The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka

© Pixabay

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka, New Zealand

With its snow-capped mountains, vast lakes and rolling farmlands, Wanaka is a dream destination for many. It’s the ultimate alpine playground with an array of adventure activities to take part in, as well as ways to relax. It’s the home of creative artisans where sampling the local food is a must – there’s even a whole festival to celebrate its fare. What’s more, the town comes alive in both summer and winter thanks to the array of ski fields, hiking and mountain biking trails surrounding the area. And you needn’t worry when the weather plays up, as there are plenty of weird and wonderful indoor attractions to keep all ages entertained.

Let us guide you through it all, no matter what your travel style is, in this complete travel guide to Wanaka.

Common Questions About Wanaka

Let’s cut to chase and answer the most common questions travellers have about Wanaka.

Is it Worth Visiting Wanaka?

Wanaka has become more of a must-visit in New Zealand due to its rising popularity on social media (#ThatWanakaTree, anyone?) We think Wanaka is worth visiting for at least a day when travelling the South Island.

Where is Wanaka Located?

Wanaka is located in the Central Otago region in the south of the South Island of New Zealand.

How Do You Get to Wanaka?

Wanaka’s closest international airport is Queenstown Airport – find out more about flights to New Zealand in A Beginner’s Guide to Getting to New Zealand. Wanaka is also accessible by road (one hours’ drive from Queenstown), where it’s possible to rent a car from Queenstown – see The Best Car Rental Companies in Queenstown. Queenstown also has a public bus network with buses to Wanaka – see Public Transport in Queenstown.

What is the Weather Like in Wanaka?

The daily average temperature is 10.3°C/50.54°F, while the yearly average rainfall is 711mm/28″. Wanaka’s climate is similar to Queenstown, which you can find out more about in our Queenstown Weather & Climate Guide.

Which is Better, Queenstown or Wanaka?

What many travellers used to find great about Wanaka is that it was a quieter version of Queenstown. However, we find that it is as just a hotspot as Queenstown now, so has lost a little of that charm. Nevertheless, Wanaka is still “better” than Queenstown when it comes to the ski season with its proximity to two of the largest commercial ski fields on the South Island.

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka© Unsplash

What to Do in Wanaka

How would you like your mind-blowing views? With a hike like the famous Roy’s Peak Track, a helicopter tour, from a kayak or a mountain bike? If you’re more into relaxation than adventure, then Wanaka has you covered in that department too between its vineyard and lavender farm tours.

The Top Experiences in Wanaka

What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Wanaka highlights:

… And the list continues over in our 18 Best Things to Do in Wanaka.

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka© Unsplash

Where to Stay in Wanaka

Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Wanaka, we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real writers; not some algorithm.

Tourism Wanaka© Tourism Wanaka

Wanaka for Budget Travellers

Wanaka is a place of lakes, mountains and natural beauty, so you really don’t need to spend much to enjoy the lakeside town. Make the most of the walking trails, the free photo opportunities and scout out some of the good-value activities, like bike hire, disc golf, an evening at a boutique cinema and much more. We’ll guide you through how to be frugal in Wanaka with our Wanaka – Guide for Backpackers.

Things to Do on a Budget

  • Take a photo of #ThatWanakaTree
  • Hike Roys Peak
  • Visit Wanaka Lavender Farm
  • Play disc golf at Lismore Park
  • Walk or cycle around Lake Wanaka.

Find out more about each activity and much more in 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.

Budget Accommodation

Wanaka is an affordable place to stay thanks to its collection of backpacker hostels, motels and budget lodges. Check out some of our top picks for budget stays in 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Wanaka and 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Wanaka.

Aspiring Helicopters© Aspiring Helicopters

Wanaka for Luxury Travellers

For the traveller who likes to make the very most out of each destination they visit, Wanaka has plenty of premium experiences to enjoy. The picturesque town is brimming with soft adventure activities so you can experience the wonderful alpine landscapes in unique ways, from horse trekking to helicopter flights. At the end of a day exploring, there’s always the opportunity to relax at one of the fine dining restaurants and kick back in your chosen luxury hotel, apartment or lodge. Find out more about planning a luxury visit to Wanaka in The Luxury Guide to Wanaka.

Luxury Experiences

  • See Milford Sound in style via a scenic flight (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Gallop through the stunning Cardrona Valley on horseback (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Enjoy Wanaka’s most exclusive picnic spot accessed via 4WD at Criffel Station (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Land on a glacier with Aspiring Helicopters (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Try out paragliding to experience the scenery in a unique way (on Viator or Tripadvisor).

Find out more about each experience and much more in 10 Best Luxury Experiences in Wanaka.

Luxurious Accommodation

Make your stay in Wanaka special by booking a few nights in the town’s lavish hotels, private luxury apartments or boutique lodges. Check out the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Wanaka for more details.

Pixabay© Pixabay

Wanaka for Families

Families love Wanaka. Not only is it an easy place to stay, thanks to the varied types of family-friendly accommodation, but it’s packed with things to do whatever the weather. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors, from jet boat tours to working deer farm tours, as well as exciting kid-friendly adventures like parasailing and archery. Even if the weather isn’t playing ball, you can always rely on the town’s quirky indoor attractions and museums. Check out our advice for a family holiday in Wanaka in The Guide to Wanaka for Families.

Things to Do with Kids

  • Delve into the Mt Aspiring National Park on an exciting jet boat tour (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Meet and feed the animals at a working deer farm (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Boggle your brains at Puzzling World (on Klook,  Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Enjoy healthy competition in archery, mini-golf, claybird shooting and more (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Let the little ones loose at the Wanaka Dinosaur Park.

Find out more about each family-friendly activity, as well as a few more, in the 10 Things to Do in Wanaka with Kids!

Family-Friendly Accommodation

From comfortable resorts and hotels to budget motels and holiday parks with plenty of facilities to entertain the kids, there’s an accommodation type to suit all kinds of families visiting Wanaka. Check out some of our top picks in 10 Best Family Accommodations in Wanaka.

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka© Unsplash

Wanaka for Couples

Wanaka is an absolute must-see on your New Zealand honeymoon or romantic getaway itinerary or even for a quick romantic getaway. The setting is idyllic, the accommodation is quaint and comfortable, all you need is to fill up your time together with amazing (and romantic) experiences. From wine tasting to active adventures on the ski fields, the possibilities almost seem endless for a couple’s getaway in Wanaka. Check out The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Wanaka for more tips.

Romantic Things to Do

  • Cruise around Lake Wanaka a “happy hour” (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Learn a new skill together on the ski slopes of Cardrona or Treble Cone
  • Snuggle up with a movie and gourmet food at Cinema Paradiso
  • Work as a team to explore Lake Wanaka by double kayak (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Hit remote Wanaka bike trails together with Discover Wanaka (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Find out more about each romantic activity, as well as a few others, in the 10 Romantic Activities in Wanaka for Couples.

Romantic Accommodation

While Wanaka offers almost all types of accommodation, if you’re looking for something a little bit special, then consider one of the cute boutique lodges in the area. Find out more in the 7 Best Romantic Accommodations in Wanaka.

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka© Pxhere

Wanaka for Foodies

As you’ve seen from the rest of this guide to Wanaka, the scenery and adventure activities certainly take the spotlight. However, there is a food scene well worth diving into in this little town. Wanaka is home to passionate artisans, beer brewers, wine-makers, chefs and much more. Discover their craft on one of the many food-related tours and, more importantly, taste the good stuff at the array of markets and restaurants available. Find out more in The Foodie Guide to Wanaka.

Things to Do in Wanaka for Foodies

  • Tour Wanaka’s wineries and vineyards with Wanaka Wine Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Make a visit the Wanaka Artisan Market on Thursdays
  • Learn about making craft beer at Wanaka Beerworks
  • Dine at Wanaka’s top restaurants
  • Catch your own trout on a private flyfishing tour.

Find out more about each foodie experience in the 9 Things to Do in Wanaka for Foodies.

The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka© Ripe Festival - Andy Woods

Ripe – The Wanaka Wine and Food Festival

A must-do for any foodie is Ripe – The Wanaka Wine and Food Festival. Sample the best wine and food from the Central Otago region at this annual event on the shores of Lake Wanaka. The festival is single-use and waste-free too, with tickets including reusable cups to take home, vendors using reusable plates and more – all of which are outlined along with the eclectic vendor lineup and this year’s festival dates on the Ripe website.

Where to Eat in Wanaka

  • WGK Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen (123 Ardmore Street)
  • Patagonia Chocolates (155 Ardmore Street)
  • Black Peak Gelato (5/123 Ardmore Street)
  • Charlie Brown Crepes (77/79 Brownston Street)
  • Bistro Gentil (76A Golf Course Road)
  • The Doughbin Bakery (123 Ardmore Street)

Foodie Accommodation

Whether your idea of a foodie stay is in a hotel with an excellent restaurant or somewhere where you can spruce up your own meals, we have you covered on both fronts in our 10 Best Accommodations in Wanaka for Foodies.

More About Wanaka

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Wanaka but certainly not for our advice on planning the perfect trip to Wanaka. Get inspired with these useful guides:

Finally, discover even more destinations and experiences on the South Island in the 51 Best Things to Do on the South Island and 10 Unique & Unusual Things to Do on the South Island.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

Was this article useful?

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter

Recommended For You