23 Best things to do in Wanaka

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Making a trip up to Wanaka for fresh, powder snow capped mountains? Hoping to get in a cheeky wine tour through Rippon, or want to tackle the epic hiking tracks of the northern Otago region? We’re sure our guide to the most epic Things to do in Wanaka will help you plan.

One the South Island of New Zealand is the bustling tourist town of Wanaka, in the Otago region of South Island.

Located north east of Queenstown just over an hour away surrounded by towering mountains of Mount aspiring national park with some of the best ski resorts and mountains anywhere this side of Queenstown, Wanaka is the place to be.

Fed mainly by Lake Wanaka (extensions of both Matukituki River and Makarora River), and borders by the Cardrona River and the mighty Clutha River there’s plenty of exciting attractions in Wanaka for both thrill seekers and nature lovers.

Things to do in Wanaka
Witnessing the mountainous landscape- One of the epic things to do in Wanaka

Getting to Wanaka

If you’re heading up from Queenstown in a vehicle then if the road is open take Crown range road which turns into Cardona Valley road.

Crown range road is not available to vans and trucks so you will have to divert around this road and travel via New Zealand state highway 6 towards Cromwell.

This route will add on approximately 15-20 minutes to your journey.

Is Wanaka worth visiting?

Absolutely. We are more sad that we didn’t get to spend more time making a bigger list of things to do in Wanaka.

The drive from Queenstown is easily done in a morning or afternoon, and can be used as a stop over place on the road to travelling to Mount Cook/Aoraki. 

Next>> Have a read of our detailed Queenstown Guide the next time you decide to visit here

Roy's Peak Track

Our guide to the 23 best things to do in Wanaka

Have you ever heard of the Wanaka Tree? This is the town where you’ll be able to see the most photographed tree in the world. This list of incredible Wanaka attractions will show the best things to see both in Wanaka and just outside so keep that in mind when planning your trip.

Hike Roy’s Peak track

Return hike: 16km

Time: 5-6 hour return

They say its not about the destination but rather the journey right? Well you could argue that this 16km return hike to the top of Roys peak track is definitely about the destination over the journey.

One of the top things to do in Wanaka is to hike Roy’s peak – and with some of the most incredible scenery over the southern alps of New Zealand, this one will make you work hard!

Before reaching the peak of this track for the stunning views that most photographers and instagrammers come to witness, you’ll have to climb your way up relatively uninteresting track to the 1578m top.

Passing through private farmland that’s mostly an uphill climb, the track is well formed and wide enough to easily stick to, with the trail head at Roys Peak Track car park and will take around 5-6 hours but most complete it well before this.

The best photography spot is actually 30 minutes before the peak so keep an eye out for this.

During the winter months you must possess alpine mountaineering skills including crampons and ice-picks and climbers should note that the hike is closed between 1st October -10th November each year.

That Wanaka Tree

Photograph ‘That Wanaka Tree’

We’r sure you’ve heard of the famous Wanaka Tree that juts out of the waters near the Wanaka lakefront – it’s easily one of the most popular trees in the entire world.

Getting here is also very simple and can be done either by taking the scenic route through Wanaka township strolling along Ardmore street (Main Street) where you can grab yourself a coffee from The Coffee Shack or Ritual Espresso.

The Wanaka tourist information centre is also here at 103 Ardmore street so you can find out everything you want to know about local road closures, or any seasonal activities that are on.

We happened to be here at the Wanaka tree during winter time and the tree had no leaves on it, but made for an incredible backdrop of the snow capped mountains behind it.

We decided to try out some long exposure photography on the tree – which became a task for Laura to stand as still as possible for this one.

You can find out how we achieved this glassy look of the water using the Wanaka Tree as a subject over at our Photography guide for beginners.

Wanaka lakefront

Do a sunset cruise on Lake Wanaka

We never shy away from a sunset photo opportunity and this 1 hour scenic cruise with a free drink is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.

Hop on board this luxury Catamaran in the evening to head up and down Lake Wanaka, explore the Lone tree we mentioned above trekking back to waterfall creek and Ruby Island.

On board you’ll have the option to purchase further drinks and food from under deck whilst heading across the Stevensons Peninsula before making the return journey home.

For more information on Lake Wanaka cruises you can visit their website.

downtownwanaka
have a bite to eat on the lakefront in Wanaka

Downtown Wanaka

Simply walking around town for a couple of hours exploring local parks and tourist sites can’t be beaten.

From the centre of Wanaka town, head to Lismore park for a round of disc golf, a game where you throw a frisbee into steel chained bin to score points. Play against your partner or challenge the local kids on school holidays. 

Hire a disc from the outdoor stalls for $5 NZD

The lakefront in Wanaka is less than a 5 minute walk from Lismore park with easy access and incredible views over Mt Aspiring from the wooden pier. 

Grab a bite to eat from Burrito Craft, Wanaka’s latest Mexican food truck selling authentic Mexican style burrito’s, Tacos and Tortilla’s located just outside the lakefront beach at 42 Brownston st, Wanaka. 

Open in Google maps >> 

Lavender farm in Wanaka

Wanaka lavender farm

Located a short 7 minute drive on the outskirts of Wanaka Town is the Wanaka lavender farm.

The Wanaka lavender farm is probably the most popular place to visit and should certainly be ticked off the Wanaka must do list.

Enjoy a pleasant walk through the 20 acres of Lavender fields on a beautiful sunny day, experiencing all things lavender including Lavender ice cream, a cup of herbal lavender tea and an assortment of varying Wanaka lavender farm products.

Theres plenty of things to do here at the Wanaka lavender farm, especially the farm animals that reside here including llamas, donkeys, horses, sheep and pigs.

Whilst the price of entry has gone up as of 2022, this is still a relatively cheap attraction in Wanaka with Adults at $15, children 5-15 years old at $7.50 and kids under 5 for free.

If you have time for it afterwards there is a little gift shop where you can purchase local Wanaka lavender honey and delicious ice cream.

Their opening hours are everyday 9am-5pm (September to May) or 10am to 5pm (June to August)

Of all the Wanaka attractions included in this guide visiting Wanaka lavender farm is probably the most laid back option of them all so you can choose to do this one on a rest day!

Visit their website here for more information 

Mount Aspiring in Wanaka

Rob Roy Glacier track in Mount Aspiring national park

Ever wished for the chance to hear and possibly see Avalanches and active Glaciers?

Well the Rob Roy track hidden along the Matukituki River in Mount aspiring national park is one of the top places to visit in Wanaka. 

This is an amazing yet relatively easy hike where high mountain peaks, waterfalls and of course the small hanging Rob Roy Glacier of the Southern Alps is what you go there to see.

The trail head for this hike begins at the Raspberry Creek car park and takes roughly 1 hour from Wanaka, New Zealand.

The drive is incredible and takes you past some of the best attractions in Wanaka such as the Treble cone ski resort, Aspiring helicopter rides and Diamond Lake conservation area. 

The last 40 km of the route to Rob roy track is unsealed and so you should take extra caution when driving here.

Visit Mou Waho island

Have you ever heard of a lake, on an island, in a lake, on an island, on an island in the ocean?

Well Mou Waho island is one of the few places in New Zealand, nay the world you can say that phrase and not get funny looks.

Basically within Lake Wanaka there is an island called Mou Waho Island that’s roughly 2.18km wide that is an eco-sanctuary for native birdlife as it’s been cleared of non-native pests and predators, meaning native species can thrive here. 

There are no public boats that travel here daily so you can take a water taxi or a cruise to get here from the foreshore of Lake Wanaka for a 3.5 hour cruise and nature walk, one of the most fun things to do in Wanaka. 

The lake on the island is called Arethusa Pool, that sits on Mou Waho, that sits on Lake Wanaka, that sits on the much larger South Island within the Tasman Sea – confusing right?

The best time to visit here is from October through May when the weather is more temperate and as the name suggests it is only accessible by boat. 

It has to be top of the list of the most unique places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand.

There’s another few islands situated within Lake Wanaka that offer fun activities like the Stevenson’s Island 2 hour cruise and nature walk.

The Ruby island 1 hour cruise has amazing things said about it in the reviews over on Get Your Guide. 

skiwanaka
image credit Tourism NZ

Search for powder at Cardrona ski fields

Wondering what to do in Wanaka in Winter? A short drive from downtown Queenstown along Cardrona ski fields road before the turn off for the Cardrona Bra Fence is where you need to head to find the best snow this side of South Island, New Zealand. 

Half way between Queenstown and Wanaka is the Cardrona Alpine Resort 41 minutes (35km) from Wanaka.

It’s one of the most fantastic ski resort for beginners in the whole country, a well set up food scene and dedicated staff to give you an awesome experience.

With 4 chairlifts servicing the entire mountain there’s ample opportunity to explore the friendly runs in one of New Zealand’s most epic ski fields.

Wanaka’s three ski areas, Cardrona, Treble Cone and Snow farm are all conveniently located within a 40 minute drive of central Wanaka, with easy access to the most diverse scnic skiing in New Zealand.

Visit Snow Farm

Home to New Zealand’s cross country skiing, Snow farm just west of Cardrona ski resort is one of the best places to visit from Wanaka.

A short 40 minute drive from downtown Wanaka sees you venture to one of the most fun activities on the South Island during winter time.

There’s everything from cross country skiing, snow shoeing, back country hiking and even staying in their back country huts.

During the summer months the landscape transforms into a mountain biking mecca, and trail hikers ditch the winter jackets for shorts and a t-shirt.

Explore the Pisa Range by either strapping on hiking shoes or your mountain biking cleats. 

Getting here can be done by either hiring a car (make sure you carry snow chains) or by by booking Yello! charter shuttle services. 

There are no public bus routes that travel between Wanaka and the snow fields so making sure you have a car rental or pre-booked shuttle is paramount.

GLSH
Alpine hiekes in NZ don't get much better than this- image credit Glacier Lakes southern helicopters

Scenic flights high above Mt Aspiring national park

Nothing says thrill seeking than jumping inside of a Helicopter ride above the incredible surrounding mountains and Lake Wanaka.

A must-do Wanaka activity beginning in the heart of the Matukituki valley is perfect for the whole family to enjoy when visiting Wanaka.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to land on a Glacier on top of Mount Aspiring national park? 

We highly recommend making time for this scenic flight that very few people get to say they’ve done. 

The 35 minute flight above the Southern Alps will land on the glacier and even allow you time to walk around and explore another world before making your way back, and will cost around $413 nzd.

Jet boat in Wanaka
Jet down the Matukituki River - credit Tourism NZ

Jet boat ride on Lake Wanaka 

We’ve written about jet-boat rides in Queenstown previously, but you’d be crazy to not try one of the most fun activities near Wanaka.

Be thrilled by even more spectacular views of the Matukituki River on a 1 hour jet boat ride through Wanaka.

Gracefully ride through the swiftest flowing waters of the mighty Clutha river, admiring the snow capped mountains of Mount Aspiring national park as you trail past Lake Wanaka.

Both life jackets and safety gear are all provided by your skipper and a safety briefing is provided before your trip.

The autumn colours really come alive in the surrounding mountain trees of the Clutha river, which also happens to be a popular time when people visit Wanaka.

Get the whole family involved in one of the most fun activities in Wanaka, however children less than 4 are not permitted on board.

Heli skiing in the Southern alps

There’s skiing – then there’s jumping out of a helicopter and skiing down a mountain side.

The joy of participating in one of the best things to do in Wanaka is that you only need be good at blue runs to be able to tackle Heli-skiing. 

No level of experience with powder snow is required before making the leap (literally) here. 

Southern Lakes Heli-ski offer incredible private packages for groups to the surrounding mountains of the Southern Alps between Wanaka and Queenstown.

Choose the amount of runs you want to attempt, ranging from 5 all the way through to 15-20, ranging in price from $1537 per person through to almost $3000 pp. 

This is not a cheap activity however an experience of a lifetime and one fo the coolest things to do in Wanaka.

puzzlingworld
Try the Illusion rooms at Puzzling World - image credit Tourism NZ

Put your brain to the test at Puzzling World Wanaka

For 49 years Puzzling world Wanaka has been entertaining and fascinating visitors with their award winning weird, quirky and challenging displays and Illusion rooms. 

This fun attraction in Wanaka is designed to challenge your problem solving skills, create a fun and exciting environment where you move between exhibitions with a unique experience that heightens your senses.

Their collection of optical illusions, 3D maze and puzzling rooms has seen over 4 million visitors since their inception in 1974 and around 200,000 people per year. 

By booking your admission ticket to Puzzling world Wanaka in advance you secure your spot at one of Wanaka’s most popular tourist attractions. 

Move through the Illusion rooms, a set of 5 rooms with unique realities in each, such as the ever changing ‘walls of wonder’ and exhibitions that leave you asking ‘how did they do that’?

The most popular attraction here at Puzzling world Wanaka is the ‘Leaning tower of Wanaka’ and the ‘Tumbling towers’

At less than $25 per person you’ll get to see one of New Zealand’s most iconic attractions .

Hike diamond lake and Rocky mountain track

Head west along Wanaka Mount Aspiring road to the trail head of a number of different easy hiking options here.

The most popular hiking trail is the Diamond Lake circuit track which is an easy hike, 2.5 km that shouldn’t take no more than 45 minutes return

Off shoots of this hike include the Diamond lake lookout trail, a 1 hour, 2km hike, or the Lake Wanaka Lookout which is 5 km long, 2 hours return. 

If you make it all the way here then you should definitely try the Rocky mountain summit track that’s 3 hours return over 7 km long.

Mountain biking is also very popular here although it’s only permitted to Diamond Lake and none of the other trails. 

For more information you should contact the Department of Conservation to find out about seasonal trail closures.

What to do in Wanaka
Nzone Skydive Wanaka - Toursim NZ credit

Skydive over Wanaka

You might seem like we talk a lot of skydiving here but that’s because it really is one of the best things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand.

What better way to view New Zealand than to see it from above- and better yet to join a tour with NZONE skydive and be thrown out of an aeroplane from your choice of either 9000,12,000 or 15,000 ft in a tandem skydive.

You will be amazed at the vast landscapes and mountains you’ll be able to see from 15000 ft, towering over Mt Aspiring national park, Lake Hawea, Clutha river Lake Wanaka, Mount Cook and even Mt Iron from above. 

Skydive Wanaka are another fantastic option when it comes to adventure activities in Wanaka.

For over 25 years the team at Skydive Wanaka have held an impeccable safety record over 150,000 customers since their inception.

A complete and thorough safety briefing and instructional video/lesson is held before your 200km/hr freecall to Earth.

Your 20 minute flight over the Southern Alps departs from Wanaka airport only a shot 10 minute drive from the Wanaka lavender farm, which you could also choose to do after or before your dive.

If you plan on visiting Wanaka, New Zealand we recommend booking with the Skydive Wanaka crew here

lakehawea
image credit tourism NZ

Visit Lake Hawea

Only 15 minutes from Wanaka sitting just east of Lake Wanaka is Lake Hawea, a beautiful spot to visit for a nice afternoon or even consider staying the night.

There’s also plenty of things to do in Hawea itself such as hiking, swimming in the lake, paragliding and kite-surfing also.

Lake Hawea is New Zealand’s 9th largest lake roughly comparable in size to Lake Wanaka.

At the smallest gap between both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea is the Isthmus peak track accessible from both lookout spots on both lakes via State Highway 6. 

The Isthmus peak track is a 16 km advanced hiking and tramping track that normally takes 5-7 hours to complete, but also doubles as an expert mountain bike trail. 

It takes no more than 25 minutes to drive from downtown Wanaka to the parking lot for this trail. 

If you plan on staying the night here we recommend checking out the accommodation deals over at Agoda and find one for a cheap price.

Have a vino at Rippon winery

Don’t mind a glass of wine? Neither do we. Which is why a visit to Rippon Winery in Wanaka is a must visit destination in Wanaka.

Home to one of the oldest wine growing districts in the Otago region, Rippon Winery produce a selection of 6 very distinct wines all on offer in their tasting packages. 

The backdrop of Lake Wanaka and Roy’s Peak creates a beautiful atmosphere as does Mt Aspiring national park in the distance as you sample their award winning Pinot noirs that have been produced from their biodynamic farming practices.

In fact the central Otago region of New Zealand is known to produce some of the most celebrated wines in the world.

If you’re coming from the centre of town it’s only a short 7 minute drive to Rippon winery.

Why not try a self guided bike tour where you can leisurely stroll past cafes, beautiful lakes and a stop at the Rippon Winery.

Exceptional food and drink in downtown Wanaka

Wanaka may be smaller than her southern cousins but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of incredible places to eat and drink in Wanaka.

Fresh local produce sourced locally is what the Wanaka region has to offer.

If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee then why not head into the Coffee shack or Ritual Espresso and bring your take away cup with you. (Wanaka is aiming to be single use cup free by the end of this year)

Wanaka also has incredible fine dining options available also at Bistro Gentil or Tititea steak house are your go to options here.

The Wanaka artisan market is a great place to stroll and shop for locally made arts and crafts, pastries, local wine, hadn’t crafted bowls and delicious sweets and savouries. 

They’re open every Thursday from 3pm to 6pm and one of only a handful of craft markets open year round on the South Island.

Let someone else do the driving for once and book a wine tour, beer or whisky tour. 

Ritual Espresso website – https://www.lakewanaka.co.nz/

Wanaka Artisan market website https://wanakaartisan.co.nz

beer
image credit toursim NZ

More craft beer than people

Not exactly, but Wanaka has the most breweries per capita in New Zealand. Not a bad feat for a country of 5.1 million.

Wanaka has certainly put itself on the craft brewing map and we recommend visiting a few of these the next time you plan to visit Wanaka.

Ground Up Brewing Co. have named each of their craft beers after a favourite mountaineering route or climb that they have personally done. Their 1200 litre production brewery currently have 20 beers on tap with a great selection of low to no alcoholic drinks also available.

On Ballantyne road heading out of town you will find Rhyme X Reason brewery that stock their famous classics like Joy Ride, Mt Alpha West Coast IPA and even coffee IPAs.

Their daily happy hour runs happily everyday between 4-6pm for what they call “hoppy hour” where you can purchase $1 off pints, slated wines and ciders. 

If you enjoy beer and sustainability then a day trip to b.effect Brewing co. Wanaka should be top of your list of places to visit in Wanaka.

This fully electric brewery uses less energy and water use to bring you delicious hoppy beer every day, benefiting both the environment and your mood. 

You can find the crew at 60 Anderson road, Wanaka. 

mount iron
image credit tourism NZ

Panoramic views from Mt Iron

Ditch the hiking poles and make the ascent to the top of Mt Iron that overlooks Mt aspiring national park and Lake Wanaka in this 4.5 km easy 1.5 hour loop track, but most can make the ascent in 45 minutes.

This is a fantastic alternative to the Roy’s peak track if you’re short on time or prefer to not travel to far to hike. 

The trail head starts from the parking lot on Wanaka-Luggate Hwy not too far from Puzzling world where you could do both activities in the same day. 

If you prefer to start this walk from Wanaka town then you’ll only add 27 minutes onto the journey before you begin the official hike.

There are no bike tracks up Mt iron however there is always an option to hire your mountain bike from Racers Edge and ride to Albert Town along the bottom track from the car park at State highway 84 to Racecourse road, though this is a shared user track so obey signs at all times.

Things to do in Wanaka
Canyoning is one of those unique experiences only few places offer

Go Canyoning near Wanaka 

Nothing says adventure like taking a helicopter to the base of a waterfall and abseiling down in helmets and wetsuits right?

Well the team at Wildwire Wanaka send you abseiling down Twin Falls Canyon conquering a series of 10 waterfalls before being choppered out back to base.

These guys provide all the safety gear and instructions for the day, and all you need to bring is swimwear, towels and hiking boots. 

Take Wanaka Mount Aspiring road to the west tracking along Lake Wanaka until you reach the cattle stop where you will meet you guides.

This tour in particular goes for around $456 nzd for 5 hours, so if you’re ever wondering what to do in Wanaka on a beautiful sunny day, this is it.

Try Rock Climbing 

Climb 355 metres of vertical gain as you ascend the highest waterfall climb in the world

Luckily you can try both rock climbing and canyoning in the same place- Wildwire Wanaka. 

Depending on your level of fitness there are two options to choose from to spend your day scaling rock faces and climbing suspension bridges.

The first is a 1.5 hour beginner “Via Ferrata” Waterfall climb, where a small group of 6 participants scale mountain side rock formations using iron rungs, suspension bridges, pegs and ladders before making their way home.

If you have experience with climbing and you feel brave enough, why not try this 4 hour waterfall climbing adventurein groups of up to 8.

Wanaka River Journeys

“Mo te Tangara mo te Whenua”

Said to be one of the best experiences in Wanaka, Wanaka River Journeys offer three thrilling adventure experiences for people of all ages.

Firstly there’s jet boating along the river systems through New Zealand past iconic Lord of the Rings filming locations as well as past Glaciers of Mt Aspiring national park.

The second is an inflatable pack raft along the Matukiki River past waterfalls, Avalanches Glaciers. The perfect mix of fun and excitement however you MUST be able to swim.

And lastly, this activity is a combination of both Jet Boating, a wilderness walk deep through the mountains and a helicopter Glacier landing making this final activity one of the most unique experiences to have in New Zealand. 

Meet at the i-SITE Wanaka information centre at 10am allow for a 4 hour experience complete with courtesy shuttle, safety gear and even warmed hand rails. 

Wanaka Travel Guide

Plan where you want to stay ahead of time so you don’t miss out on some of the best discounted Wanaka accommodation in town.

Where to stay in Wanaka

Top Luxury accommodation – Phare Kea Lodge 

Rated 5 stars and our top pick for stays in Wanaka is the Phare Kea Lodge and chalet, with some of the most impressive list of facilities we’ve seen in ANY accommodation anywhere in New Zealand.

This stay has everything from an outdoor hot tub with views over Mount Aspiring and lake Wanaka, outdoor dry racks for your skis and snow gear as well as a helipad. 

Sleeping up to 12 guests with large living areas, a fully equipped kitchen as well as private staff to cook should you need, this is the perfect place to stay in Wanaka.

Mid-luxury accommodation – Edgewater Hotel

The only lake edge accommodation in Wanaka is here at the  Edgewater hotel with 1-2 bedroom apartments with a restaurant/cafe on site as well as hosting a range of conferences, events and even weddings in the beautiful backdrop of Lake Wanaka.

Find them here>> 

Their sustainability profile is also increasing every year so if this is of importance to you this is a great place to stay.

Mid range Budget accommodation- Altamont Lodge

For the very best in budget family accommodation without bunking, the Altamont Lodge is perfect for singles, couples and families looking for an alternative to traditional style accommodation.

With recently refurbished shared bathrooms, 12 rooms with a large, equipped self-catering kitchen and located only a short walk from central Wanaka this place has all the amenities plus free wifi.

Find them here>>

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Christopher Aiello
Christopher is the head writer and co-founder of Chris and Laura Travels. Having travelled to over 27 countries and counting, he has a passion for adventure travel in a responsible way. Christopher and Laura currently live in Melbourne but share their time between down under and the Canadian Rockies of Alberta. We aim to inspire others to get outside and explore through our storytelling imagery and video. Keep up to date on where we are by visiting us on our Instagram page or find out more of our story on our About us page.

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Chris & Laura

Australian and Canadian freelance photographers & storytellers addicted to travel,  inspiring you to travel the world.

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