Wanaka is one of our favorite places in New Zealand. Lake Wanaka is a gorgeous lake, surrounded by mountain peaks, waterfalls, lavender farms, vineyards, and forests. On a visit to Wanaka, take your pick from some of New Zealand’s most famous day hikes, go wine tasting, climb a via ferrata, and eat freshly baked chocolate chip cookies while you watch a movie.
In this guide, not only do we cover the best things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, but we also let you know how to plan your visit, how much time you should spend here, and where to eat and stay.
Get ready to explore one of New Zealand’s most beautiful places.
Table of Contents
Interesting Facts about Wanaka
Wanaka is located in the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand. The town of Wanaka sits on the southern end of Lake Wanaka. This lake is surrounded by several mountain ranges, including the Crown Range and the Southern Alps.
Mount Aspiring National Park sits to the north of Wanaka. Hiking the Rob Roy Glacier Trail in this park is one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
In the summer, visitors flock to Wanaka to go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and skydiving. In the winter, this becomes one of New Zealand’s top skiing destinations.
The town of Wanaka is small and filled with many great hotels and restaurants. On a warm day, one of the best things to do in Wanaka is to have lunch at an outdoor café with a view of the lake.
Wanaka sits about an hour from Queenstown. You can either visit Wanaka on a day trip from Queenstown or spend a few nights here.
Lake Wanaka from the Rocky Mountain Track
Best Things to Do in Wanaka
In no particular order, here is a list of the best things to do in Wanaka. At the end of this list, you can see all of them on a map.
1. Enjoy the View from Roy’s Peak
For one of the most iconic views of New Zealand, hike to Roy’s Peak.
Hiking Roy’s Peak Track | Things to Do in Wanaka
The view from Roy’s Peak Track | Things to Do in Wanaka
Another view from Roy’s Peak Track | Things to Do in Wanaka
This popular hike is located 10 minutes outside of Wanaka. It is a 16 km (10 mile) out-and-back hike that takes 5 to 7 hours. It’s a hefty climb to get to the top but your reward is one of the best views of New Zealand. From Roy’s Peak, you get panoramic views of Lake Wanaka, Glendhu Bay, Wanaka, and Mount Aspiring National Park.
This is one of our favorite experiences in Wanaka and one of our favorite hikes in New Zealand. Learn more in our Roy’s Peak Hiking Guide.
2. Climb a Waterfall
Advertised as the “world’s highest waterfall cable climb,” Wildwire takes those willing and able on thrilling via ferrata.
On this journey, you will climb a via ferrata alongside Twin Falls Waterfall. At several points, you will cross over the gorge on suspension bridges and tightropes.
We did this and it is tons of fun from start to finish. It’s the perfect activity for those who want to do something active and adventurous in Wanaka, that’s a bit different from hiking a trail.
Tim on one of the tightropes
There are three tour options, ranging from short and easy (great for beginners) to a longer, more challenging route that takes a good chunk of the day.
We did the Level 2 climb (the intermediate climb) which takes 4 to 5 hours. It’s just challenging enough to keep things interesting and you get some amazing views along this climb.
Learn more and get pricing on the official website.
3. Hike the Rob Roy Glacier Track
On this popular hike, you get to explore part of Mount Aspiring National Park and see the Rob Roy Glacier.
This hike is 10 km round trip, takes 3 to 4 hours, and is classified as easy. The trailhead is about a 1 hour drive from Wanaka.
Along this hike you get views of the Matukituki River, lush forests, and the main reason for doing this hike, Rob Roy Glacier.
Currently, this hiking trail is closed due to bridge damage. Get updates about its reopening here.
4. Cruise Lake Wanaka
One of the best things to do in Wanaka is to take some sort of boat trip or cruise of the lake.
On this one hour cruise, visit Ruby Island (a small island that sits in view of the town of Wanaka) and do a short walk on the island.
This tour takes a little longer (it is 2 hours long) but you get to cruise farther onto Lake Wanaka and visit Stevenson Island.
You can also take a happy hour sunset cruise of Lake Wanaka, while drinking a glass of wine or beer.
5. See #ThatWanakaTree
Sitting on Lake Wanaka, just a short distance from the shoreline, is a small willow tree. This tree is now one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand.
In 2014, a photo of this tree won the New Zealand Geographic photograph of the year. And ever since, this small tree has drawn lots of photographers and Instagrammers from around the world.
It’s now so famous on Instagram that it is called #ThatWanakaTree.
In 2020, a man with a saw chopped off the bottom limb of the tree, dramatically changing its appearance.
#ThatWanakaTree | Things to Do in Wanaka
Seeing this tree is a bit overrated and a very busy spot. But if you want to snap the iconic photo of the lake the tree, this is a quick visit, taking about 20 minutes of your time.
You can easily get to the viewpoint of #ThatWanakaTree by parking at the Wanaka Watersports Facility and walking along the beach to the tree. There is also a paved parking lot on Wanaka Mount Aspiring Road a short distance east of the Watersports Facility.
6. Viewpoints of Lake Wanaka
There are several great viewpoints of Lake Wanaka that are less crowded than #ThatWanakaTree. You can drive to each of these or connect them with the walking and biking trail that runs along the shoreline of Lake Wanaka.
This viewpoint is about a 5-minute drive north of the town of Wanaka. From here, you will look across the lake and, in the distance, can see the jagged peaks in Mount Aspiring National Park.
Beacon Point | Things to Do in Wanaka
Bremner Bay Beach
This viewpoint sits between Beacon Point and Wanaka town. It’s a little more interesting, in my opinion. There is a short walking trail here that runs on the outskirts of the peninsula of the Eely Point Reserve. From this trail, you get a beautiful view of the boats at the Wanaka Yacht Club and the town of Wanaka.
Bremner Bay Beach
Trail through Eely Point Reserve
Glendhu Bay Lookout
This viewpoint is located northeast of Wanaka, about a 10-minute drive from town. I loved this spot! From here, you look across Glendhu Bay and Bishops Bay to the mountains beyond. There were very few people here, so it feels a lot more peaceful than the uber popular #ThatWanakaTree.
Glendhu Bay | Things to Do in Wanaka
This is a very easy viewpoint to visit after hiking Roy’s Peak Track or driving to the Wildwire via ferrata, the Rob Roy Glacier Track, and Diamond Lake.
7. Walk or Bike along Lake Wanaka
There are a series of walking and biking trails that run along the south side of Lake Wanaka. If you are looking to do some sort of hike or walk, but you don’t necessarily want to climb a mountain, then this is a great option.
The Glendhu Bay Track runs from the Glendhu Bay Campground, past the Glendhu Bay Lookout (just mentioned above), to Ruby Island Road. It is 11 km one-way and takes about 3 hours. If you want to do the whole thing, it’s best to do it on a mountain bike, because of the distance. I hiked just a short part of the trail around the Glendhu Bay Lookout which was awesome. The views from the Ruby Road car park aren’t as interesting, in my opinion.
On the Glendhu Bay Track, you get views of Lake Wanaka and Glendhu Bay as well as tree covered paths like this one.
Also starting at Ruby Road is the Waterfall Creek Track. This trail runs along the beach to #ThatWanakaTree. From #ThatWanakaTree, you can continue the walk along the beach and into town.
The Beacon Point Walk links together Beacon Point and Bremner Bay, two viewpoints mentioned earlier. This trail runs along the east side of the lake, not far from the town of Wanaka. It takes 30 minutes one-way and is 1.5 km.
You can take your pick and walk one of these trails or rent a mountain bike and link them altogether. I walked a lot of sections of these trails and saw a lot of people on mountain bikes. Outside Sports and Wanaka Bike Tours both rent bicycles in Wanaka.
8. The Mount Iron Track
This is one of the shorter hikes to do in Wanaka. This 4.5 km/2.8 mile loop starts just outside of the town of Wanaka. The trail climbs Mount Iron for panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the town of Wanaka. It’s a great option for those who want an aerial view of the area without doing a longer, more strenuous hike such as Roy’s Peak or the Diamond Lake Trail.
Learn more here.
Mount Iron Track | KarlosXII/shutterstock.com
9. The Diamond Lake & Rocky Mountain Track
This is yet another gorgeous hike to do while in Wanaka.
This 7.3 km/4.5 mile trail offers incredible vistas over both Diamond Lake and Lake Wanaka, while being structured in a way that allows for greater freedom when deciding how to complete your route.
The views from this hike are spectacular and rival those of Roy’s Peak. This hiking trail tends to be a little less crowded than Roy’s Peak, so if you like the idea of a scenic hike without tons of other hikers, this is a great one to consider.
The view from the Rocky Mountain Track | Things to Do in Wanaka
This hike is located about 15 minutes from Wanaka. It is very close to the Wildwire via ferrata.
The trails in this area form several loops so there are several ways to do this hike. Get the full details in our guide to the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track.
10. Isthmus Peak Track
This challenging hike takes you to Isthmus Peak. At this point, you’ll be standing at 1,385 meters and have panoramic views of Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka, The Neck, and the Southern Alps.
The Isthmus Peak Track is 16 km/10 miles out-and-back, is rated as advanced, and takes 5 to 7 hours. It’s also located a fair distance from Wanaka, taking about 25 minutes to drive here.
Learn more here.
Isthmus Peak Track | Hot Pixels Photography/shutterstock.com
11. Go Skiing
During the winter months, the snow-covered mountains around Wanaka become a haven for skiers, snowboarders, dog sledders, and snowshoers.
There are four ski resorts in and around Wanaka: Cardrona Alpine Resort (longest ski season in the area), Snow Farm (best place to go for cross-country skiing), Treble Cone (largest ski area on the South Island), and Soho Basin (backcountry skiing).
12. Cinema Paradiso
This is one of our favorite movie cinemas in the world. Cinema Paradiso is a small theater in the center of Wanaka. Rather than your traditional stadium-style seating you see in most movie theaters, at Cinema Paradiso you can relax on a comfy sofa, in a recliner, or even an antique car.
On the menu are salads, sandwiches, pizza, nachos, burgers, beer, and wine.
The best part of the experience is intermission, where the movie is paused and you can purchase a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from the cafe.
While in Wanaka, we love hiking in the morning and watching a movie at Cinema Paradiso in the afternoon.
Get the upcoming movie schedule and purchase your tickets in advance on the official website.
Cinema Paradiso | Things to Do in Wanaka
13. Puzzling World
Advertised as Wanaka’s World of Weirdness, Puzzling World offers all types of puzzles to flex your brain. Escape from an illusion room, navigate the maze, and take wacky photos in the trick eye rooms. This is one of the best things to do in Wanaka with kids.
14. The National Transport and Toy Museum
This museum contains one of the largest private collections of aircraft, toys, and vehicles in the world. On site are more than 60,000 toys, 600 vehicles, and an aviation museum. These items were collected by Gerald Rhodes and then turned into this multi-building museum.
This is a great rainy day activity in Wanaka and another place to bring the kids. Learn more on the official website.
15. The Wanaka Lavender Farm
This is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Wanaka. Twenty acres of manicured gardens are filled with flowers, fruit and vegetable gardens, animal pens, and of course, fields of lavender.
On a visit here, you can explore the gardens, sample their honey and lavender products, have a cup of tea, play Giant Jenga, and meet the farm animals. A visit here lasts about 1 to 2 hours.
The Lavender Farm is open all year. The best time to see the lavender in bloom is in the summer (December, January and February) but the blooms can last into autumn.
Learn more on the official website.
Wanaka Lavender Farm | Cjspencer42/shutterstock.com
16. Visit a Winery
There are several great wineries to visit in and around Wanaka.
Rippon Vineyard is the most popular. It is located just outside of the town of Wanaka. From this vineyard, you get stunning views of Lake Wanaka, making this a wonderful place for a wine tasting. Tastings are by appointment only.
Aitken’s Folly Vineyard is another winery that gets rave reviews. They produce mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Learn more on their website.
Maude Wines is located in town and from their tasting room, you have a fabulous view of Lake Wanaka. They offer tastings and small bites. It’s best to make a reservation in advance.
Nanny Goat Vineyard is located 15 minutes outside of Wanaka. At their cellar door, take a guided tasting of their wines, dine on the grazing platter, cheese platter, or cheese toastie, and enjoy views of the farm.
17. Visit Mou Waho Island
Mou Waho Island is located on Lake Wanaka. It can only be reached by boat and once here, you can explore one of the most unique islands in New Zealand. Mou Waho is an island in a lake, on an island in a lake, on an island in the ocean.
If you want to venture off the beaten path in Wanaka, you can do so on this 3 hour cruise and nature walk of Mou Waho Island.
Mou Waho Island | Anna Dunlop/shutterstock.com
18. Visit Cardrona
Cardrona is a tiny town that sits 20 minutes south of Wanaka. Cardrona is famous for its historic hotel and Bra Fence. If you are driving to Wanaka from Queenstown, if you choose to take the driving route over the Crown Range, you will drive right through Cardrona, so it’s worth a quick stop for photos here.
Inside of the Cardrona hotel is a gastropub that is one of the highest rated restaurants in the area.
Cardrona Bra Fence
19. Drive the Crown Range
Crown Range Road is the highest main road in New Zealand. This road twists and turns until it reaches its highest point at 1,121 meters/3,700 feet. On this drive, there are several viewpoints to pause and enjoy the view: the Arrow Junction Lookout Point, the Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout, and from the summit.
Arrow Junction Lookout Point
In the winter months, you must be carrying chains and keep an eye on the weather before making this drive.
Even outside of the winter months, it is slow going on this road, with some hairpin turns, steep gradients, and frequent curves. However, you get some gorgeous views from this drive, so it is a great way to connect Queenstown and Wanaka.
20. Aerial View of Wanaka
One of the best things to do in Wanaka is to see it from the sky. There are several flightseeing trips to choose from as well as the opportunity to go skydiving.
On this short scenic helicopter flight, soar over the Matukituki Valley and over the Southern Alps, with a glacier landing in the Alps.
This helicopter flightseeing tour is a longer (about 1 hour) but offers two glacier landings and up-close views of Mount Aspiring.
Finally, thrill seekers can go skydiving above Wanaka, choosing between a 9,000, 12,000, or 15,000 foot freefall.
Best Things to Do in Wanaka: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
How Much Time Do You Need in Wanaka?
At a minimum, plan on spending one full day in Wanaka. This gives you enough time to go hiking in the morning and in the afternoon, watch a movie at Cinema Paradiso, go wine tasting, visit the lavender farm, or one of the other attractions in town.
With more time, you can add on more hikes in Wanaka, the via ferrata, or take a boat tour of Lake Wanaka.
Lake Wanaka beach | Things to Do in Wanaka
Where to Eat in Wanaka
There is no shortage of great restaurants and cafes in Wanaka.
On Brownston Street sits a collection of food trucks. This is a great spot to grab a quick bite to eat, and with lots of options, everyone in your group will be happy. Burrito Craft serves great Mexican food, get coffee and crepes at Charlie Brown’s Crepes, and get fried chicken at Firebird.
Big Fig is a café that serves healthy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes with vegan and gluten-free options.
Bistro Gentil is a highly rated wine bar that serves French food and has great views from its outdoor patio. Prior guests rave about the “trust the chef” option on the menu.
The Spice Room is the place to go for great Indian food and Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is the place to go for pasta and pizza.
If you have plans to visit Cardrona, the Cardrona Hotel runs a gastropub that gets rave reviews.
Where to Stay in Wanaka
LUXURY: Lakeside Apartments. This property is located in the heart of Wanaka. Rooms are apartments with 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms. These apartments come with a kitchen and washing machine so they are a great pick for families and long term travelers. There is an onsite pool and some rooms have amazing views of Lake Wanaka.
UPSCALE: Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages. This property has an excellent location on the west side of Wanaka. Rooms range from standard king rooms to three bedroom cottages. It gets near perfect reviews on Booking.com but be aware that only those over 16 years old can stay here.
UPSCALE: Lakeside Luxury 2 Bedroom Apartment. This 2 bedroom apartment has stunning views of Lake Wanaka (click the link to see photos!), a kitchen, washing machine, free parking, and an indoor swimming pool.
MID-RANGE: Altamont Lodge. This beautiful lodge is located near Wanaka Homestead Lodge and offers single, double, and family rooms. Some rooms have private bathrooms and some have shared bathrooms. There is a communal kitchen and dining area.
MID-RANGE: Wanaka Heights Motel. This motel offers studios, family rooms and a one bedroom apartment. It is located in Wanaka, within walking distance of the lakefront and most restaurants.
BUDGET: Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park. This is where we stayed in Wanaka, in the family studio. There are lots of room options, from motel studios to three bedroom apartments. There are also campervan sites and campsites, as well as shared laundry.
The view of Wanaka from Roy’s Peak Track | Things to Do in Wanaka
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Wanaka worth it?
Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful towns. This lakeside town is the perfect place to make your home base and from here you can hike several of New Zealand’s most famous hiking trails, go wine tasting, cruise Lake Wanaka, watch a movie in cozy Cinema Paradiso, and even go rock climbing, skydiving, or take a scenic flight. Wanaka is definitely worth adding to a New Zealand road trip.
How many days do you need in Wanaka?
As many as possible. 😊 With one day in Wanaka, you can hike one of its great trails, go wine tasting or watch a movie at Cinema Paradiso, cruise Lake Wanaka, and have dinner in town. Each additional day you can add onto your itinerary allows you to do more hiking, climb the Wildwire via ferrata, visit attractions such as the Lavender Farm or Puzzling World, walk or bike along Lake Wanaka, and day trip to nearby locations. Two to three days in Wanaka would be a great addition to any New Zealand itinerary.
How do you spend one day in Wanaka?
Start the day on one of the hiking trails. Roy’s Peak and Diamond Lake are great picks. Have lunch in Wanaka. The food trucks on Browntown Street are a a great option, particularly for those who want good, quick food. In the afternoon, take your pick from activities such as wine tasting, the Lavender Farm, a scenic walk along Lake Wanaka, or watching a movie at Cinema Paradiso. In the evening, have dinner.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Wanaka, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand
NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP: With 3 weeks in New Zealand, visit the highlights on a road trip to the North Island and South Island. If you have less time, you can shorten this itinerary by spending 2 weeks on the South Island.
SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, spend a day or two in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, visit Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, go on a helicopter flight to see Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers from the sky, and learn about the best things to do in Queenstown. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.
SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARIES: Whether you have one week or three on the South Island of New Zealand, plan your visit with our one week itinerary, 10 day itinerary, and 2 week itinerary. Each itinerary lists multiple ways to plan your road trip, depending on your interests.
NORTH ISLAND: Top experiences on the North Island include spending a day or two in Auckland, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, visiting Cathedral Cove, touring Hobbiton, cruising the Bay of Islands, and seeing glowworms and blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. For the full list, read our article about the Best Things to Do on the North Island.
We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.
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