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. 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 the 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.
What is Special About Wanaka?
The sublime mountain and lake scenery is what many agree is the most special thing about Wanaka.
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 hour’s 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 711 mm (28 in). 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 Wanaka is now just as much of a hotspot as Queenstown, 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.
What Does Wanaka Mean in English?
The word wanaka is the South Island dialect of te reo Maori of the word wananga, which means “place of learning” or “sacred knowledge”.
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:
- Get “that shot” from the top of Roy’s Peak
- Take a photo of “#ThatWanakaTree”
- Climb a waterfall with Wild Wire Wanaka
- Take a road trip down Haast Pass
- Ski or snowboard at Treble Cone or Cardrona
- Hike to a glacier on the Rob Roy Track
- Go canyoning in the Mt Aspiring National Park
- Get puzzled at Puzzling World
- Encounter wildlife on a nature cruise of Lake Wanaka…
… And the list continues over in our 25 Best Things to Do in Wanaka.
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.
Where to Eat in Wanaka
Although the scenery and adventure activities certainly take the spotlight at this lakeside paradise, there is a food scene well worth diving into. 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 Food Guide to Wanaka.
The Best Cafes and Restaurants in Wanaka
- Alchemy Bar & Bistro (151 Ardmore Street)
- Patagonia Chocolates (155 Ardmore Street)
- The Coffee Shack Wanaka (75 Brownston Street)
- Black Peak Gelato (5/123 Ardmore Street)
- Charlie Brown Crepes (77/79 Brownston Street)
- Bistro Gentil (76A Golf Course Road)
- Tititea Steak House (123 Ardmore Street)
- The Doughbin Bakery (123 Ardmore Street)
Things to Do in Wanaka for Foodies
- Tour Wanaka’s wineries and vineyards with Wanaka Wine Tours
- Make a visit to 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 fly fishing tour.
Find out more about each foodie experience in the 10 Foodie Experiences in 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 and 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 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.
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 15 Best Budget Accommodations in Wanaka and 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Wanaka.
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 in Wanaka
- See Milford Sound in style via a scenic flight with Southern Alps Air
- Gallop through the stunning Cardrona Valley on horseback
- Enjoy Wanaka’s most exclusive picnic spot accessed via 4WD with Wanaka 4×4 Explorer
- Have a 3-in-1 wilderness experience with a scenic flight, self-guided hike and jet boat ride with Siberia Experience
- Experience the scenery in a unique way with Wanaka Paragliding.
Find out more about each experience and much more in 10 Best Luxury Experiences in Wanaka.
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.
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 in Wanaka with Kids
- Delve into the Mt Aspiring National Park on an exciting jet boat tour
- Boggle your brains at Puzzling World
- Enjoy healthy competition in archery, mini-golf, claybird shooting and more at Crossfire
- Learn to ski or simply enjoy the snow at one of Wanaka’s ski fields
- 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 15 Things to Do in Wanaka with Kids!
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 the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Wanaka.
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 in Wanaka
- Cruise around Lake Wanaka at “happy hour”
- 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
- Test your teamwork by hiring a double kayak with Paddle Wanaka
- Hit remote Wanaka bike trails together with General Adventure Company.
Find out more about each romantic activity, as well as a few others, in the 10 Romantic Things to Do in Wanaka.
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 10 Best Romantic Accommodations in Wanaka.
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.