Wanaka’s stunning Southern Alps location and proximity to Queenstown has made it an enticing stopover for South Island visitors. Spectacular sights, adventurous attractions 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.
Wanaka’s oldest vineyard, Rippon, is renowned for its biodynamic wine production and exquisite lakeside views. It resides on 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 varieties they offer include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Rippon’s doors are open for tastings daily.
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 Mātukituki River. From there, you’ll steadily climb through a small gorge, along the Rob Roy stream, to reach the alpine valley that will give you spectacular views of the exquisite glacier. All up, you’ll be covering 10 kilometres (6.2mi), spending four to five hours appreciating the area’s forests and landscapes.
The 11km (6.8mi) 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’s landscape, including the Clutha River and the awe-inspiring Southern Alps.
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 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.
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.
Take a short walk through a silver beech forest to a swing bridge that overlooks blue pools of the Makarora River. Look out for the large brown and rainbow trout that can be seen feeding in the crystal clear waters below. Keep walking across the bridge for views up the river gorge and listen out for the calls of the threatened yellowhead/mohua bird in the forest canopy.
As Central Otago is also popular for deer hunting, it’s no surprise that Wanaka has its very own shrine to this animal, in the form of the World of Deer Museum and Specialty Shop. The museum is known for its unique collection of red deer antlers as well as paintings and pictures of deer and carvings made from deer antlers. The museum is open every day, and there are personal tours every hour from 10am to 4pm.
Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd.