activities in Queenstown are also just an hours drive away, so its possible to base yourself in Wanaka while heading over there for the day to hit up the activities on offer.
- Boating, several operators offer guided cruises out to the islands on Lake Wanaka. There is also a wake-boarding/water-skiing charter service. Both Mou Waho and Stevenson's island provide wildlife sanctuaries for birds. Mou Waho is a larger island with a small lake which you can walk up to. Lake Wanaka itself is the third largest lake in New Zealand and has a maximum depth of over a 300 m. There are beaches close by town which offer swimming and sailing or windsurfing, as well as idyllic and virtually deserted beaches 5-10 min drive from the township.
- 1 Deep Canyon (Guided canyon adventures), 99 Ardmore St, ☏ . Nov-Apr 07:00-11:00. Descend the spectacular canyons of the Matukituki valley. Explore crystal pools and native forest. Plunge down water polished chutes, abseil down waterfalls. Climb, swim and float through a spectacular world of water sculpted rock and sparkling, crashing waterfalls. $225 upwards.
- Cinema Paradiso, 72-76 Brownston St. Legendary small movie theater with custom seating including comfy old sofas, an old Morris Minor, and a great range of food
- Fishing, the surrounding lakes and rivers offer superb Fly Fishing. The rivers are stocked with both Brown and Rainbow Trout.
- Skiing, Lake Wanaka is both a skiers and snowboarders paradise. Close to 4 ski resorts. Heliskiing and cross country skiing are also possibilities.
- 2 Treble Cone, off Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Rd, ☏ . Treble Cone has two chairlifts and a poma serving a mixture of beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert terrain. The resort offers a small retail store, cafe, bar and restaurant at its base. It is approximately 30 minutes drive from Wanaka. The last part of the drive is up a winding dirt road that requires snow chains in winter and a confident driver. Snow reports phone +64 3 443-7444.
- 3 Cardrona, off Cardrona Valley Road, ☏ . This is the highest ski field in New Zealand. Snow reports phone +64 3 443-7007
- Harris Mountains Heliski. Harris mountains heliski can be booked from retail stores in Wanaka, and offers a number of different payment options, for a few runs or many. Go when the snow is good or go when the snow is ordinary, and trust your guide and pilot to find a stash. If you book only a few runs and want to do more, the guide may offer an extension to you while you are on the hill. Make a lowball offer! They would not have flown out if profits were not already sorted, and the guide may want another run anyway.
- Skydive Lake Wanaka, 14 Mustang Lane, Wanaka Airport, SH6, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 786 877, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 08:00–20:00. It’s not every day that you strap yourself to a beautiful stranger and leap from a perfectly good aircraft! High altitude tandem skydive. Freefall from 15,000 feet From $329.
- Walking, In addition to overnight and multi-day hikes such as Gillespie Pass, French Ridge, Cascade Saddle and etc there are an ever increasing number of enjoyable day walks. Probably the most popular of these and the most satisfying is the Rob Roy glacier hike in Mt Aspiring National Park, closely followed by the circuit Diamond Lake track and the Mt Roy track. New additions include the trail (best mountain biked) out to beautiful Colquhouns beach and on to the Rumbling Burn.
- Wine. Take a tour around the local estates
- Festival of Colour. This celebration of the arts occurs every two years in April.
- 4 Warbirds Over Wanaka. An air show held every second Easter long weekend. The next show is on 10 - 12 April 2020. See over 50 aircraft from the biplanes of WWI, the stars of WWII, the Korea fighters and the jets of Vietnam. Also military vehicles and Harley Davidson motor cycles.
There is a New World supermarket a block back from the lake for all your food supplies.
Shopping opportunities are limited, as you would expect in a town the size of Wanaka. There is a good range of ski/snowboard/outdoor and also clothing shops to get you prepared for the mountains.
- 1 AmiGos Mexican Grill, 71 Ardmore Street, ☏ .
- 2 Finchy's Bar and Restaurant, 2 Dunmore Street, ☏ . Built on the 1880 old Wanaka jail site.
- 3 McGregor's Restaurant, 54 Reece Crescent, ☏ . Local cuisine, outdoor seating. Huge meals.
- The Spice Room, 43 Helwick St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 5–11PM. Top notch Indian food in a warm and pleasant atmosphere. There is also a Spice Room in Queenstown. Main dishes $20-25.
- 1 Bullock Bar, 71 Ardmore St, ☏ . A bar with some real Central Otago character, featuring some unique entertainment including indoor ice curling and occasionally sheep racing
- 2 Opium Bar, 66 Ardmore St, ☏ . Asian-themed bar popular with the snowboard crowd
- Speights Ale House, 93 Ardmore St, ☏ . Speights bar offering drink and food
- 3 Water Bar, 145 Ardmore St, ☏ . Waterfront bar with a lake-side deck
- Wanaka YHA, 94 Brownston St, ☏ . $29–$135.
- Base Backpackers Wanaka, 73 Brownston St, ☏ . $25–$100.
- Mountain View Backpackers, 7 Russell St, ☏ . $33–$78.
- Flying Kiwi Backpackers, 21 Russell St, ☏ . $29–$80.
- 1 Alpine View Lodge, 23 Studholme Road, ☏ . Surrounded by mountains. $160-260.
- 2 Bella Vista Motel Wanaka, 2 Dunmore St (middle of town), ☏ . $120-220.
- 3 Wanaka View Motel, 122 Brownston St, ☏ . One, two and three-bedroom chalets near the lakefront. $170-200.
For luxury or more upmarket stays, there are several excellent lodges.
- 4 Lime Tree Lodge, 672 Ballantyne Road, Luggate (8km east of central Wanaka, off SH 6). Great service.
- 5 Maple Lodge, 56 Halliday Road, ☏ . Mountain view.
- 6 Minaret Lodge, 34 Eely Point Road, ☏ . Great service. For Lord of the Rings fans, Minaret Lodge offers a themed room, 'Barlimans' as well as LOTR packages.
- Mount Aspiring National Park – enjoy the scenery, mountaineering and jet boating
- Queenstown – take the Crown Range Drive, the highest main road in New Zealand, to Wanaka's big brother
- Haast and on to Fox Glacier, 3 hours drive north, in the West Coast region
|Routes through Wanaka|
|Fox Glacier ← Haast ←||N S||→ Cromwell → Queenstown|