Wanaka is a small town near Queenstown that has, over the years, become a popular stopover for those venturing into Mt Aspiring National Park and some of New Zealand’s finest ski fields. But its appeal goes well beyond its location. Here are 10 fantastic must-visit attractions travellers should discover during their visit.
Wanaka lies on the southern tip of its namesake lake. The stunning Lake Wanaka is New Zealand‘s fourth largest and covers an area of 192 square kilometres (74.13 square miles). In winter, the lake takes a new life form as the surrounding mountains become blanketed in snow. Summertime is when the lake becomes doused with epic water activities like kayaking, jet boating and fishing. Year-round, this is a good go-to spot for a scenic stroll or a fantastic photo opportunity.
Roys Peak is a mountain just outside of Wanaka that offers some of the best views of the township as well as Mount Aspiring and surrounding peaks. This is also where you’ll find one the area’s most popular day hikes: the steep, 16-kilometre (9.9-mile) Roys Peak track that meanders across farmland and tussock as it presents the beautiful backdrops all around it. Hikers coming in the winter months may need to equip themselves with alpine gear, like ice axes and crampons. The route passes over some private land, and the track normally closes in October and November during the lambing season.
Rippon is Wanaka’s oldest vineyard, and its land has been owned by the Mills family since 1913. The majority of its vines were planted about 30 years ago and still remain on their roots — making them some of the oldest you’ll find in the wider Central Otago region. The winery uses biodynamic farming methods, with no irrigation, to produce six main varietals: Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Gamay and Osteiner. The cellar door is open daily for wine sales and tastings and Rippon’s events hall is a popular go-to for functions and weddings.
With a name that translates to ‘Outer Island’, Mou Waho is one of Lake Wanaka’s four pest-free nature reserves. The island can only be accessed by boat and is known for its interesting wildlife and fascinating geographical features. There are several tour operators that will take you to Mou Waho and introduce you to its natural gems, from the native Bellbirds and Weka that call the island home to the glacial features that lie amid the rocky shores.
The Cardrona Valley connects Wanaka to Queenstown and is home to some of the area’s most popular ski fields. Skiers and snowboarders alike flock to Cardrona to try their hand at the various runs and slopes around the Snow Farm and Cardrona Alpine Resort. Those travelling in the summer can also tap into an array of epic activities, like horse trekking, 4WD tours as well as quad and mountain biking.
If you have a soft spot for retro cars and vintage war planes, head over to Wanaka Airport to catch a glimpse of the remarkable historical relics showcased in the Warbirds & Wheels Museum. The Classic Cars area is composed of a selection of motorcycles and vehicles from the 20th Century, some dating as far back as the 1920s, while the Warbirds exhibit comprises a selection of aircraft used in both the First and Second World Wars. Another highlight of the museum is a 1950s-style diner that adds a retro feel to your standard New Zealand cafe experience.
For the car enthusiast who is still a kid at heart, there’s always the National Transport and Toy Museum. This Wanaka institution showcases just about every type of collectible relic you can imagine: toys, models, trucks, cars, motorbikes, airplanes and even military vehicles and tractors. Besides having a nostalgic selection of dolls, teddy bears and battery-powered toys, the museum is also home to a kids’ play area and toy store — if you’re on the prowl for a unique souvenir to take home, the latter might just be right up your alley.
Cinema Paradiso is a boutique movie theatre known for its quirky vintage flair. Old sofas make up a good part of the three-screen cinema’s seating and a vintage Morris Minor car makes a prominent appearance among the interior decor. Home-made ice cream and freshly baked cookies are some of the snacks you can munch on while you’re watching the newest blockbuster releases.
Here’s a challenging, fun-filled activity that the entire family will enjoy. Puzzling World has been a Wanaka fixture for more than 45 years and has built a reputation among locals and visitors, young and old, for being a place where everything we know about reality is put to the test. Some of its brain-baffling highlights include the world’s first 3D super maze, a puzzle centre and a selection of perception-warping illusion rooms.
Wanaka Lavender Farm is a peaceful escape just outside of town. Whether you’re keen to meet some of the resident farm animals or you want to stock up on some natural lavender products, this is the ideal go-to for a casual day outdoors. Besides its namesake flowers, the farm is coloured by a handful of seasonal blooms, including daffodils, dahlias, sunflowers, roses and tulips. Honey production is also part of its operations; visitors can sample a selection of honey treats and lavender ice cream in the farm’s tea room.
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