Wanaka is the epitome of everything we love about New Zealand’s South Island: beautiful landscapes, easy access to the snowy alps and an epic assortment of outdoor activities. If you’re spending a couple of days exploring this lovely lakeside town, here’s a glimpse at everything you can do in a span of 48 hours.
11 a.m.: Arrive from Queenstown, and check into accommodation.
It’s more than likely that you’re coming into Wanaka after taking a drive from Queenstown, a trip which usually takes a little over an hour. There are some vineyards along the way if you’re eager to make a few stopovers. Once you’ve reached your destination, drop your things off at your chosen accommodation so you can spend the rest of the day exploring. When it comes to places to stay, you’ll have a myriad of options ranging from campsites to luxury resorts — just remember to book in advance in order to avoid disappointment.
12 p.m.: Lunch at the Big Fig
Wanaka is filled with fantastic places to eat, and the Big Fig has definitely won the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and visitors alike. Its biggest draw card is that food is served quickly, without sacrificing taste and quality. Crowd-pleasing specialities include the slow-cooked lamb shawarma, flavoursome salads, plus a hearty selection of vegetarian dishes.
Big Fig, 105 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 3-443 5023
2 p.m.: Pedalling around
One of the great things about Wanaka is that you’ll never be short of cycling opportunities. You can even hire electric bikes if you feel like your fitness levels aren’t quite up to scratch. From there, you can spend the afternoon exploring esteemed trails like the picturesque Deans Bank mountain bike track, which has become quite a hit because of its stunning panoramas of the Clutha River and Wanaka Basin.
4 p.m.: A cruisy afternoon kayak
You can’t explore Wanaka without getting up close and personal to its famous lake. Hire a kayak or stand up paddle board from Paddle Wanaka, and spend your afternoon cruising along the glistening waters. If you have the time to spare and are travelling with two or more people, try your hand at the company’s self-guided, 2–3 hour tour.
Paddle Wanaka, 151–153 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 21 926 949
7 p.m.: Dinner with a view
Finish your night by feasting your eyes on some scenic lake views as you relish a nicely cooked meal. The Landing is just as good a place to quench your thirst as it is to unwind with some wholesome, seasonal dishes. Another great alternative is the Lake Bar, a laid-back gastropub that caters to families, sports lovers and foodies in equal measure.
The Landing, 80 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 3-443 5099
Lake Bar, 155 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 3-443 2920
9 a.m.: Breakfast at the Federal Diner
Affectionately known by locals as ‘The Fed’, the Federal Diner is an all-day establishment that has become quite renowned for its great coffee, healthy smoothies, freshly baked cheese scones and signature brunch offerings like the vegetarian-friendly Hawea Flat (a dish comprising spinach, mushrooms, roasted tomato and halloumi).
Federal Diner, 47 Helwick St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 3-443 5152
10 a.m.: Venturing into the Blue Pools
It takes approximately an hour to drive into Mt Aspiring National Park from Wanaka. From the car park, you’ll have easy access to one of the area’s most stunning attractions: the Blue Pools. An easy, one-hour return track that’s nestled among lush beech and podocarp forests will lead you towards the exquisite, glacially doused turquoise waters that have made the Blue Pools such a standout attraction.
1 p.m.: Tackling the Rob Roy Track
If you’re up for a longer hike, the Rob Roy Track is an absolute must-do. This is actually an easy enough trajectory that an older child could manage. Start at Raspberry Flat car park at Mount Aspiring National Park, and cross the swing bridge at the West Matukituki River to start your 3–4 hour adventure across some of the most dramatic alpine scenery you’ll ever see.
8 p.m.: Back in town for dinner
Allow some time to drive back into town, and then finish your night at Kika, a modern restaurant and bar that has earned a strong reputation for its contemporary shared tapas concept. The venue was masterminded by the same people who established Wanaka’s iconic Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and recently won a prestigious national award for its food and hospitality. Try the Merino lamb shoulder if you like your meat, or opt for one of the sweetly presented dessert options if you need your sugar fix.
Kika, 2 Dunmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand, +64 3-443 6536
The final stretch
9:30-11 a.m.: A scenic photo trail
Before you pack up and go home, consider spending your morning exploring Wanaka’s most picturesque points. Photo ops are all around you, and there are even maps you can download and follow according to what you’d like to capture. Now is the perfect time to get a close-up of the town’s lonesome lake tree as well as those breathtaking vistas you’ll likely cherish forever.