Situated in Central Otago, Wanaka is a small town, with just over 5,000 permanent residents. With its gorgeous landscape all year round and plenty of activities, it is not surprising that Wanaka has become a popular destination for tourists.
What To Do
Skiing is one of the many attractions to Wanaka in the Winter, with three ski fields very close by. These are:
- Cardrona (family/learners level skiing in the Winter and mountain biking/carting in the Summer)
- Treble Cone (longer, more advanced ski runs and largest ski resort in the South Island)
- Snow Farm (Cross-country skiing or snowshoeing)
You can hire your gear in Wanaka or at the top of the ski fields.
Walking tracks are everywhere in Wanaka. Some of my favourite short walks are:
Mt Iron – about an hour return. The steeper side is further away from town (entry opposite Puzzling World) and I would recommend going up this side as the other side has gorgeous views of Lake Wanaka.
The Outlet Track – this is a fairly flat track that you can bike or walk along. It is again about an hour return (walking), but if you begin at the Albert Town end it also connects with a track that takes you all the way to Wanaka (just keep following the track that goes alongside the river/lake).
You can do these walks in regular gym shoes (no hiking boots or walking poles required).
There are also a range of day walks and multiple day hikes (known as ‘tramps’ in New Zealand). The Department of Conservation (DOC) has information on the different tracks.
Wanaka has become a hub for adventure tourism, with operators offering sky diving, biking tracks, parasailing, scenic flights and much more! Pop in to the Visitor Information Centre when you arrive in town to look at the options, or if you have something particular in mind, book in advance!
Queenstown is also close by and is known as The Adventure Capital of The World, with some attractions that aren’t available in Wanaka, such as Bungy Jumping, The Luge and The World’s Steepest Zipline! Queenstown has developed faster than Wanaka, with tourism operators on every corner and a much larger township.
I would recommend visiting both Wanaka and Queenstown with Wanaka having more of a ‘relax and enjoy the beauty’ vibe and Queenstown having more of a ‘the is epic, let’s get crazy’ vibe.
There are two Cinemas Wanaka;
- Rubys – a luxury cinema with leather recliner seats and smaller cinemas.
- Paradiso – a quirky cinema with second hand sofas, a car to sit in and delicious half time cookies.
Basecamp is Wanaka’s indoor rock climbing facility with a challenge for all levels of climber.
Wanaka has a variety of special events throughout the year. There is everything from elite sporting events to music festivals. Some of the most popular events are:
- Challenge Wanaka (New Zealand’s largest triathalon) – mid February
- Rippon Open-Air Festival (Kiwi music festival) – next festival 3rd February 2018
- Warbirds Over Wanaka (Bi-annual airshow) – next show 25th – 27th March 2016
- Festival of Colour (Bi-annual Autumn arts festival) – next festival 21st – 26th April 2017
- Audi Quattro Winter Games (Bi-annual elite Winter sport competitions and Winter festival) – next games Winter 2017
- Rhythm & Alps (New Years Eve music festival) – 30th & 31st December
How To Get There
Wanaka has its own airport, which is currently only used by scenic flight & sky dive operators.
You can fly in/out of:
- Queenstown – 1 – 1.5 hour drive to Wanaka
- Christchurch – 5 – 6 hour drive to Wanaka
- Dunedin – 3 – 3.5 hour drive to Wanaka (this option tends to be more expensive than the other two, but is worth checking)
The largest operators in New Zealand are Air New Zealand (the more premium option) and Jet Star (no frills). Jet Star are more likely to cancel flights, particularly into Queenstown during winter (due to fog). Both airlines are very safe.
Once you arrive at these destinations, you can catch a bus or drive to Wanaka.
Like most countries, New Zealand has many bus companies. They range in price with companies such as Naked Bus and InterCity offering fares as low as $1 fares and others offering roughly $35 fares for a one hour trip.
If you are booking a bus trip from Christchurch to Wanaka, check the prices for getting off at Tarras or Cromwell. It is approximately 20 – 30 minutes drive to Wanaka and if you can organise a pick up or are happy to hitch hike, you can often get a much cheaper fare (some bus companies drop you off in Tarras and organise a taxi for you into Wanaka).
Hiring a car in New Zealand can be very cheap! Jucy is a popular rental company and offers relocation deals , where you can take one of their vehicles to where they need (over a set period of time) for as cheap as $1 per day. The Jucy Cabana would be my pick – it has a double bed and is low enough to avoid problems with city parking buildings.
Where To Stay
Lakeside Apartments is a gorgeous, five star option. It is in the centre of town with incredible views over Lake Wanaka. The rooms are spacious with a fully kitted out kitchen, laundry and up to three bedrooms. The penthouses have private spas and BBQ’s and all rooms have access to an outdoor swimming pool, spa and BBQ facility.
Price: from $245 per night
This is hands-down my top pick for Wanaka, but of course there are many other options and price points.
With all accommodation in Wanaka, I would book well in advance as the whole town can be booked out at certain times of the year or with one of the many special events.
Wanaka’s weather varies dramatically depending on what time of year you visit. It can get as cold as minus 8ºC in the Winter and up to mid 30’s in the Summer.
Summer (December – February) 24ºC
Autumn (March – May) 17ºC
Winter (June – August) 10ºC
Spring (September – November) 16ºC