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Strap on your skis, hiking boots, or latest season heels – you’re in Wānaka, baby! This happening alpine town is famous for its winter sports, summer adventures, fashion boutiques and top restaurants.
Here are three very good reasons to get on your skis or board: Treble Cone, Cardrona, and Snow Farm. These excellent ski fields are all within a 40-minute drive of Wānaka and offer great snow action for beginners, intermediates and experts. The ski season usually starts around late June to early July and finishes up around early September.
Up mountains, down canyons. Abseiling, jumping, sliding, swimming! Canyoning is a wild adventure that you can do on your own if you’re experienced. Or try a guided canyoning trip with Deep Canyon. Suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, including kids over 12, you’ll have a great day in the outdoors exploring beautiful waterfalls, forests, rock faces and pools.
If you fancy taking your indoor climbing skills to the next level, the via ferrata or ‘iron road’ is an opportunity not to be missed. Climbing rock faces and over valleys on a series of iron rungs, wire bridges and steel cables, this is an accessible tour with plenty of training provided. Wildwire Wānaka takes you up to the world’s highest waterfall cable climb.
Wānaka is an underrated fashion capital, with boutiques and homegrown world-class designers everywhere you turn. If you’ve an eye for unique and high-class fashion made right here in New Zealand, you’re going to want to stop in at Devál Boutique, 47Frocks, Common People, PERRIAM and Base Streetwear, just for starters.
Blast into hard-to-access parts of Mount Aspiring National Park on a thrilling jet boat ride. You’ll get to hear stories of the land from your local guides and might even visit some locations made famous in The Lord of The Rings trilogy.
You can’t go wrong sampling the local fare in Wānaka, and there are some absolute must-trys to have on your list. Rippon Winery is a beautiful place to taste a local drop among the vines and lavender plants with views of the lake and Ruby Island stretching out beyond. At Cardrona Distillery, you can tour the facility or skip straight to a tasting. Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is a Wānaka legend, and Pembroke Patisserie is famous for its donuts and custard squares.
Epic rides with jaw-dropping views abound in this region, from high country riding to smooth tracks around the lakes. Try the Glendhu Bay Track for amazing views of the lakes and mountains and a stop off at Damper Bay for a swim if it’s hot. Sticky Forest has a great network of mountain biking trails for intermediate to advanced riders, while the Lindis Peak or Grandview Range Tracks make for excellent uphill missions if you’re looking for that real thigh-burning satisfaction.
Cruise high above the stunning alpine scenery with Skydive Wanaka before taking the plunge for 30-60 seconds of adrenaline-pumping freefall. One of New Zealand’s favourite thrill-seeking activities, skydiving in Wānaka is one of the most spectacular around. – it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
Take kicking back to the next level on an aquatic excursion that shows off Wānaka’s scenery to its best advantage. Lake Wanaka Cruises take you exploring the many isolated islands while giving you a background on the areas you visit, all while floating through the most breathtaking scenery at an utterly relaxing pace. Add a glass of local wine and a nature walk at your destination and you’ll be golden.
You’ve seen it on the posters and postcards: The iconic Cardrona Hotel is one of Wānaka’s most famous sights, and also one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs, dating back to gold rush days. Almost irresistible to photograph from the outside, it’s also well worth heading inside to enjoy the award-winning classic pub-fare-with-a-twist. Settle by the roaring fire in winter or enjoy the sunny beer garden in summer, and either way, make sure you’ve got a cool one at your elbow.
Grab a kayak or SUP to explore Lake Wānaka under your own paddle power. It’s affordable, great exercise, and it’s the best way to explore the beautiful lake scenery without the sound on a boat engine. Hire your own equipment and take off on a self-guided adventure (Paddle Wānaka offers rentals for one, two and three hours), or join a kayak or paddleboard tour showcasing lake highlights like Ruby Island, Mou Waho Island, and That Wānaka Tree.
You’ll be floating on air – literally – as you cruise high above stunning lake and alpine scenery on a tandem paragliding flight with an experienced instructor. Enjoy getting to see Wānaka from an unforgettable perspective, with the thrill of flight into the bargain.
The unique WanaHaka wine tour embraces the connection between Māori history and modern wine culture, combining a tour of some of Central Otago’s boutique wineries with a traditional Māori welcome and stories of the Māori connection to the land. On the WanaHaka tour you’ll get to taste wines from three to four wineries in Wānaka and Cromwell, and learn how the natural landscape played an essential role in the success of wines in this region.
This ridiculously photogenic tree is thought to be the most photographed tree in New Zealand, and with good reason. Growing out of the water in an otherworldly scene that attracts photographers from all over the world, getting a shot of this tree is a must-do while you’re in Wānaka. The easiest way to get to it is from the Waterfall Creek Track car park.
Challenge your brain and have a good laugh at Wānaka’s famous mind-melding attraction. Try and find your way through The Great Maze, get seriously confused in the Illusion Rooms, and don’t miss the photo ops with the ‘world’s weirdest attractions’, including the Impossible Steps, Leaning Tower of Wānaka, and yes, even the Roman Loos.
Drink in the majesty of this UNESCO World Heritage Area from the air with a Wānaka scenic flight. U-Fly Wānaka lets you have a go at flying the plane yourself, with full instruction and dual control from your qualified pilot to make sure you’re safe at all times. Or you can experience the once-in-a-lifetime feeling of a glacier landing with Aspiring Helicopters – you’ll fly above the rugged mountain landscape before touching down for incredible photo ops, crisp mountain air and maybe a snowball or two.
The great walking tracks around the Wānaka area show off the beautiful surrounds and cater to all walking abilities. Roys Peak is a must-do, a five-to-six-hour walk with one of the best views in the region to be found at the summit. Mount Iron is a great alternative for those wanting great views with less of a time commitment – the walk to the top takes around 45 minutes and presents beautiful vistas of Lake Wānaka and the Southern Alps. A few other walks to put on your list include the Rob Roy Glacier Track, Isthmus Peak, Blue Pools, and the Waterfall Creek Track, which leads you towards the famous Wānaka tree.
One of the largest private collections of vehicles, aircraft and toys in the Southern Hemisphere, this incredible attraction is spread over four main buildings and has enough to make kids’, teens’ and adults’ eyes pop. Many of the displays are interactive, including adult-sized pedal cars and vintage children’s arcade rides – definitely a must-see for the entire family.
Explore the wild countryside of Wānaka and Cardrona the old-fashioned way. With The Cardrona Horse Trekking you’ll get to ride through working sheep farms and get an up-close look at high-country farming, with a taste of gold mining history thrown into the mix. For a guided horse ride through the Rippon Valley Vineyard that includes a wine-tasting at the end, Waterfall Equestrian Centre has you covered.
The magical Mou Waho Island nature reserve is rocking an incredible turquoise lake-within-a-lake that almost makes you feel like you’re in another world. Keep an eye out for native species such as wētā (in their own wētā motels), weka, pīwakawaka, kererū, and other native birds – if you don’t see them, you’re bound to hear them. The boat ride to the island is beautiful too – you can get there by joining a Mou Waho boat tour, hopping a water taxi, or renting your own vessel.
Possibly the only recycling plant that can also be called an attraction, one visit to this legendary pre-loved goods store will leave you in no doubt as to why. Treasure hunting and sustainability go hand-in-hand here, where you can find everything from designer clothes and vintage jewellery to collectible china, furniture and outdoor sports gear. Also great for scavenger hunts.
Yet another of Wānaka’s most Insta-worthy destinations, the picturesque Wānaka Lavender Farm delivers not only the sweet-smelling goods, but also animals to meet, beehives to visit, and activities such as giant Jenga and pétanque that will have you feeling like you’re attending a particularly pretty garden party. Be sure to take a photo by the unique purple door in one of the lavender fields, and sample some lavender-infused treats in the café.