Exploring Lake Wānaka

Image: Matt Zhou

Exploring Lake Wānaka

The lakeside town of Wānaka is a hugely popular destination year-round. During winter, it offers easy access to a number of ski areas, and in summer Mount Aspiring National Park and the region’s lakes are enticing outdoor playgrounds.

The natural assets provided by Lake Wānaka and the Mount Aspiring National Park are the centre for many of the region’s most appealing activities. Skiers will also be in paradise in the winter months, with a number of excellent fields within easy reach, while Warbirds Over Wānaka is an annual Easter airshow, with an associated museum, that draws huge crowds from the region and beyond. Home to New Zealand’s only peaks over 3,000 metres outside Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park is a huge and rugged wilderness area encompassing mountains, glacial valleys, alpine tussock meadows and native beech forests. Ancient Māori trails cross the park, centuries-old trading routes for West Coast pounamu, and today walking trails are a main drawcard.

Do & Discover

There are numerous short walks suitable for most levels of fitness, as well as more strenuous multi-day options. Contact Adventure Consultants or Aspiring Guides for guided walks or climbs. Wanna hit the slopes? Wānaka is a perfect wintertime base for skiers and boarders, offering a great range of terrain and fantastic scenery. Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone are big ski areas with a range of facilities, while Snow Farm offers cross-country skiing. Or perhaps you're after something more unusual? In and around Wānaka there are a number of interesting attractions to keep you busy. Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World combines a Great Maze with the incredible Illusion Rooms – even their toilets are worth a look. The Warbirds & Wheels Museum contains a collection of aircraft honouring Kiwi fighter pilots from WWI and WWII. Next door, the National Transport & Toy Museum houses 50,000 antique toys. Those looking for an outdoors adventure are spoiled for choice: canyoning with Deep Canyon, heading out on the lake with Lake Wānaka Cruises, flight–seeing with Aspiring Helicopters, or taking the plunge with Skydive Lake Wānaka. Visitors wanting to take things easier can check out the sights with Southern Lakes Sightseeing, or watch a film at the impossibly quirky Cinema Paradiso, where you can kick back on comfy sofas and eat delicious homemade cookies!

Food & Drink

Being a popular area for both local and international visitors means that Wānaka has developed a dining and drinking scene that belies its small size. Being in the mountains doesn't mean missing out on coffee! Try Cheeky Monkey Café, Kai Whakapai, or Relishes Café, a laid-back establishment. Wanna kick up your heels? Wānaka is a popular getaway for Kiwis, and that means there is plenty of after-dark action. Look for Barluga, Trout Bar, and Lalaland, or head out of town to the Cardrona Hotel. Dining options are plentiful; for good value, try Red Star Luxury Burgers.


Plenty of visitors are drawn to the natural playground of Wānaka, and the town and surrounding area provide a range of accommodation options to suit their range of requirements. Those on a limited budget should check out Wānaka Kiwi Holiday ParkMatterhorn South Lodge and YHA Purple Cow Backpackers. For motel accommodation try Archway MotelsFairway Motel and The Moorings, or for something a little more luxurious see Edgewater and Mountain Range Boutique Lodge.

Local Knowledge

The closest major airport is Queenstown Airport, which offers domestic flights and some trans-Tasman services. If you're hitting the road, Wānaka is 6 hours, 30 minutes from Christchurch and 1 hour, 30 minutes from Queenstown. You can travel to the West Coast via Haast Pass, with the drive to Haast taking just over 2 hours. Coach services operate regularly between Wānaka and Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill, while a local bus service operates between Wānaka and Queenstown. To find out more, swing by the Lake Wanaka i–SITE at 100 Ardmore Street.


What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.