The scenic Otago territory in South Island houses some of the country’s most breathtaking lakes and valleys. Queenstown being one of them, the laid-back resort town of Wanaka in Central Otago, also makes it into the bucket list of any traveller. From heights of snow-capped peaks to the lows of reflective lakes such as the Diamond Lake and turquoise rivers like the Blue Pool, Wanaka is the perfect road trip journey for adventurers. As we discover the awes and thrills of this serene town, here are the top things to do in Wanaka while on holiday.
Table of Contents
- 1 Have a picnic at Lake Wanaka
- 2 Visit the Blue Pool Tracks
- 3 Discover the Lavender Farm
- 4 Trek the Roys Peak
- 5 Enjoy a Jet Boat expedition on the Matukituki River
- 6 The Matukituki Valley
- 7 Conquer Mt. Iron
- 8 Experience Sky Diving
- 9 Visit the Clutha River
- 10 Sip wine at Rippon Winery
- 11 Skii at the Snow Farm
- 12 Visit the National Transport and Toy Museum
- 13 Visit the Mou Waho Island
- 14 Head over to the Puzzling World
- 15 Paddleboard on Lake Hawea
- 16 Be a Sniper at Crossfire Wanaka
- 17 Visit the Wanaka Artisan Market
- 18 Explore the Historic Cardrona Village
- 19 Explore Mount Aspiring National Park
- 20 Trek the Diamond Lake Trail
- 21 Hike the Rocky Mountain
Have a picnic at Lake Wanaka
Known as the fourth largest Lake in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka is the very symbol of the Wanaka township. It houses the Wanaka Tree, which is believed to have survived countless natural floods over the centuries. In addition, the Lake is a famous destination for water sports such as jet boat expeditions and paddleboarding. Lake Wanaka is located at the entrance of Mt Aspiring National Park, and the views are simply out of this world. Travellers are advised to visit during dusk to snap the perfect picture of #ThatWanakaTree.
Visit the Blue Pool Tracks
Located North of Wanaka, the Blue Pool Tracks of Makarora is a renowned tourist destination and walking path that takes approximately around 30 minutes to reach the waterways. The pools are being fed with glacier water that runs through the rivers, which makes it blue. If you’re in chase of the views, the suspension bridge provides the perfect angle. For those experienced hunters, swimming in the pool is possible. However, make sure it’s the pools and not the rivers, as the water tends to get icy.
Discover the Lavender Farm
The Wanaka Lavender Farm is a stunning rural farmland housing over twenty acres of sheer lavender fields, a café, a local market and alpacas roaming around the land. The fields come to life between November and January, during which visitors get to enjoy stunning views while walking along the trail of the Wanaka Lavender Farm. Travellers visiting the Wanaka Lavender Farm can play garden games, sip herbal tea or even enjoy a delicious Lavender ice cream made at the café. It’s one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Trek the Roys Peak
Roys Peak – standing at an elevation of 1,578 meters – is a mountain belonging to the mountains of Aspiring National Park / Tititea. Set in front of a stunning backdrop of Lake Wanaka, the track leading to the summit of Roys Peak is not an easy one to climb. It takes approximately a 3-hour straight hike to reach the top, passing the zigzag tracks and thick grass surroundings. If you happen to be around Mount Aspiring National Park, don’t forget to add the Roys Peak hike to your bucket list.
Enjoy a Jet Boat expedition on the Matukituki River
Surrounded by lush mountainous valleys and glaciers on the backdrop, Matukituki River is a renowned Jet boating destination on South Island. While offering the most exhilarating water sports experience, travellers also come across a scenic view of Mount Aspiring, the neighbouring Matukituki Valley and the famous Lord of the Ring Locations that attract many visitors. This expedition is sure to challenge the other Wanaka attractions in sports and adventure. If you love Jet Boats and untamed waters, the Matukituki River is an amazing place to visit.
The Matukituki Valley
Conquering the untrodden paths of the Matukituki Valley is a highlight of Wanaka. Travellers get to trek and hike up Mount Aspiring. In addition, the valley overlooks the sheer white snowcapped hills. Some say the journey leading to the valley itself promises a magnificent view. Adventurists can take breaks along the pathway, resting by the Matukituki River and breathing in the fresh, crisp air. If you’re not a fan of crowds, visiting the valley during the Winter season is ideal. The lands may not look flourishing, but the experience is much satisfying.
Conquer Mt. Iron
Located in Central Otago, Mt. Iron is part of its scenic reserve that provides 360-degree views of Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka, Cardrona, Upper Clutha Valley and the ever-favourite Mount Aspiring National Park. Carved by glaciers, this knoll is a famous tourist destination that stands at a height of 240 meters. Many tours offer to lead travellers along a short experiential trek. If you’re fit and looking for another adventure for your bucket list, hiking Mt. Iron is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Experience Sky Diving
Queenstown is known amongst mainstream adventurists for its many experiences, but Wanaka is also a similarly thrilling location. Sky Diving is a renowned activity here in Wanaka, and young guns flock over to Skydive Wanaka for the exhilarating experience they offer; Safety is a key factor to consider in extreme adventures. It is why Skydive Wanaka makes safety their utmost priority. These tandem skydiving excursions carry travellers above the spectacular landscapes of snowcapped hills, glacier-fed lakes and alpine forests. If you’ve experienced Queenstown adventures, Wanaka must include your list.
Visit the Clutha River
Known in the native language as Mata-Au, the Clutha River is the second-longest river in New Zealand. It extends 338 kilometres in length and passes across multiple cities – on its way from the midlands to the Pacific Ocean. Clutha River is known to be particularly voluminous and rapid like the Amazon River. During the Otago Gold Rush, this river was the centrepiece, and it still is. The ferry ride – also known as the Tuapeka Punt – is a distinctive boat that is activated by the water flow of the river itself. If you like boat expeditions, you must ride on a Tuapeka Punt.
Sip wine at Rippon Winery
Located by the banks of Lake Wanaka, the Rippon Vineyard and Winery is a family-owned establishment that offers visitors a truly unique countryside experience in Wanaka. The history of these wines dates back to the early 1900s. Rippon Vineyard sits over the oldest vine roots in Central Otago, overlooking the scenic lake. If you’re a fan of testing biodynamic wine that is cultivated with wild ferments, Rippon Winery offers a tasting room. Visiting this winery is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Skii at the Snow Farm
Wanaka boasts of New Zealand’s one and only Cross Country Skiing destination – the Snow Farm. The scenic Swiss landscape of the Snow Farm attracts visitors from all over Oceania and other countries. While it offers exciting skiing experiences for travellers, the Snow Farm also allows them to tag their dogs along for walks. In addition to skiing, visitors can enjoy Snowshoeing and Snowplaying. The Backcountry Huts are one of the highlights here on the farm. If you’re looking for a winter-world experience in South Island, head over to the Snow Farm.
Visit the National Transport and Toy Museum
The paradise of any automotive fan, the National Transport and Toy Museum is one of the largest private collections of its kind in South Island. Featuring over 20 aircraft, 650 vehicles and more than 60,000 toys and more, the museum is a fascinating site where travellers gain a lot of knowledge on transportation and its mechanics. It’s not just a place for the experts, but families equally enjoy the experience. The location is open all seven days of the week, so if you’re in Wanaka, don’t forget to head over there.
Visit the Mou Waho Island
The Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka is one of the two big islands in the lake and an eco-sanctuary that is a difficult destination to access. The Island can be accessed only by boat, and it may not be every traveller’s cup of tea. Wildlife enthusiasts can set out on an expedition to discover native predators such as Buff Weka and other wildlife species, including Stone Weta and Cave Weta. Visitors must give this tour a half-day at minimum as it may take some time for the exploration. Due to fewer travellers visiting the location, Mou Waho Island can maintain its diversity and remote natural sceneries.
Head over to the Puzzling World
Theme Parks and Illusion Rooms are merely one part of what Puzzling World promises to offer. A combination of a multi-level maze, an optical illusion room and a café with many table puzzles, the Puzzling World is a dream of every child and adult alike. Established in 1972 as a maze, the Puzzling World has expanded so vastly to its current uphold. Visitors suggest giving at least two hours to complete a tour around this fascinating location. If you love bizarre experiences, Puzzling World is for you.
Paddleboard on Lake Hawea
Located 18 kilometres northeast of Wanaka Town, Lake Hawea is a settlement and a famous destination for recreational activities such as camping, swimming and paddleboarding. Lake Hawea is not like other lakes on the island. The water quality is relatively high due to it being a hydroelectric power generation for Roxburgh Dam. This tranquil setback invites many visitors throughout the year. Those visiting Queenstown or Wanaka must include Paddleboarding on Lake Hawea on their bucket list. The experience is sure to bedazzle you.
Be a Sniper at Crossfire Wanaka
Crossfire Wanaka can be reached from a 10-minute drive from the centre of the township. Inviting passionate yet amateur archers and adventurists, this amusement park is unlike any other. Visitors get to challenge rifle targets, bullseyes, clay-bird shooting and get to try small shots as well. It may sound hostile, but no animal lives are harmed in any way at Crossfire Wanaka. If you like archery and wish to test your skills in a safe space, visiting this place is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Visit the Wanaka Artisan Market
Commonly known as the Wanaka Farmer’s Market, the Artisan Market is a year-round market, which is held on every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. between Bullock Creek and the Speights Ale House. During Summer, the arts and crafts market takes place alongside the Artisan Market where tourists get to purchase traditional souvenirs of their journey. The Artisan Market sells regionally produced delicacies, nuts, fabrics, wooden crafts, local wine and many more. If you’re in Queenstown or travelling through Wanaka, the Artisan Market is a must-visit location.
Explore the Historic Cardrona Village
Nestled in the steep mountainous Cardrona Valley between Queenstown and Wanaka, the Cardrona Village is a famous skiing destination and a terrain park. The historic city of Cardrona has its roots dating back to the gold-rush era. The renowned Cardrona Hotel is a place every traveller must visit during their stay at Wanaka. In addition to the explorations, travellers can head over the hamlet and try skiing or hike up Cardrona. The 360-degree views are unimaginable.
Explore Mount Aspiring National Park
Breathtaking lakes, scenic valleys, and exotic wilderness, Mount Aspiring National Park, lying on the borders of Wanaka, is a treasure to be preserved. It’s a world heritage site and a famous trekking destination for travellers. Sharing the largest parts of the Southern Alps, Mount Aspiring National Park is believed to be the purest national park in New Zealand. Visitors can take a tour of the blue pools, relax by the Fantail Falls, and trek in the many trails found within the park’s vicinity. If you’re an outdoor adventure lover, visiting Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Trek the Diamond Lake Trail
Diamond Lake, located just outside Wanaka township, is a lesser-known destination, with a trail that leads to the Rocky Mountain. The lake may not harbour diamonds, but it sure is a gem to visit and witness the spectacular views of the distant Aspiring National Park. Several trails lead to the same endpoint, including the Diamond Lake Circuit, the Lookout, Lake Wanaka Lookout and Rocky Mountain Summit Track. Some of these are hectic, and there will be no signal coverage, so ensure you bring all necessities in one go.
Hike the Rocky Mountain
Just as the many scenic lakes in Queenstown, there are equally breathtaking mountains in the Central Otago region of Wanaka. The Rocky Mountain is such a site that invites travellers from across the world to witness the beautiful heights that New Zealand has to offer. Travellers hiking the mountain has to pass through the Diamond Lake trek, Lake Wanaka Lookout or a few other remote trails. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, so ensure to carry all supplies needed for this expedition. However, the view from the top is incomparable, so go for it.
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