Wanaka is a stunning alpine town located in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. Nestled on the southern end of the pristine Lake Wanaka and surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps, Wanaka is known for its stunning natural landscapes and plethora of outdoor activities.
Despite it’s growing tourism industry, Wanaka has managed to maintain a small-town feel with a friendly and welcoming community and a relaxed pace of life. It’s a great town to base yourself for a couple of days to explore all the awesome things to do in Wanaka. From hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park, to wine tasting, going on a scenic flight or doing some of the thrilling adventure activities, Wanaka offers a diverse range of experiences. Find in our complete guide the best things to do in Wanaka!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN WANAKA
Hike up the famous Roy’s Peak
Roys Peak is one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand and a must do. It is only a 5 minute drive to the trailhead from Wanaka town, so it’s very easy to get to. With stunning views over Lake Wanaka and the snow capped peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, Roys Peak will be etched in your memory. It’s a bucket list experience for many travellers coming to New Zealand.
Although it can be crowded along Roys Peak track because of its popularity, there are options to beat the crowds. But you’ll have to be early. Hiking Roys Peak before sunrise is a magical experience to see the first light peaking over the mountains. But with 8 kilometres and 1,258 (4,127 feet) meters elevation one way, you can expect Roys Peak hike to be hard.
The total out and back trip of Roys Peak hike is 16 kilometers which takes around 6 to 7 hours to finish. The track is a well maintained wide gravel path through farmland. There are some chances you will encounter livestock such as cows and sheep.
It’s worth noting that Roys Peak is closed annually for lambing season from the 1st of October to the 10th of November. So plan your trip accordingly, or otherwise hike Isthmus peak which is a great alternative.
Read in our complete guide everything about hiking Roys Peak Wanaka
Book a Milford Sound scenic flight and cruise from Wanaka
Visiting Milford Sound is a must do when you’re on the South Island. But if you don’t have the time to drive all the way to Fiordland National Park, then you can book a day tour to Milford Sound from Wanaka.
This incredible flight & cruise tour gives you the best of both worlds. First you will depart from Wanaka while enjoying a 45-minute scenic flight over the lush national parks, epic glaciers, and alpine lakes before touching down in Milford Sound.
Then you will hop on a 2 hour cruise to explore Milford Sound and its spectacular beauty. The towering fiords, lush forests and gushing waterfalls are a true nature wonder. The cruise includes commentary, tea and coffee. When you fly back to Wanaka you will go on a different flight path so you can see a different spectacular landscape as on the way to Milford Sound.
This is the best opportunity to experience Milford Sound from Wanaka without spending hours driving on country roads. Secure your seat here before the tour is sold out!
Hike Isthmus Peak track
Isthmus Peak track is another fantastic hike near Wanaka. The trail is easy to follow and a well maintained wide gravel path. But with 16 kilometres out and back and 1250 meters vertical incline you will have to put in some effort to get to the summit! The hike itself is quite comparable with Roys Peak, but the views at the summit are definitely different.
We hiked the Isthmus Peak track with sunrise and were the only ones at the summit. It was a completely different experience than Roys Peak where other photographers were lined up to ‘take that shot’.
Therefore, if you like more quiet hikes, we definitely recommend looking into Isthmus Peak track.
Hop on a sunset cruise on Lake Wanaka
Hop on a luxury catamaran to take in the views of Lake Wanaka during this one hour sunset cruise. With a glass of wine or beer you can take in the scenic beauty while cruising into the sunset. The price includes one beverage and cheeseboard, additional drinks are available for extra charge.
Make sure to book early to secure your spot. Especially during the peak season in New Zealand this is necessary!
Go on a scenic flight over Mount Aspiring National Park
Going on a scenic flight is one of the must things to do in New Zealand. And Wanaka is some of the best places to do this! Located at the doorstep of Mt Aspiring National Park you can book this scenic helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park with 2 alpine landings included in the tour. During this 1 hour tour you will see the blue ice and deep crevasses of Mt Aspiring’s glaciers up close and land in the snow to take photos with these spectacular backdrops.
A shorter option is this 35 minute scenic helicopter flight from the Matukituki Valley into the majestic Southern Alps. You will make an alpine landing one time before returning back to Wanaka. For only $90 more your tour will be twice as long, so personally I would go for the one hour scenic flight with 2 alpine landings to make the most out of this experience!
Learn rock and waterfall climbing
Unleash your inner rock climber and book this unique 5-hour climbing experience. You will climb along a waterfall, over still ladders and cross high, narrow bridges. After this workout you can enjoy a picnic lunch beside the beautiful falls. While no experience is required and full safety briefings are given, this tour is best suited to active, adventurous travelers who are sure-footed and not afraid of heights.
Take pictures at the Wanaka Tree
The famous Wanaka Tree, also known as the Lonely Tree or #That Wanaka Tree, is an iconic willow tree that has become an emblematic symbol of Wanaka. It doesn’t need an introduction anymore as it is one of the most photographed trees in New Zealand. Throughout the years the Wanaka Tree has gained a lot of international recognition through social media.
The tree’s popularity stems from its photogenic quality and the contrast it creates against the beautiful lake and mountain scenery. It has become an Instagram hotspot and attracts photographers, nature enthusiasts, and tourists who seek to capture its beauty. At sunrise and sunset, in particular, the Wanaka Tree offers a picturesque scene with vibrant colors illuminating the sky and reflecting on the water. This is definitely the best time to capture the Wanaka Tree, but be prepared for a line of photographers!
The origins of the tree remain somewhat mysterious. It is believed to have originally grown on the lake’s shore and gradually found itself in the water due to the shifting lake levels. Despite its challenging environment, the tree has managed to thrive and captivate visitors with its resilience and striking presence.
While the Wanaka Tree has become an iconic attraction, it is important to note that its popularity has also raised concerns about sustainability and responsible tourism. Please respect the tree and its surroundings by practicing good environmental practices. And if you’re taking photo’s then stay in the designated photography areas to prevent damage to the fragile ecosystem.
Visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm in summer
The Wanaka Lavender Farm is situated just a short drive from Wanaka’s town center and is a fun place to visit. The farm is spread across 20 acres and boasts expansive lavender fields that burst into vibrant purple hues during the blooming season (typically from December to March).
You can wander through the fragrant rows of lavender, taking in the mesmerizing sight and indulging in the soothing aroma. The farm also features beautifully manicured gardens, and is home to yummy lavender ice cream as well as Lakes Honey.
Entrance fee to the Wanaka Lavender Farm is $5 NZD in the winter and $10 NZD in the summer months.
Feel the thrill of skydiving
Wanaka, and New Zealand in general, is one of the most beautiful places in the world to go skydiving. Let the adrenaline pump through your veins and jump out of a plane so you can tick off this epic bucket list experience!
With Wanaka Skydive you can choose from a 9,000ft, 12,000ft or 15,000-ft tandem skydive. First you will enjoy a 20-minute flight over the Southern Alps while your instructor will point out Mt. Cook, Mt. Aspiring, the Southern Alps, a number of lakes and the Clutha River. Once you’ve reached your chosen altitude, it’s time to jump! Enjoy a 25 to 60-seconds of freefall time with your experienced skydive tandem master before the parachute will safely bring you back down to the drop zone. Note that all skydives are subject to favorable weather conditions.
Book here your Wanaka skydiving experience.
Hike the amazing Rob Roy Glacier Track
Another fantastic hike near Wanaka and one of our favorite hikes on the South Island of New Zealand is Rob Roy Glacier track. This hike has it all! Lush forest, glacier rivers, gushing waterfalls, sheer rock cliffs, hanging glaciers and the best part is, its not the hardest hike! Everyone is able to do this one, you don’t have to be a very experience hiker for the Rob Roy Glacier track!
This 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) return hike in Mount Aspiring National Park takes you through this dramatic alpine landscape which will be etched in your memory forever. The only thing is that it is a bit of a challenge to get to the trailhead. The last 30 km / 18 miles of the drive is on a gravel road which slows down your journey a bit. Another very important thing to know before you go is that you’ll have to cross some rivers so renting a car with high clearance is highly recommended. Be extra cautious after heavy rainfall, because then the small rivers can get bigger and deeper making it more dangerous to cross.
The views along Rob Roy Glacier track will blow you away by its beauty. The moss covered rocks, low hanging clouds, glacier fed waterfalls and ice capped mountain looming underneath the clouds felt like a scene out of a fairytale for us. We have spend more than an hour at the upper viewpoint taking it all in. Make sure to plan a whole day for this awesome road trip into Mount Aspiring National Park and this stunning hike.
Bike the Scenic Wanaka Trails
A great way to experience Wanaka’s natural beauty is during this scenic 2,5 hour bike tour. It’s the perfect combination of taking in the best views of Wanaka while enjoying a gentle exercise. This family friendly activity has all necessary equipment included and your guide will take you along the wide and well maintained biking trails of Wanaka.
Enjoy the wine tastings during a wine tour
Central Otago, the region where Wanaka is located, is renowned for its vineyards and wineries. The area is known for producing excellent Pinot Noir wines, and many wineries offer tastings and cellar door experiences.
During this half day classic Wanaka Wine Tour you will tour around this distinctive wine region and taste a wide range of wines. You will visit up to six of the region’s boutique vineyards and also stop for a gourmet lunch at one of the wineries. Transfers to and from your hotel are included so you don’t have to worry about drinking too much wine!
Hike Diamond Lake & Rocky Mountains Track
Diamond Lake walk and Rocky Mountain summit track are two separate hiking trails near Wanaka that can be easily merged in one day hike. The Diamond Lake track is a relatively easy hike that is a 1.5-hour return walk and takes you to a lookout point over picturesque Diamond Lake.
The Rocky Mountain track is a bit more challenging 3-4 hour return walk that takes you up to the summit of Rocky Mountain at 775 meters height. With stunning views over Lake Wanaka and the peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, this is one of the best short walks near Wanaka.
You can easily combine these two walks into one 7.1-km loop trail which offers stunning lake and mountain views throughout the trail.
Visit Mou Waho Island
Mou Waho Island is a unique spot which sits in the middle of Lake Wanaka. This protected area is under the control of the Department of Conservation because its a bird sanctuary. Here you can spot rare native birds that are extinct on mainland New Zealand such as the flightless Buff Weka.
But that’s not all! If you book a tour with one of the exclusive tour operators that have permission to take visitors here, you will go on a catamaran cruise over Lake Wanaka, enjoy a nature walk and spot these unique birds.
Hike the Brewster Hut Track
The Brewster Hut Track trailhead is about an hour drive from Wanaka, located off the Haast Pass-Makarora Road, near the Blue Pools. The 10 km return (6.2 miles) track takes about 5 – 6 hours to complete and you have to be moderately fit as the hike is quite technical.
The Brewster Hut track starts off by crossing the Haast River. There is no bridge so depending on the water level you might want to go barefoot. If water levels are too high it might not be safe to cross the river. Know your own limit! Therefore the best time to do Brewster Hut Track is in the summer months.
Once you’ve crossed the river a long trail in the forest awaits. The first hour and a half is a steep path through native beech forest without any views. So it can feel boring at some times. But as soon as you pass the tree line, a stunning panoramic view unfolds.
From here on it’s another hour, depending on your speed, to the Brewster Hut. Although you can do this hike in one day, it is recommended to book the Brewster Hut and plan this track to do as overnight. The sunset and first sunlight in the mountains is just incredible and it gives you more time to really take in the beauty of Mt Aspiring National Park.
You can also explore the Brewster Glacier which is one of the most easiest accessible glaciers in New Zealand. This will add another hour to the hike and can only be combined when sleeping in the Brewster Hut.
Go jet boating and hiking in Mt Aspiring National Park
Buckle up and get ready for an adrenaline filled jet boat ride along the rivers of Mt Aspiring National Park. During this half day tour you will zip along the pristine waters of the Matukituki River on a jet boat while admiring the spectacular landscapes. After this adventure you will go on a nature walk through native moss covered forests, waterfalls, and glacier-fed streams before ending your tour.
Visit the Blue Pools
The Blue Pools are located in Mount Aspiring National Park and are an hour drive from Wanaka. Located on the way to the West Coast, this is a must stop when traveling to Franz Josef.
The Blue Pools are renowned for its stunningly clear turquoise-blue waters, surrounded by native forests and picturesque landscapes. The pools are fed by the pristine waters of the Makarora River, creating a mesmerizing spectacle.
To visit the Blue Pools you have to follow a short well maintained walking trail that leads to the Blue Pools. The suspension bridge spans the Makarora River which is a great vantage point to appreciate the stunning clarity and color of the water as it flows beneath.
Drive the scenic Crown Range road
The scenic Crown Range road which connects Queenstown to Wanaka is the highest main road in all of New Zealand! So it’s a special one, and you will most likely pass it when traveling around. There are plenty of narrow twists and turns and beautiful viewpoints along the way. So make sure to allow enough time to drive this road.
The most popular viewpoint is called Arrow Junction Lookout which is right after you take the turn-off at Lake Hayes. This viewpoint has an awesome view of Arrowtown and Lake Hayes. When we stopped here it was autumn, and the beautiful landscape with colourful trees looked like a painting!
Another great viewpoint is at the very top of the hill from where you can walk up to the Crown Range Summit. So if you have the time for a little hike uphill, then continue along the narrow track for an even better view of the valley.
Visit the Puzzling World (rainy day activity in Wanaka)
Puzzling World is Wanaka’s weirdest and also one of the oldest attractions. It is a great activity to to on a rainy day in Wanaka. You can recognise the Puzzling World along the road when you spot the Leaning & Tumbling Towers.
Inside there is a Great Maze with 1.5km (1 mi) of passages which is seriously hard to get out of! Another fun thing is the Ames Room, which features a technique known as forced perspective which makes individuals appear smaller or taller than they are in real life. Truly a fun activity for the whole family!
Relax or have a stroll along Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea is the lesser known lake closely located to Wanaka. With little development and a small centre, most people choose to stay in Wanaka for the facilities. However, if you love a very quiet and picturesque location to stay, then you can consider booking an accommodation in Hawea.
Furthermore, Lake Hawea offers a variety of watersport activities and walking trails. It is a great place to check out if you want to take in some other views than Lake Wanaka. Walk along the Hawea River trail for example and take in the stunning scenery.
Immerse yourself in the Wanaka foodie scene
Wanaka has some amazing restaurants! So if you’re a foodie like us you will be happy to explore the plethora of amazing options. From incredible ice cream at Patagonia, to the best steak at Tititea and amazing healthy, but affordable food at Big Fig. There is something for every budget.
We loved to eat a quick meal and connect with other travellers at Big Fig. Here you get potluck dinner vibes but it is basically assembly line food service where you pick your plate size and then pick your meat and veggies. Most of the food has a middle eastern twist and it truly delicious and affordable!
If you crave Indian food then Bombay Palace has amazing curries and Thai Siam is the place to go for Thai food.
Go skiing at Cardrona Alpine Resort
Cardrona is the most popular ski resort in New Zealand and gets super busy during the Australian and New Zealand school holiday period from late June to early July.
If you visit New Zealand during the winter months then you might want to go skiing at some of the amazing ski resorts. Treble Cone Ski Area, the Snow Farm ( for cross-country skiing ) and Soho Basin are all great locations to check out.
Best time to visit Wanaka
The best time to visit Wanaka largely depends on your personal preferences and the things you want to do in Wanaka. Generally the best time for hiking and exploring are the spring, summer and autumn seasons. With winter the snow comes, and hiking trails become more slippery. Nevertheless, you can still hike the famous tracks such as Roys Peak and Isthmus Peak in winter when you have crampons.
Summer is peak season when the days are long with average temperatures ranging from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). This allows for plenty of exploration and outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and water sports on Lake Wanaka.
Autumn in Wanaka showcases stunning golden hues as the leaves change color. The weather remains relatively mild, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius (50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). This season is perfect for hiking, cycling, and exploring the local vineyards during the grape harvest. It’s also a quieter time, with fewer tourists compared to the summer months.
Winter in Wanaka brings snow-capped mountains and excellent skiing conditions. The temperatures range from -2 to 10 degrees Celsius (28 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Wanaka is a popular destination for snow sports enthusiasts, with ski fields like Cardrona and Treble Cone offering fantastic slopes for skiing and snowboarding. Winter also provides a picturesque setting for photography and cozy evenings by the fireplace.
Spring in Wanaka is a transitional season characterized by blossoming flowers, emerging wildlife, and moderate temperatures. The weather can be changeable, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit). Spring is a great time for hiking, mountain biking, and enjoying the vibrant colors of nature as the region comes alive after winter.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots. But for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn. They have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Where to stay in Wanaka
Wanaka is a relatively small town which means that all areas are within easy reach of its main attractions. However, some areas may be more suitable for you than others, depending on your preferences, budget and way of transport.
We have a complete guide about the best places to stay in Wanaka if you’re looking for an in depth guide. But if you just want to see some of the best picks, then here an overview of accommodations to stay in Wanaka.
The Edgewater Hotel is a stunning lakefront hotel that has hotel rooms and apartments with picturesque lake views. You can literally walk in one minute from your hotel room to the lakeshore. With a day spa, sauna, tennis court and a a restaurant and cafe, there is nothing you will miss during your stay at the Edgewater Hotel. Without a doubt some of the best Wanaka hotels.
The Camp is located along Lake Hawea and is some of the most beautiful locations you can stay near Wanaka. With direct access to the lake, a private beach with mountain views and a wide range of accommodation options, The Camp offers something for every budget. From Glamping tents to Lakeside cottages, Tiny houses and a campground with shared bathroom facilities and public BBQ, The Camp is a place where you can feel at home. We have stayed in one of the tents with stunning lake view and felt so at peace surrounded by nature. A great choice if you want to be closely located to Wanaka and have some of the most incredible views at your doorstep.
This gorgeous 2 bedroom apartment is a home away from home with all the amenities you need and a stunning view on Lake Wanaka. With a fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher, a patio with incredible mountain and lake views, a shared indoor pool and closely located to Wanaka town, this luxury apartment is everything you need.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the 22 best things to do in Wanaka. Make sure to put this awesome town on your South Island itinerary!
We have many more New Zealand blog posts with all things to do and places to visit on the North and South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides!