Whilst living in Dunedin, I fell in love with Wanaka and found myself returning several times. So here is a list of the 10 best things to do in Wanaka.
1. Roys Peak Hike
This was my first hike in Wanaka, and what an introduction. It is an easy but steep day hike only a short drive from town, which took us around 6 hours return.
As it was August there was quite a lot of snow underfoot from about halfway up, which meant that the views all around were absolutely stunning.
2. Lake Wanaka
It is impossible to go to Wanaka and not enjoy the beauty of the lake. The town lies right on the waterfront, and lots of the hikes and other activities around here have stunning lake views.
While you’re by the lake, you can walk around to That Wanaka Tree. I have to be honest, I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about this tree, but you are almost guarenteed to be stood with plenty of other people all battling to get the perfect tree photo.
3. Isthmus Peak
Driving a short way north of Wanaka you can get to the gorgeous Isthmus Peak. This hike takes around 5-6 hours return, and offers amazing views of not only Lake Wanaka, but also Lake Hāwea once you reach the summit. It was probably my favourite Wanaka hike – less busy than Roys Peak with possibly even better views!
4. Mount Brewster
This great hike starts about an hour’s drive north of Wanaka at Fantail Falls. After crossing the river you head up an almost vertical climb through the gorgeous mossy forest. When you emerge from the trees you are greeted with the most incredible views down the valley which just keep getting better as you walk up.
Once you reach the little red Brewster Hut, you can sit on the decking and take in the gorgeous views, or if you have time you can press on up Mount Armstrong. This is about a four hour return trip from the hut, so best to stay the night unless you want to start super early in the morning. I hiked to Brewster Hut and back to Fantail Falls as a day trip which took around six hours, but wish we had been able to stay the night in Brewster Hut and climb Mount Armstrong.
This was probably the most incredible 60 seconds of my life. There is just nothing comparable to free-falling at 200 kmph with incredible views of the surrounding mountains all the way to Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring, and the gorgeous lakes Wanaka and Hawea.
We decided to go with Skydive Wanaka purely beacuse we got a great deal on Bookme, which is a fantastic site offering huge discounts on many activities across New Zealand! There are a variety of options for buying photos of your skydive, but I personally thought they were super expensive so didn’t bother.
The plane ride up is great in itself, the freefall is incredible and soaring around when the parachute opens is so peaceful and allows you to really take in the views.
We had considered skydiving in several places before – whilst in Taupo when we saw adverts for the “cheapest skydive in NZ”, and in Mission Beach, Australia, whose big selling point is a beach landing. As cool as this may be, I am SO glad we waited for Wanaka, as the views were absolutely out of this world, and we would have missed out on that had we skydived anywhere else.
6. Fern Burn Hut, Motatapu Track
Motatapu Track links Wanaka with beautiful Arrowtown. We could only spend one night on the track, so walked from Fern Burn carpark (about a half hour drive from Wanaka itself) to Fern Burn Hut, where we stayed the night and returned to our car the following day along the same route.
This was an absolutely stunning hike, starting in fields and woodland and then emerging into the most gorgeous grassy valley which you walk along until you reach the hut at the end. It only took around four hours to reach Fern Burn Hut, so in the morning we did the Diamond Lakes track.
There was only one other guy staying the night with us in the hut, so we almost had the beautiful views all to ourselves in the morning when the sunlight streamed down the valley as we ate breakfast on the deck of the hut.
7. Cinema Paradiso
This quirky cinema is a great experience. Not only are there a range of weird and wonderful seating options, but there is an interval at half time, when you can buy freshly baked cookies and dinner. This, in my opinion, is how all cinemas should be. We also chose to eat dinner here before the film, which was a great shout as the food was delicious.
8. Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain
There are several short walks around Diamond Lake, with the option of heading to the top of Rocky Moutain, going to the Lake Wanaka viewpoint or for a quick walk just to the Diamond Lake lookout.
The views from Rocky Mountain are lovely, but even if you just want a short and easy walk then the Diamond Lake track would be perfect as it is much less strenuous than Roys Peak or Isthmus Peak.
9. Mount Iron
For a short walk to get lovely views of Wanaka, head up Mount Iron. Whilst the views aren’t as incredible as those from Roys Peak or Isthmus Peak, this track is much less challenging and is a loop track only taking an hour and a half, so can easily be squeezed into your time in Wanaka. It is also super close to town so easily accessible without a car.
10. Skiing Treble Cone
About a 45 minute drive (up a rather dodgy road at the end) out of Wanaka, is the town’s closest ski area, which also happens to be the largest on the South Island. Saying that, there are only two lifts, outside the nursery slope, which may come as a shock to anyone used to Europe’s large ski resorts! However, Treble Cone makes up for this, namely with the unbelievable views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains that you are presented with from many of the runs. It makes the perfect weekend of skiing, allowing you to get to know all of the runs.
Where to Stay in Wanaka
Having stayed in several places in Wanaka, I can say that some are definitely better than others:
- Base Backpackers: really centrally located, right next to New World. Kitchen has a balcony with great views.
- Albert Town Campsite: absolutely perfect if you have a car and your own tent, it is a short drive out of town and is much more affordable than most Wanaka accommodation. No need to book, just turn up and pay the small fee.
- Wanaka TOP 10 Holiday Park: a little way out of town, but on the way to Treble Cone so the ideal base if you have a vehicle and are heading out this way
- Lake View Holiday Park: probably my least favourite place I stayed in Wanaka, we stayed in a Standard Cabin which was pretty basic. The bathroom block was okay – just a chilly walk to get there. Closer to town than the TOP 10 though.