One of the most popular destinations for locals and international tourists alike, Wanaka lays nestled among the towering peaks of the Southern Alps in the lower South Island. The township itself sits at the foot of the lake of the same name – Lake Wanaka – and is popular with skiers and snowboarders in the winter while holiday makers and boaties make the most out of its shores in the summer.
The Wanaka Township is a hub of activity no matter what time of the year with plenty of adventure tourism operators, cafes, restaurants, bars, accommodation providers and shopping for visitors of all ages.
The picturesque Lake Wanaka takes out the title of New Zealand’s fourth largest and stretches over a vast 192 km. Nearby Lake Hawea almost joins Lake Wanaka roughly half way down at what it known as ‘The Neck’, the two lakes provide a huge amount of opportunity for water based activities such as swimming, sailing boating and fishing and the rivers that feed into it are ideal for jet-boating, kayaking and white water rafting.
You will find the Treble Cone Ski Area and the Cardrona Alpine Resort both within 30 minutes’ drive of Wanaka. These two ski resorts are both among the best ski areas in Queenstown and offer world class on and off-piste runs with excellent powder, and snow making facilities.
For the more experienced, a heliski or heliboard trip allows you to drop in by helicopter and stir up the powder in the stunning Southern Alps. The ski season in Wanaka runs from June through to October (weather dependent of course).
If you are searching for something a little more ‘off the beaten track’ and you are an intermediate to advanced level skier, the privately owned Soho Basin ski field is roughly 40 minutes from Wanaka. Soho is the ultimate in back country skiing with over 500 metres of pristine high country terrain. Escape the crowds (groups of no more than 24 people are permitted) and hit the slopes in style at Soho Basin ski field, includes Snowcat access to the mountain.
Wanaka is packed full of exciting adventure activities designed to get the adrenaline pumping! Here are our top 5 adventure activities in Wanaka.
Have the canyoning experience of your life in this Deep Canyoning experience complete with waterfalls, deep forest pools, slippery rock faces and cliffs. Prices start from $270 for a half day trip.
Get off the beaten track – literally and enjoy a 4WD tour with Ridgeline Adventures combining a commentary of Wanaka’s rich history, modern-day farming life and simply breath-taking scenery. Prices start from $175 per person.
Take a spin down the mighty Clutha River in a speeding jet boat with Go Jets Wanaka. Allow about 1.5 hours and don’t forget to pack a warm jacket. Prices start from $129 per adult and there are family rates available.
Enjoy a scenic flight with a difference and see the breath-taking Wanaka scenery in a Vintage Tigermoth. Prices start from $255 for 20 minutes, right up to $395 (includes a picnic lunch).
Take to the air and see Lake Wanaka from a whole different perspective in a single or tandem parasailing flight. Glide majestically 250 metres above the lake, prices start at $150 per person.
The nearby Mt Aspiring National Park is a national treasure and a world heritage area, filled with short or long walks through forest and alpine scenery. For the cyclist, there are both on-road and off-road tracks along the lake or up into the mountains.
What are the must-do’s when in Wanaka? Read on to find out about the best local attractions.
Puzzling fun for all ages, Puzzling World is a great activity for the whole family. Don’t miss the Great Maze – a world first 3D Super Maze and the mind bending illusion rooms. Entry to some parts of the complex are free, you can pay for entry to the Great Maze for $18 per adult and $14 per child along with the Illusion Rooms or do both for a discounted fee.
Crossfire near the Wanaka airport are the people to see for a wide range of mini adventure fun. Try your hand at clay bird shooting, target shooting at the rifle range, or archery and then hit a few golf balls at the driving range, and play a round of mini golf. Or head on over to the “Battlefield” for an epic shoot out (with foam balls of course!). Prices vary across the different activities but look out for the latest combo deals and save.
The perfect activity for a rainy day, the Warbirds and Wheels Museum is filled to the brim with rare and exotic classic and vintage cars and aircraft. Stop by the diner after you’ve finished exploring the museum and get a classic New Zealand ‘Warbirds pie’ at the retro style diner.
Spend some time on this challenging 18 hole golf course complete with stunning views and on-site Pro Shop. Club hire is available along with cart and trundler hire. There is also a driving range to get in a bit of practice! To play the full 18 holes it will cost around $70 or for 9 holes $40.
Located just an hours scenic drive from Queenstown, Wanaka is easily accessible for visitors to the region and makes for a great destination for exploring further afield.
Queenstown airport provides an easy link to the region with both national and international flights available.
All the major car rental companies have branches in Queenstown making hiring a car from the airport easy and straightforward. There are also shuttle buses transporting passengers from the airport to central Queenstown. Car hire is also available in Wanaka from several local providers.
It is possible to make the drive to Wanaka yourself, these are the approximate drive times from the major towns and cities in the area.
Getting to Wanaka from Queenstown without a hire car is possible on daily bus services provided by two main bus companies, these are:
Need transportation to make the most of Lake Wanaka and the Otago region? View our full range of affordable Queenstown rental cars and explore the best of Wanaka and beyond at your leisure.
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View other New Zealand attractions in the photograph gallery.