Wanaka’s stunning Southern Alps location and proximity to Queenstown has made it an enticing stopover for South Island visitors. Spectacular sights are abundant, adventurous attractions are plenty, and classy vineyards are right on your doorstep. To help you plan your next trip, here are some of the best things to see and do in this underrated New Zealand destination.
‘That Wanaka Tree’
In recent years, a lonesome willow tree right in the middle of Lake Wanaka caught the attention of curious nature photographers. Nowadays, capturing #thatwanakatree is sort of an inside joke-turned-rite of passage on Instagram. The surge in popularity for this photogenic spot propelled the Wanaka Tourist Board to add it into the local photo trail, which in itself is a must-do for shutter happy travellers.
Cardrona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm
These are Wanaka’s primary skiing destinations. Cardrona Alpine Resort is one of the very best in New Zealand, offering a trove of slopes and runs for beginners and advanced skiers alike. Treble Cone is the South Island’s largest ski field, and is especially renowned for its off-piste terrains and uncrowded runs. Snow Farm is home to New Zealand’s only cross country ski field and, in the summer months, the mountain is transformed into an epic hiking and mountain biking spot. If you want to head even further afield, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables resorts are within an hours’ driving distance from Wanaka.
Wanaka’s oldest vineyard, Rippon, is renowned for its biodynamic wine production and exquisite lakeside views. It resides on a farmland that has been with the same family for five generations. As with many vineyards in the Central Otago region, Pinot Noir is the house speciality — other varietals they offer include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Rippon’s doors are open for tastings on a daily basis.
The Roys Peak Hiking Trail
If a hike with panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and Mt Aspiring is what you seek, the Roys Peak Track will be the one to deliver. The trail begins at the Roys Peak carpark, just six kilometres (3.7 miles) from the Wanaka township. A 16-kilometre (10-mile) return journey, taking approximately five to six hours to complete, will take a zigzagging route that traverses tussock grasslands as you climb up to the 1578-metre (5177-foot) summit.
Rob Roy Track and Glacier
A picturesque one-hour drive will take you across to the Rob Roy Glacier track, which is a fantastic entry point to Mt Aspiring National Park. If you don’t have a car handy, there are regular shuttles to Raspberry Creek (where the trail begins) from Wanaka. On arrival, head on a 15-minute valley trek towards Matukituki River. From there, you’ll steadily climb through a small gorge, along the Rob Roy stream, to reach the alpine valley that will gift you with spectacular views of the exquisite glacier. All up, you’ll be covering 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), spending four to five hours appreciating the area’s forests and landscapes.
Deans Bank Mountain Biking Track
The 11-kilometre (6.8-mile) loop track at Deans Bank is a definite must-do for keen mountain bikers. The track consists of a few tight corners and rocky obstacles, making it better suited for intermediate-advanced riders. As you trace the tussocks, berms and flowing downhill slopes, you’ll get to relish the very best of the Otago region landscape, including the Clutha River and the awe-inspiring Southern Alps.
Horse trekking the Cardrona Valley
Now here’s something uniquely Wanaka: a horse trekking tour. Backcountry Saddles and The Cardrona Horse Trekking Tours are the two operators you can choose from. Both offer quad bike tours for the adrenaline junkies, and will take you on a journey along the gold mining valleys and plateaus. The journey is striking as well as historic, giving you a perspective of the Cardrona area that goes above and beyond those snowy ski fields.
Jet boating the Matukituki River
Who says Queenstown is the only place to get your jet boating thrill? Wanaka River Journey takes adventurers on a spectacular journey across the Matukituki River. You can choose between a half-day trip from Wanaka into Mt Aspiring National Park, a 3.5-hour journey that includes a 4WD countryside safari adventure, or a zooming 2.5-hour ride along the shallow rivers and past the epic mountain formations.
A cruise along Mou Waho Island
This stunning South Island gem is a must-visit for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. Take the scenic cruise across Lake Wanaka to reach the predator-free Mou Waho Island. On arrival, you’ll get to explore the forested tracks, which will take you to a secluded lake at the island’s highest point. From there, you can soak up the Southern Alps panoramas, listen to the native birds chirping and keep an eye out for the rare and flightless buff weka.