Set in a spectacular alpine location with stunning mountains and a magnificent lake, Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s most enchanting towns. A popular destination among locals and tourists, there are heaps of activities to do in Wanaka from sightseeing to snowboarding. It’s an awesome spot for hiking and a great base to explore the nearby Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka is also just a short drive from Queenstown and other towns in Central Otago, you can’t miss it! Whether you choose to visit Wanaka for a day or a few days, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained.
Here are some of the awesome things to do in Wanaka:
Admire Lake Wanaka
With the astounding peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park as its backdrop, Lake Wanaka captivates landscape photographers from around the globe. There are various vantage points to see the lake – some may choose to capture its beauty from the waterfront, others from above one of the magnificent peaks surrounding it. Read more about the best viewpoints below.
Lake Wanaka is very idyllic with long stretches of pebble stone beach perfect for sun bathing (in the summer) or a picnic. If you enjoy being in the water, Lake Wanaka is popular for swimming, kayaking, and other water activities.
Snap a Photo of the Iconic Wanaka Tree
Story goes that the infamous Wanaka tree sprouted from a fence post some 80 years ago. Tourists who visit Wanaka can’t get enough of this willow tree which sits next to the shore of Lake Wanaka. While it was recently damaged (apparently by a guy with a chainsaw), it’s still worth checking out.
See Glendhu Bay
Another great spot for beach lovers, Glendhu Bay is a captivating spot you shouldn’t miss. The water at Glendhu Bay is so inviting! It’s clear and slightly calmer compared to the main waterfront. There are also some picnic tables here if you are just passing through on you way to Mount Aspiring National Park and after a more comfortable lunch spot. There is a camping ground here and a boat docking area – should you feel like hanging around for longer.
Visit Lake Hawea
Located 20 minutes from the main town, Lake Hawea is a small, quieter version of Lake Wanaka. There is a nice viewpoint here which has panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. There are also a few places to stay here away from the (relatively) busy Wanaka main strip and some interesting attractions nearby.
Explore Mount Aspiring National Park
Located close to the Wanaka township, Mount Aspiring National Park covers a huge expanse of natural beauty. If you’re after some short sightseeing head over towards the eastern side of Mount Aspiring National Park which is located just past Lake Hawea. Along the stretch of road towards Haast there are some incredible attractions to explore including the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy Falls. If you’re after some day hikes, head towards the western side of Mount Aspiring National Park, which can be accessed a few minutes’ drive from the road past Glendhu Bay. This scenic drive will take you to the start of the Rob Roy Glacier track, one of the best day hikes in this national park. There are various multi-day hikes here but some hiking experience and appropriate gear are necessary.
Watch the Sunrise at Roys Peak or Isthmus Peak
Roys Peak is undoubtedly one of the best sunrise spots in Wanaka. It’s not the easiest of day hikes but well worth the 3 hour steep ascent. From the peak, you’ll be greeted with enchanting view of Laka Wanaka and the surrounding peaks. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness some of the pink and purple sunrise of the southern hemisphere! Note that this track is closed during lambing season from October to November.
Another outstanding place to see the sunrise in Wanaka is Isthmus Peak. Located on the eastern side of the lake (access from Lake Hawea), Isthmus Peak offers expansive views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Roys Peak, with its popularity, can get crowded, so Isthmus Peak is a great alternative if you’re looking for a quieter yet equally stunning hike. Note that this track is closed during fawning season around November to December.
RELATED POST: Hiking Isthmus Peak at Sunrise
Of course, if you have a few days to explore Wanaka, I suggest you try to do both hikes.
Hike the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountains Track
Another stunning hike in Wanaka, the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountains track offers spectacular views from various viewpoints and at the Rocky Mountain peak. The terrain is quite interesting here and the track is varied and challenging in parts. If you enjoy variety in your hike, tackling this track is a no-brainer.
See Wanaka from Mount Iron
An easy hike near Wanaka township, Mount Iron offers great views of Lake Wanaka from above. It’s a short and cruisy hike which is ideal if you don’t have a lot of time or energy for the more iconic hikes. If you have kids, this is an easy one you can do with the family.
Explore Puzzling World and Other Museums in Wanaka
A great spot to spend a few hours is Puzzling World. This iconic attraction in Wanaka holds some interesting pieces of art and visual displays that everyone in the family can enjoy. One of the best parts of Puzzling World is the life size puzzle! I won’t spoil you – be sure to check it out. Admission fee starts at NZD$18 for adults.
There are other museums and attractions in Wanaka including the National Transport and Toy Museum, the largest collection of toys in the Southern Hemisphere and Warbirds and Wheels, which is known for their great displays of classic and vintage automobiles and motorcycles.
Visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm
One of my favourite attractions in Wanaka is the Wanaka Lavender Farm. In full bloom in the summer months, you can see a display of beautiful lavender fields. It’s a great place to relax where you can walk along flower fields, try their herbal teas or indulge in lavender and honey flavoured ice-cream. Entrance costs NZD$10 for adults.
Explore the Wanaka Township
If you’re looking to just slow down and take a bit of a breather from all the exploring, Wanaka’s centre has a nice array of restaurants, cafes, shops and galleries We usually visit Wanaka from nearby Alexandra / Queenstown for a day trip so we often find ourselves grabbing just a quick bite to eat and enjoying it at the waterfront. Our go-tos include savoury pies from Kai Pai bakery (their pies are top-notch) and some decadent desserts from Patagonia Chocolates (their hot chocolate and gelatos are divine). If you’re after some local shopping, there is a Wanaka Artisan Market held Thursdays 3pm to 6pm.
Wine Tasting at Rippon Vineyard
If you’re looking to try some local wines in New Zealand while looking at some nice views, Rippon Vineyard is your best bet. The views here are stunning – easily accessed by car (only 3 km from the main town). The wine tasting is also free and you’ll get the chance to try a few different varieties. As with many vineyards in the Central Otago region, Pinot Noir is the house speciality — other varieties they offer include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Note however, that while you can buy bottles of wine and enjoy it at their grounds, there’s no cafe or restaurant here.
Visit Wanaka’s Mou Waho Island
One of the four significant islands on Lake Wanaka, Mou Waho Island can be accessed by water taxi or by joining a boat tour. The cruise along Lake Wanaka alone is great. On the island, we did the walk to the viewpoint which overlooks the Arethusa Pool (it’s like a lake on a lake) and Lake Wanaka. We highly recommend it!
Go on a Scenic Flight / Vintage Flight / Learn to Fly
If you are looking to splash out and see amazing views from above, you can go on a scenic flight. We haven’t done one yet but there are some great options to choose from including flights around Mount Aspiring National Park and some as far as Mount Cook and Milford Sound. Flights to Mount Aspiring National Park starts at NZD 225 per person.
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to fly on a vintage aircraft, there are classic flights in Wanaka that you can enjoy. The photo below is from a 1940’s Tigermoth aircraft (courtesy of Off the Main Road NZ).
If you are eager to fly an aircraft you can also do a trial flight which caters to flight enthusiasts and beginners. A 20 minute trial flight starts at NZD 219.
Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Winter is a spectacular time to visit Wanaka with its world class ski fields, Treble Cone Ski Area and Cardrona Alpine Resort. These ski fields are also great spots to see snow even if you are not planning to do any snow activities.
Enjoy Other Outdoor Activities in Wanaka
There are plenty of other outdoor activities in Wanaka, including skydiving, jet boating, canyoning, rock climbing, off-road 4-wheel driving, quad biking or horse trekking.
Drive the Crown Range towards Queenstown
The Crown Range road between Wanaka and Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads. Make sure to stop at the designated viewpoints for some great photo opportunities of the stunning peaks.
Map of Things to Do in Wanaka
Read more detailed posts about Wanaka in our travel blog dedicated to exploring New Zealand’s South Island, See the South Island.
Do you have plans to visit Wanaka in New Zealand? Which of these attractions in Wanaka are you most excited to visit? Let us know.