Located on the neck of two turquoise lakes – Lakes Wanaka and Hawea – this lively haven is renowned for its rock climbing, bungy jumping, canyoning, kayaking, horse trekking, paragliding, mountain biking, mountaineering and skiing.
Head 20km (12m) out of Wanaka to the Matukituki Valley on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park to find around 150 climbs across a wide range of grades, from absolute beginners to ‘rock jocks’.
Join a guided climb with gear, instruction and safety equipment supplied, or take a one-, three- or five-day rock climbing course.
Hikers can find numerous trails along the southern edge of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea that wander the hillsides through native forest. Try the walk up to Mount Iron or to Mount Aspiring, at 3027m in height.
Wanaka also offers a winter sports wonderland, with classic downhill skiing at nearby Cardrona, Treble Cone, Waiorau Nordik ski area and heli-skiing in the Harris Mountains.
Wanaka offers a range of active pursuits that provide the opportunity of getting up close and personal with the region's stunning scenery, including…
Skiing – Choose from two closest ski fields: Cardrona and Treble Cone are just 40 minutes from Wanaka.
Treble Cone at 550ha, is the largest ski area in the South Island and a mecca for the more adventurous skier, with steep runs, tight chutes, big drop-offs and superb powder. Read more about Treble Cone…
Cardrona features 320ha of terrain with both gentle wide-open slopes and exciting ski trails, plus terrain parks, pipes and a thrilling 800m gravity cross-course run of curves, bumps and berms. Read more about Cardrona…
The Waiorau Nordik ski area in the Cardrona Valley is the first all-mountain terrain park in Australasia and features 55km (34mi) of groomed cross-country ski trails as well as untracked routes. In addition, you can find heli-skiing in the Harris Mountains.
The ski season typically lasts from June to September/October.
Jet-Boating – Sit back, buckle up and feel the adrenalin rush of blasting through narrow river gorges, almost touching sheer rock faces, or skim across the surface of water channels that weave through the shingle banks of shallow intertwined rivers.
Wilkin River Jets (www.wilkinriverjets.co.nz) offers a one hour thrill for NZ$98 as well as combo packages that include a helicopter flight, bush walk and river jet from NZ$359.
Wanaka River Journeys (www.wanakariverjourneys.co.nz), offers Matukituki River trips that includes a wilderness walk for NZ$255.
Kayaking – The Wanaka region offers several rivers that are perfect for kayaking.
Alpine Kayak Guides (www.alpinekayaks.co.nz) offers half-and full-day trips on three rivers, ranging in difficulty from beginner to experienced.
Priced at NZ$155 including equipment, lessons and lunch. Trips last 5 to 8 hours and run daily from November to April.
Canyoning – Explore river canyons using a variety of means including rappelling, walking, climbing, jumping, swimming and using ziplines.
Deep Canyon (www.deepcanyon.co.nz) offers a 7 1/2-hour adventure for NZ$240 including lunch from November through April.
Mountain Biking – There are excellent (and easy) biking tracks around Lake Wanaka as well as further afield. Numerous bike trails crisscross the local area with information available from the Department of Conservation’s office in Wanaka.
Mountain bikes can be rented from Racer’s Edge/Mountain Bikes Unlimited (www.racersedge.co.nz) for NZ$65 per day. Lakeland Adventures (next door to the information centre) rents bikes for NZ$15 per hour or NZ$30 for a half-day.
Quad Bikes - Cardrona Adventure Park (www.adventurepark.co.nz) offers tours on four-wheel all-terrain quad bikes priced from NZ$185 for a 2-hour adventure. You must hold a valid driver’s license.
Climbing – The region offers more than 150 climbs across a wide range of grades, from absolute beginners to ‘rock jocks’ in the Matukituki Valley on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park.
Wanaka Rock Climbing (www.wanakarock.co.nz) offers a variety of climbs from NZ$120.
Walking – Choose from a range of walks in Mount Aspiring National Park from easy strolls through lowland forest to hiking mountain tracks.
The Department of Conservation office offers brochures and a wide range of info on all the local trails.
Eco Wanaka Adventures (www.ecowanaka.co.nz) offers a full-day guided Rob Roy Glacier Valley Trek priced from NZ$255; Siberia Experience (www.siberiaexperience.co.nz) offers a combo package of scenic flight, jet boat and a 3-hour guided walk in remote beech forests for NZ$347; while Wild Walks (www.wildwalks.co.nz) offers specialist mountain guides that take just five people maximum into remote backcountry locations. Their 3-day Mt. Aspiring Discovery costs from NZ$940.
Fishing – Fly-fishing opportunities abound in the Wanaka area, with numerous experienced guides operating on the rivers and lakes.
Lakeland Adventures (www.lakelandadventures.co.nz) offers guided trout fishing for three people from NZ$330; Southern Lakes Fishing Safaris (www.southernlakesfishing.co.nz) specializes in fly-fishing for all levels of experience and charges from NZ$675 for a full day for one to two people; and Eco Wanaka Adventures (www.ecowanaka.co.nz), offers a 3-hour boat fishing excursion from 9am, for NZ$195.
Golf – Tee-off at the Wanaka Golf Club (www.wanakagolf.co.nz), a challenging 18-hole course with stunning views. Cost: NZ$60 for 18 holes or NZ$40 for 9 holes.
Scenic Flights – Check out nature’s beauty with a scenic flight over glaciers, snow-capped mountains, rivers, forests and national parks.
Aspiring Air (www.nz-flights.com) offers a variety of scenic flights from NZ$185 around the Mount Aspiring, as well as a Milford Sound combo flight that includes a boat cruise for NZ$445; Alpine Helicopters (www.alpineheli.co.nz) offers a scenic flight over Wanaka for NZ$185; while Aspiring Helicopters (www.aspiringhelicopters.co.nz) offers a 50-minute Mount Aspiring and Glacier trip with snow landing for NZ$420.
Special Events & Festivals – Early January sees the Wanaka Rodeo, while February welcomes the Rippon Open-Air Music Festival, a biennial open-air music festival held in a vineyard.
In April, the classic Warbirds Over Wanaka International Air Show (www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com) combines dynamic air displays and aerobatics as well as a showcase of classic, vintage and veteran aircraft, fire engines and tractors. It is held every second Easter in even-numbered years; the next show is April 6–8, 2012.
Also in April is the Festival of Colour (www.festivalofcolour.co.nz), 5 days of intense arts, dance, theater, and music.
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The best time to visit Wanaka is anytime. Wanaka’s winter ski season runs from June to early October, while summer brings clear blue skies and long days to enjoy the region’s many adventure activities.
Winter, from June through August, sees an average temperature between -2°C (28°F) and 8°C (46°F), with generally frosty mornings, clear blue skies and cold temperatures.
With six international ski areas open from early June until early October, winter is best for skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing and heli-skiing.
Spring, from early September to late November brings unpredictable weather with a mix of sunshine and rain. Daytime temperatures ranging between 8°C (46°F) and 22°C (71°F).
Spring is still good for skiing as well as mountain biking and hiking. Rivers swell in spring making rafting and jetboating especially thrilling.
Summer, from early December to late February, sees long, sunny days with dawn breaking around 5am and dusk setting around 10pm.
Daytime temperatures range between a low of 20°C (68°F) and a high of 30°C (86°F).
Summer in Wanaka offers every adventure sport imaginable (except skiing and snowboarding, of course)
Autumn, from early March to late May, brings clear, settled days with around 10 hours of daylight. Temperatures range between 12°C (53°F) and 25°C (77°F). Autumn is still warm enough to enjoy most of the region’s summer activities.
Wanaka sits at the southern end of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago around 67km (41mi) north of Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand.
The most convenient route to Wanaka is by air to Queenstown Airport (ZQN), located around 7km (4mi) from the Queenstown CBD, followed by bus, taxi or hire car.
Queenstown Airport is about 65km (40mi) from Wanaka via Crown Range Road and takes about 1 hour by car, and 1 hour 35 minutes by bus via Cromwell, with the scheduled bus service running up to 5 times daily.
There are also daily bus services to and from Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown, Invercargill and Greymouth.
Latest update: Wanaka Honeymoon Guide: 19 November, 2019
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