With an alpine lake setting and stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps, Wanaka’s a great four-season playground for people of all tastes, ages and budgets.
It’s got upmarket aspirations, but you can still have a fine time for free.
Starting in the town centre, you can walk either way for hours along the lakefront. Going west, you get to Roys Bay, to the entrance to Station Park, past a ridiculously famous tree, the edge of Edgewater Resort and out to Waterfall Creek. If you continued along the track another dozen kilometres or so, you’d get to Glendhu Bay, a popular campsite for tourists and locals. Heading east, see the nesting grebes at the Marina, find a picnic place at Eely point or take the Outlet Track to the Clutha river.
Wanaka has two independent cinemas – the eclectic Paradiso and boutique Ruby’s – and more eating options than days of the week. There’s a café culture feel to the eateries along Ardmore Street, many with lakeview outdoor tables. The town is a poster child for the Great Scone Trail with excellent baking and coffee at a number of owner operated establishments. You can hire SUPs and kayaks on the lakefront, or head into one of the bike shops to hire a bike and check out a map of all the local trails. If retail is more your style of exercise, there are some neat, chic shops in easy walking distance around town.
The town has a range of quality owner operated tour companies for 4WD high country tours, jetboat trips, scenic flights, guided walks and visits to the native bird sanctuary of Mou Waho – “the island with a lake in a lake”.
On the border of Mt Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is home to some of the world’s most highly regarded alpinists and mountain guides. The park has a huge range of walking tracks and demanding alpine routes.
In winter the two downhill resorts, Treble Cone and Cardrona, and the Snowfarm, a crosscountry area may be modest in size by international standards but pack in some quality terrain.
Only 15 minutes’ drive from Wanaka you may already have driven past Lake Hawea’s shores if you have arrived from the West Coast. With a jawdropping alpine skyline as a backdrop, the small township with its pub, general store and cafe will captivate most visitors. A walkway along the lake shore with numerous viewpoints and picnic spots is a highly recommended way to spend an afternoon. With a strong northwesterly wind though, it’s more likely to be frequented by kitesurfers and windsurfers. More energetic visitors can choose the Isthmus Peak walk to get views of both lakes.