Wanaka is a town known for its turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains, and incredible scenery. Located only an hour from the famous New Zealand city of Queenstown, Wanaka is worth a visit, or even a stay for a few nights.
At the fringe of Mt Aspiring National Park, with two ski resorts just around the corner, Wanaka has become a popular holiday destination in recent years.
Whether you’ve got a day trip planned or a longer stay, we’ve compiled a list of the 21 best things to do in Wanaka. There’s a little something for everyone, whether it be for the hikers, adrenaline junkies or wine lovers.
Make sure to read our in-depth New Zealand travel guide for travel tips and advice to make your kiwi holiday amazing.
Wanaka Walks & Hikes
1. Hike Roy’s Peak Wanaka
If you love going on hikes, don’t miss out on this one. Roy’s Peak features one of the most famous views in the whole of Otago. When you get there, you’ll see why. The round trip is five to six hours (16 kilometres) and the views are absolutely breathtaking.
Believe it or not, there’s a line to get that classic Roy’s Peak Instagram photo. Check out the hashtag to see the photo.
Consider timing the hike to reach the summit at sunrise. You’ll need to start early, around 4am, which does sounds crazy, but the beautiful colours in the sky and sun-kissed mountains will be well worth it. For all the photographers out there, this is definitely the way to go.
If you’re travelling through the warmer months, start the hike at no later than 7 am. It can get very hot and there are parts of the walk that aren’t in shade. You don’t really want to get caught at the summit in the midday heat. Bring enough food, water, and sunscreen. Bear in mind it can also get busier the later you leave.
On the flipside, winter hikers will need to carry alpine equipment as the mountain will be covered in ice and snow. For this reason, beginners should attempt this during the warmer months.
2. Climb Mt Iron
This is a great alternative for those not up for Roy’s Peak or those who have children with them, but still want to catch some amazing Otago views.
You’ll be surrounded by native shrubs as you climb to the summit. Admire the views of the Southern Alps, Pisa Range, and Lake Wanaka – this is a classic view of southern NZ with only a 45-minute walk to the top.
Pack some food and snacks, then have a picnic once you reach the summit.
The descent will take you over the other side of the mountain providing different view points. The full hike will take you 90 minutes (4.5 kilometres).
3. Head up Rob Roy
This is an iconic choice for a medium length walk, sitting at 10 kilometres which will take you three to four hours return. Due to the length of the track, this is more suitable for older children.
You’ll get to see so much on this walk, from turquoise streams to a beech forest, to snow-capped mountain ranges. The highlight of the walk is the amazing views of Rob Roy Glacier.
Keep your eyes peeled for the native Kea who may be friendly enough to join your on your ascent.
Near the start of the hike, there’s a swing bridge perched over the Matukituki River – possibly not the best choice of walks for those not keen on heights. It is definitely a stunning hike, so maybe it’s a good place to conquer your fears?
Although this walk is a little out of the way (just over one hour from Wanaka town), it is located on the fringe of Mt Aspiring National Park, so you know the views will be spectacular.
Bear in mind, the last 10 kilometres before you get to the carpark is a fine weather only road. It might pay to check the road conditions prior to heading there.
4. Walk the Diamond Lake Track
Located 17 minutes away from Wanaka town, Diamond Lake Track is worth a stop. The mirrored lake perfectly reflects the mountains surrounding the lake.
It’s about a 20-minute walk to the lookout over the lake, then another 10 minutes to a lookout over Wanaka – definitely make it up to the second lookout. If you’re up for it, continue on to hike Rocky Mountain. This takes about three hours return with spectacular views of the Southern Alps.
There are quite a few steps to get up to the lookout, so those with bad knees may want to sit this one out.
On the way back to Wanaka, stop off at Glendhu Bay. We actually didn’t find this as impressive as some of the other sights in Queenstown and Wanaka, so we only stayed for a quick photo. If you’re pressed for time, consider missing this one out.
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5. Stroll Along the Gladstone Track
The Gladstone Track spans around the lakeshore from the Lake Hawea Dam to Johns Creek Recreation reserve. It’s an easy, flat walk great for that early morning stroll.
The full walk is just less than seven kilometres long and is not a loop, so take that into consideration. One way should take you around 90 minutes.
Once you’ve completed a walk, make sure you take a drive to the Lake Hawea lookout on the western side of the lake for amazing views of the lake, complete with a mountain range backdrop.
Once again, if you’re pressed for time, just head straight to the lookout for the highlights.
Adventure Activities in Wanaka
6. Hit the Slopes of Wanaka in Winter
Enjoying the snow is without a doubt the best thing to do in Wanaka in winter. You’ll find some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world in New Zealand, and Wanaka is home to two of the best ski fields.
Cardrona Alpine Resort is the largest alpine resort in the country. At just just over half an hour away from Wanaka, it is en route to Queenstown.
The resort caters for all abilities, from beginner to expert. This is a great place to go if you’re trying out skiing or snowboarding for the first time – check out their lesson deals.
They’re open daily during the winter season from 8:30 am to 4 pm. Choose from a wide range of day passes, half-day passes, season passes, and ski and snowboard hire.
You can book transport, chairlift, and entry tickets here.
Treble Cone is the closest ski field to Wanaka at a 24-minute drive, just past Glendhu Bay. It is typically less crowded than Cardrona with equally beautiful views.
There’s a learner area for beginners and first timers, but this ski field is more popular for the advanced skier or snowboarder. Treble Cone features the longest vertical rise and vastest off-piste terrain.
During the winter season, Treble Cone is open 9 am to 4 pm daily.
7. Join a Horseback Riding Tour
Connect yourself with nature and go horseback riding. It’s a unique and fun way to explore the small town of Wanaka.
The South Island of New Zealand is my absolute favourite place for this as you’re surrounded by the most picturesque scenes. Enjoy the backdrop of Lake Wanaka as you ride through the lush greenery of the south.
Some wine tours even end at Rippon Vineyard for a glass of wine which we mention later on in this article.
Tours can cater to all ages and abilities, and you may be able to have the option of booking a private tour. They typically cost around $70 NZD to $100 NZD for a two-hour tour.
8. Try Skydiving in Wanaka
Adventure junkies, listen up. Many of you will have skydiving on the bucket list. New Zealand is the perfect place to do so. If flying through the air at 200 kph interests you, you might like the sound of Skydive Wanaka.
They have tours available from 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 feet in the air. On your descent, you’ll be surrounded by the best views in New Zealand, including the Southern Alps and neighbouring mountain ranges.
Skydiving isn’t cheap, but everyone we know who has taken part have said it’s worth every cent. Tours start at $299 NZD.
We’ve got the scenic flight later on in this blog post, but if you go skydiving you’ll technically get to do this too before you jump. Considering the scenic flights actually cost around $300 NZD as well, skydiving seems to be quite good value.
Book your epic skydive over Lake Wanaka Here.
9. Go Rock Climbing
If you enjoy indoor rock climbing, step it up a notch and learn how to climb a mountain.
Wildwire Wanaka offer the best beginners course. The three-hour tour consists of learning the technique of “iron road” climbing, then scaling rocks at the Twin Falls Waterfalls. Iron road climbing involves cable, iron rungs and pegs.
You’ll get plenty of practice before climbing the more difficult routes lead by experienced, helpful guides. This tour will cost you $199 NZD, including snacks and water at the summit.
10. Ride the Mountain Bike Tracks
Glendhu Bay Track
Enjoy the views of Lake Wanaka, lush greenery, and Damper beach as you cycle the Glendhu Bay Track.
It will take you between one and two hours one way (15 kilometres). The track is relatively flat with some short patch of steep gradients. Start at either the Ruby Island Road Car Park or the Glendhu Bay Campground.
This is also a popular walking track so look out for pedestrians.
Cardrona Bike Park
We can guarantee Cardrona Bike Park will have one of the best backdrops you’ve ever seen on a cycling trail.
They’ve got a wide range of equipment to rent if needed, including suspension bikes, safety equipment and private lessons.
The park is open 10 am to 4 pm daily and they have a late night on Fridays until 8 pm.
Entry costs $90 NZD for a full day at the bike park, or $50 NZD for children. Half-day passes are also available at a lower cost. There’s no need to pedal uphill – just take the chairlift up!
You’re spoilt for choice with over 20 tracks to choose from at Sticky Forest. The great thing about this pine forest is that the trails range in difficulty, from beginners to professionals. Check out the new Hikuwai tracks.
The riverside tracks double as walking tracks, so be mindful of walkers!
Roaring Meg Track
The Roaring Meg Track is located in the Pisa Range, amongst the highest cycle trails in the world. The range connects Wanaka to Queenstown with vast tussock-covered paddocks surrounded by incredible mountain ranges.
The track will take five to six hours (19 kilometres). Start at Tuohys Gully Car Park and continue to the Roaring Meg Car Park.
11. Opt For a 4WD Tour
Going four wheel driving is a great activity for the hilly regions of the South Island. Many tours are available, but choose one that also includes a boat ride so you get to experience the best of both worlds.
Wanaka Water Taxi & 4×4 Explorer offer an epic half-day tour which not only includes 4×4 ride high above Lake Wanaka, but also a picnic on the top of the mountain and a 30-minute boat ride tour. Pricing for this tour is around $235 NZD per person.
12. Go Paragliding
Paragliding is near the top of my bucket list. Cruise over Lake Wanaka a couple hundred metres in the air while you enjoy the 360-degree views!
Book a Lake Wanaka Paragliding experience to see the region from the sky. This particular package is a fantastic option for first timers as you’ll be paired up with an experienced instructor.
13. Play some Disc Golf
Head down to Lismore park and try your luck at some disc golf while you admire the views of the mountains and Lake Wanaka. Hire a disc from the many outdoor stalls in Wanaka Town for $5 NZD.
The 18-net course is guaranteed to keep you entertained for a while. This is a great budget activity where you can get in your exercise for the day too!
14. Take a Scenic Flight
What better way to see the whole of Wanaka than flying directly above it? See the snow-capped tops of the mountain ranges without having to tirelessly hike up them.
This is one of the more expensive things to do on our list at up to $500 NZD, so it’s not for everyone. The flight to Queenstown itself covers beautiful mountain ranges and scenery, which we thought was enough for us.
Regardless, scenic flights are always highly-recommended so if this is your kind of thing, give it a go in Wanaka.
Lake Wanaka Water Activities
15. Jump on a Jet Boat
Jet boating is a popular tourist activity in New Zealand and Wanaka is a great place to do it. Shoot through the Matukituki River while enjoying the view of the magnificent glaciers around Mt Aspiring National Park.
Wanaka River Journeys has a great half-day tour available. $239 NZD will get you a four-hour tour which includes transport to and from Matukituki River, the jet boat ride and a short, calming walk through the wilderness. If conditions permit, you’ll get to walk to the Avalanche Glacier, with McGills Creek being the great alternative.
You’ll even get to view a few places where the iconic Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed.
16. Paddle board and kayak along Wanaka Lake
Tourist activities in New Zealand can get quite expensive, so renting a paddle board or kayak and heading off without a tour group is a cheaper alternative. There are a few stalls along Lake Wanaka to hire equipment from.
If you aren’t very confident in the water and are attempting these activities for the first time, we recommend you wear a life jacket and stay in shallow waters.
For those who are trying paddle boarding for the first time – it’s much harder than it looks! Wearing swimwear is a must in case you fall in.
If you’re looking for a kayaking tour, Paddle Wanaka has a great half-day tour available for $179 NZD or a full day tour for $349 NZD. Tours are great for those new to kayaking, or those who want to venture out with the safety of a guided tour.
Alternatively, Glenorchy Lagoon is also a great place to try out kayaking.
17. Join a Packrafting Tour
We mentioned Wanaka River Journeys earlier as they offer great jet boat tours, but they also offer a fun-filled day out rafting.
Jet boat along the Matukituki River surrounded by mountain ranges and majestic glaciers. Then, stroll through a beech forest and jump on a packraft and go with the flow of the river.
This tour is $399 NZD, which is a bit steep, but does involve many of the sought after tourist activities in New Zealand.
18. Spend a Day Out Canyoning
Hike up mountains, abseil down rock formations, slide down natural water slides and take a dip in a rock pool. You’ll get to do it all with Deep Canyon.
Being in the south of New Zealand, the water can get super cold in winter. Preferably, take on canyoning during the warmer months.
Tours start at $250 NZD and there’s also an option for non-swimmers available. We’d only recommend these tours for those confident in the water to get the full experience. If you’re not to fond of heights, it may be smart to sit this one out.
19. Visit #thatwanakatree
You can’t visit Wanaka without seeing the most iconic Wanaka tree. This spot gets super busy – this is considered the country’s most famous tree. Head there outside peak times to get your perfect instagram pic. Try visiting at lunchtime, or early in the morning to beat the crowds.
There’s a car park along the edge of Lake Wanaka that’s only a two minute walk from the tree.
For all the budding photographers out there, head there during sunrise or sunset when the light isn’t as harsh. It is a VERY popular photography spot in New Zealand, so be prepared. If you want a great spot to set up your tripod for long exposures at sunset, head in early. To avoid the crowds, try sunrise instead.
20. Experience the Wanaka Lavender Farm
Drive about seven minutes away from Lake Wanaka and awaken your senses with the calming aroma of lavender. Wanaka Lavender Farm is filled with the purple flowers which makes it a popular photography spot, especially for wedding photographers.
If you’re like us and aren’t the biggest fans of lavender, you’ll still have a great time wandering around the fields admiring the flowers. They also have a gift shop where you can buy all things lavender, from honey to soaps and creams. Be sure to stop by their cafe on your way out to grab a lavender ice cream!
21. Have a Glass at Rippon Winery
Rippon Winery wins our award for the most beautiful scenery. The vineyard is set up with a backdrop of the Lake Wanaka (only two minutes drive) and the Southern Alps which makes for such a great sight.
The informal wine tasting was one of the best we’ve been to. Staff are incredibly knowledgeable about their wines and you also get to learn a bit about the history of the vineyard. Rippon holds great historical significance on New Zealand’s wine industry and now practices biodynamic farming which is great for the environment.
You’ll get to taste around six wines during the tasting which is all done free of charge. They do encourage you to donate to their restoration program which is a great cause. The winery closes at 5 pm daily so don’t miss out!
The scenery makes it such a romantic location for a wedding. In fact, when we visited, we got to witness a ceremony amongst the vineyards from afar while sipping on their award-winning pinot noirs. Wine tasting with a few would definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Wanaka.
22. Put your Brain to the Test at Puzzling World
Puzzling World is definitely not just a place for kids. In fact, the last time I visited, I was an adult and I still had a tonne of fun. Think illusion rooms, a great maze, large sculptures and a puzzle cafe!
Tickets are $18 NZD each for the great maze and illusion rooms, or $22.50 NZD for both. Children’s tickets are slightly cheaper at $14 NZD for the great maze and illusion rooms, or $16 NZD for both. A family pass is also available for $69 NZD.
They’re open 8:30 am to 5:30 pm daily. It can get quite busy during school holidays and weekends, so if you prefer to avoid the crowds, try the weekdays or earlier in the mornings.
23. Explore the National Transport & Toy Museum
The National Transport and Toy Museum is one of my most favourite museums I’ve been to. Some individuals may not be so enthused when reading the word ‘museum’, but this one is fascinating for all. This is especially a must-see for car lovers.
They actually have one of the largest private collections in the world, in this small town of Wanaka! There’s a large collection of rare and wacky aircrafts, automobiles, porcelain dolls, teddy bears and much more.
Bring the kids to the outdoor playing area complete with pedal tractors and trucks.
The entry fee is $18 NZD for adults and $5 NZD for under 18s. Under fives go for free and there’s also a family pass available for $43 NZD. Pay them a visit anytime between 8:30 am and 5 pm daily.
Most people visit Wanaka for the hikes and the scenery, but it’s also home to a bunch of delicious restaurants. Along the waterfront, you’ll get to choose from a bunch of bars and restaurants with lakeviews – these are all good options.
Our favourite places are found along the road adjacent, down the back. Firebird Chicken sells some of the best fried chicken we’ve ever had (we’re pretty much fried chicken connoisseurs) and Burrito Craft right next door is delicious as well.
Down the road from here is a New World, as well as a small coffee cart with excellent coffee – a great way to kick start your day before heading on a long drive.
Accommodation options in Wanaka are varied. Last time we visited we opted for a budget option and stayed at the YHA Wanaka which was a really great value option. The rooms were nice, shared communal areas were great, it had a bit of a view and was located right in the heart of town.
Queenstown to Wanaka
The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka (or Wanaka to Queenstown) takes around 1-hour through the unbelievably scenic Crown Range. Bear in mind, this is a high alpine road with a lot of bends so drive carefully and monitor the conditions in Winter.
If you aren’t driving there are plenty of options via bus from Queenstown to Wanaka, or you could book a taxi / shuttle to drive you.
Is Wanaka Worth Visiting?
Wanaka is worth visiting to see some of NZ’s best scenery, enjoy epic hikes and eat and drink your way through heaps of awesome bars and restaurants. Wanaka should be a part of every New Zealand South Island road trip.