If you’re after a local vibe, while still enjoying a tonne of touristy adventures, then Wanaka is a must visit.
The Wanaka township stands proud at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, it is at the start of the Clutha River and is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. The town has two distinct peak seasons, Winter for the snow bunnies and Summer for those who like to be outdoors and exploring Wanaka’s natural beauty.
Often compared to big sister Queenstown, Wanaka shares a lot of similar adventures, without sharing the hustle and bustle that Queenstown attracts.
While like Queenstown, Wanaka is surrounded by mountains and a magnificent lake, there are no fast food outlets. No one goes bungy jumping. People nod and say hello on the street. It’s a much gentler version of the town’s bustling neighbour over the hill.
Thanks to the mountains that surround Wanaka, there are plenty of great walks you can embark on – free of charge! One of the most common for locals and tourists alike is Mount Iron.
Don’t let the word ‘Mount’ scare you off though, this ‘Mount’ is more of a glorified hill. Mount Iron is great for those of all fitness levels, ages and abilities. A wide, clear to follow track leads you from the car park, straight to the top, providing you with brilliant views of Lake Wanaka. It’s just a 90-minute loop to the summit and back. Mount Iron hosts an abundance of little nooks that make ideal picnic spots and photograph locations. At the top, you are treated to a stunning view of the lake and 360 of the surrounding mountains.
Another popular walking track is the Roys Peak Track. Many advise to head up the track early in the winter months, around 6am, to avoid too much muddiness coming down when the sun melts the ice that coats the track. The 5-6 hour round trip can be quite challenging for most, but once you reach the peak it is definitely worth it. The views from the peak are indescribable and while all of the pictures look beautiful, they don’t actually do the view justice. It is something else entirely when viewed in person and the feeling of pride and sense of achievement when you do finally reach the top is something you will remember for the rest of your life.
If walking and tramping isn’t your thing, then Wanaka still has a lot to offer. Scattered along the towns main street is some great eating places that are guaranteed to fill the tummies of all walks of life.
Kai Whakapai Cafe and Bar Restaurant is a cult favourite. Great atmosphere, yummy meals and well-priced food. Lake Bar Restaurant, located at the other end of town, is in the perfect spot to sit outside with your meal and a beer and enjoy the picturesque lake.
If a sit-down meal isn’t your thing, then join the queue at the bakery on the Main Street. The pies and cream donuts are delicious and so cheap that you’ll have to stop yourself from wanting to eat them all until you pop!
Wanaka is also home to a lavender farm. The vibrant fields of lavender make an awesome photo opportunity. Have a peaceful stroll through the lavender fields, interact with the farm animals, play a game in their gardens and treat yourself to a lavender ice cream. The perfect recipe for an inexpensive afternoon out in Wanaka!
Puzzling World is another popular spot to visit. This place is fun for all ages. It’s a great way to stimulate your mind. There is so much to do, especially if you take part in the puzzles and the maze. The maze often sees people banging their heads against the wall in frustration as they struggle to make their way to the fourth tower and complete their maze journey. While inside the Puzzling World building, you will hear the constants gasps, giggles and ‘woaaaahs’ from many a person participating in the activities. These noises will even come from yourself as you will no doubt be mesmerised by all of the crazy illusions.
If photography is your passion, then you will fall in love with That Wanaka Tree. A tree situated in Lake Wanaka that is every photographer’s dream because of its natural perfect composition. Backdropped by the pristine and mighty Southern Alps, and surrounded by the crisp, blue waters of Lake Wanaka, this tree is probably the most photographed in the country.
As mentioned on Lake Wanaka’s official website, there aren’t many places you can find a massive toy collection next to an exhibition of classic aircraft. Wanaka’s famed Transport and Toy Museum is one of the largest private collections in the world. It boasts rare and unusual cars, trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, tractors and military vehicles plus a huge collection of toys to fascinate the whole family.
Warbirds and Wheels has a world class collection of over 30 classic cars and motorcycles plus fighting aircraft from World War I through to modern day Skyhawk’s.
If it’s a rainy day or you just feel like blobbing out, another Wanaka must-do is visiting the local cinema to catch the latest films. Comfortable old couches, an old Morris Minor car and legendary hot cookies at halftime, all contribute to making your Paradiso Cinema experience a unique and memorable one.
If the kids have ants in their pants and don’t want to catch a film, the Wanaka Dinosaur Park will certainly fill their desires. The playground is in the heart of the CBD down on the waterfront and features an array of playground activities suited for children of all ages.
Wanaka is a very humble town with a very local feel to it. It’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of commercial Queenstown and still oozes that small town charm that many travel from across the globe to see.
Definitely include Wanaka in any of your travel plans down south, and if you’re thinking of moving to this piece of paradise then my advice is… JUST DO IT! You won’t regret it.