33 BEST Things To Do In Wanaka In Winter (From A Local)

Last Updated on May 26, 2022 by ashleighsatlas

Are you looking for the best things to do in Wanaka in Winter?

I moved to Wanaka in Winter last year to work at a ski resort, so I know all the best Wanaka Winter activities. (I was just supposed to stay for a ski season, but I’m still here).

Are you in Wanaka for a ski trip and looking for other things to do? Or visiting in Wanaka in Winter and you don’t like skiing?

Keep reading to find out the best things to to in Wanaka in Winter that I actually recommend to my family and friends who visit (from a local). Find out the best things to do:

  • If you love snow
  • If you’re near Cardrona
  • If you prefer staying off the snow
  • If you’re a foodie
  • If you like nature and pretty views
  • The best day trips
Wanaka-Travel-Guide

Contents

33 Best Wanaka Winter Activities

If you love snow…

1. Go skiing or snowboarding at Cardrona or Treble Cone

The best thing to do in Wanaka in Winter is go skiing or snowboarding. Wanaka is one of the best places in New Zealand for skiing. The two main ski fields are Cardrona and Treble Cone.

There are also two ski fields in Queenstown: the Remarkables and Coronet Peak. I recommend splitting your time between the two. Spend a few days in Queenstown and a few days in Wanaka.

If you’re planning a ski trip to Wanaka, make sure you read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka. I share a detailed comparison (pros and cons) of each ski field to help you choose the best ski field for you. I also share all my top tips and FAQ about skiing in Wanaka, including the best time to go (which you need to read if you want to miss the lines).

2. Go tubing at Snow Farm

Want to go tubing or tobogganing? Cardrona and Treble Cone don’t allow tubing or toboggans, but you can do it at Snow Farm which has a dedicated area. You can’t take your own toboggan, but you can rent one from Snow Farm.

3. Try snowshoeing at Snow Farm

Not a fan of skiing? Try snowshoeing at Snow Farm. Not sure what snowshoeing is? It’s like hiking in the snow. Essentially you strap on a snowshoe (which helps to grip the snow) and go for a walk along flat trails.

I found it harder than expected (trying to walk through snow is tiring work), but it’s a fun option to get out on the snow if you don’t like skiing, or just want to try something different.

4. Go cross-country skiing and stay overnight at a backcountry hut

The only place to go cross-country skiing near Wanaka is at Snow Farm. A really popular option is cross-country skiing to a backcountry hut (it’s a 1-3 hour ski) and staying overnight.

5. Do a husky sled ride with UnderDog

If you’re never been on a husky sled ride before, you need to add it to your bucket list. It’s expensive, but so worth it. It’s one of the best experiences of my life.

UnderDog do husky sled rides near Snow Farm. You can either drive your own sled or let a guide drive you. They also do overnight trips and night runs.

I really recommend driving your own sled rather than having a guide drive. It’s such an incredible experience and not that difficult.

Disclaimer: I’ve been on a husky sled ride in Canada, but I haven’t done it in Wanaka yet. I can’t comment on this particular tour, but it’s on my my bucket list and looks amazing.

6. Go heli-skiing for a once in a lifetime experience

Love skiing and looking for a once in a lifetime experience? Go heli-skiing with Harris Mountains Heli-Ski or Southern Lakes Helsinki.

You will be skiing backcountry, so you should be at least an intermediate or advanced skier. I only learnt to ski when I moved to Wanaka last year, so I haven’t felt confident enough to go heli-skiing yet. I’m hoping I’ll be ready at the end of the next Winter season.

7. Watch the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival

If you love snow, make sure you watch the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival.

It’s similar to the type of films they show at the Banff Mountain Film Festival (which I also love). There’s a mix of skiing, snowboarding, climbing, rafting, biking and hiking. There’s also a mix of New Zealand and overseas based films. They also have a variety of guest speakers.

If you’re not in Wanaka or Queenstown when it’s screening, you can also buy an online pass and stream it online. This is what I did last year and it was definitely worth it.

8. Go to a music festival on the snow

The ski fields in Wanaka and Queenstown always host music festivals on the mountain each year. Music festivals aren’t really my scene so I’ve never been to one, but they’re super popular and they usually get quite big artists. Keep an eye out on the ski fields’ social media for upcoming festivals.

If you’re near Cardrona…

9. Sample whisky and gin at the Cardrona Distillery

Even if you don’t like whisky or gin, I’d highly recommend going to the Cardrona Distillery. It’s a family owned distillery in a beautiful valley, just opposite the turn off to the Cardrona ski field.

They take you on an a tour of the distillery and then afterwards you go to a tasting room to try the whisky and gin.

Unfortunately I was the sober driver when I went, so I only had a very tiny sip of each one, but they were delicious. Even if you can’t try the samples, it’s still worth visiting for the distillery tour.

10. Have lunch at the historic Cardrona Hotel

You’ve probably seen lots of photos of the Cardrona Hotel. It’s a beautiful historic hotel and definitely worth stopping at to get some photos. I also recommend popping in for lunch and drinks. The food is very good, there’s a cozy atmosphere inside, and a lovely outdoor fireplace and eating area.

11. See the Cardrona Bra Fence

Ah, the bra fence. If you’re driving to Cardrona you will see it. It’s basically hundreds of bras stuck to a fence. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it, but if you’re driving past it’s worth stopping for a quick look.

RELATED: Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka

If you prefer staying off the snow…

12. Go for a scenic glacier flight

Want to see the mountains but don’t want to ski on them? Or just want to see the best views in Wanaka? Go for a scenic flight around Mt Aspiring.

Mt Aspiring is my favourite area in Wanaka. It is absolutely beautiful and full of snowy mountains and glaciers. One of my favourite walks of all time, the Rob Roy Glacier, is in Mt Aspiring. It has amazing glacier views, although it’s generally not safe to walk to in Winter.

The best way to see the glaciers is by doing a scenic flight. I haven’t done it personally yet but it’s on my bucket list.

13. Go shopping at Wanaka’s local independent boutiques

If you’re in Wanaka, make sure you check out the local shops. The shops in Wanaka are unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. There are no big chain stores or tacky souvenir shops. Every shop is locally owned and beautifully curated.

14. Visit Wanaka’s local markets

If you like markets, check out the Wanaka Artisan Market. It’s small and there are only a handful of stores. It’s a mixture of food and craft. Everything is locally made. My favourite stores are the homemade soap (I have the cinnamon clove soap which smells like Christmas) and a local mother and daughter who sell homemade elderflower drinks.

It’s on Thursdays from 3-6pm outside the Speights Ale House.

15. Watch a movie and eat freshly baked cookies at Paradiso Cinema

I would normally never recommend going to the movies if you’re on vacation. But the Paradiso Cinema in Wanaka is an experience in itself and definitely worth going to. It’s locally owned, has couches you can sit on, and at intermission you can get freshly baked cookies (the ginger white chocolate is my favourite).

16. Soak in hot pools at Lake Hāwea

Everyone’s heard of the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown, but not many people have heard of the LandEscape Hot Pools in Lake Hawea. Lake Hawea is one of my favourite areas in Wanaka and I think it’s prettier than Lake Wānaka.

You can rent a private hot tub which is on a paddock in the middle of nowhere on a local family’s farm. There are beautiful views and you’re surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

17. Visit the Instagram famous Wanaka Tree

I have controversial opinions about the Wanaka Tree. I think it’s too touristy and overrated, but it’s also really easy to see so I think it’s worth visiting quickly.

If you’re planning to see the Wanaka Tree, make sure you read my Ultimate Guide to the Wanaka Tree to find out the best time to go for your best chance of getting good photos.

18. Get lost at Puzzling World

Most tourists visit Puzzling World when they come to Wanaka. Honestly, I think it’s overrated. Personally I don’t understand why you would go to a maze when you could be exploring some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand instead.

But I have been there a few times and it can be a fun rainy day activity, especially if you have kids.

Wanaka-Travel-Guide

If you’re a foodie…

19. Have brunch at one of Wanaka’s best cafes

Wanaka has some amazing cafes. There are no big chain stores here. The cafes are independently owned and the food is locally sourced. My favourite places for brunch are Arc and Scroggin.

20. Try Wanaka’s (many) food trucks

Make sure you check out the food trucks when you’re in Wanaka. There are a lot. I’ve never seen so many food trucks in one city before. They’re spread out all around the town.

A good place to start is the food truck park on Brownston Street. It’s not marked on Google maps but follow the directions to Burrito Craft (which is one of the best food trucks – and what I had for dinner last night!).

21. Have dinner at one of Wanaka’s top restaurants

If you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy to know Wanaka has some amazing restaurants that rival some of the best food I’ve had. Make sure you don’t miss Kika which is my favourite. Get the trust the chef tasting menu.

22. Try craft beer at Wanaka’s local breweries

I don’t even like beer, but I love visiting Wanaka’s local breweries. It’s just like a winery tour (which I love) but for beer. Most of them have non-beer options if you’re not a beer drinker. Make sure you try the alcoholic ginger beer at B social.

There are three local breweries: B social, Ground Up, and Rhyme and Reason. They all have different vibes so I’d recommend visiting all of them.

23. Sample wine overlooking Lake Wanaka at Rippon Vineyard

Did you know there is a vineyard in the centre of Wanaka which overlooks the lake? Stop at Rippon Vineyard for a wine tasting and beautiful views. It’s only a few minutes’ walk past the Wanaka Tree.

24. Visit Wanaka’s best vineyards on a winery tour

Most of Wanaka’s vineyards are outside town in Central Otago. Most of them are open over Winter, although a couple of the smaller ones are closed. Not sure which vineyards to visit? Read my Guide to the 5 Best Wineries in Bannockburn.

The best way to see them is on a winery tour so you don’t have to worry about finding a sober driver.

If you like nature and pretty views…

25. Drive to Glendhu Bay and Mt Aspiring

One of my favourite things to do in Wanaka is the drive from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay and Mt Aspiring. This area has the best scenery in Wanaka.

It’s where the most popular day hikes are, like Roys Peak, Rob Roy Glacier, and Diamond Lake. Unfortunately most of the walks are generally unsafe in Winter, although I have done them in Winter when there was no snow. If you’re thinking of doing a walk, make sure you contact the DOC office first to check conditions.

Even if you can’t do a walk, it’s still worth driving from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay or Mt Aspiring just for the beautiful scenery. I think the views are just as good as the popular drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy.

26. See a bright blue lake at the Wanaka Blue Pools

One of my favourite things to see in Wanaka is the Blue Pools. It’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand that you should definitely add to your bucket list.

It’s only a short drive from Wanaka and definitely worth it. You can also visit them in Winter, unlike most of the other walks in Wanaka.

Read my Ultimate Guide to the Blue Pools before you visit for all my top tips.

28. Walk up Mt Iron for beautiful views over Wanaka

You might not be able to walk up Roys Peak over Winter, but you can still get beautiful views if you go up Mt Iron. It can get a little icy and slippery in Winter, but it’s generally safe to walk in Winter and there is no avalanche risk like Roys Peak and Rob Roy Glacier.

Read my Ultimate Guide to Mt Iron for more photos, my honest review, and all my top tips.

28. Find a spot or go for a walk around Lake Wānaka

There are lots of lovely spots to sit and short walks around Lake Wānaka, which you can easily do over Winter. These are my favourites:

  1. Millennium Walkway
  2. Eely Point and Bremner Bay
  3. Beacon Point
  4. Waterfall Creek
  5. Outlet Track

They’re really popular with locals but not tourists, so you won’t find them on Google maps. Click on the links above to read my Ultimate Guides with easy to follow directions.

Wanaka-Travel-Guide

The best day trips…

29. Go to New Zealand’s adventurous capital Queenstown

You can’t really visit Wanaka and not go to Queenstown. If you’re in New Zealand for a ski holiday, I recommend splitting your time between both. Spend a few days in Queenstown and a few days in Wanaka.

They have a very different vibe. Queenstown has a busy, touristy, party vibe. Wanaka is quiet, chilled and relaxed. They both have pros and cons so I recommend exploring both.

Going to Queenstown? Make sure you read my Ultimate Guide to Queenstown to find the best things to do (and the tourist traps to avoid).

30. Relax at the beautiful Onsen Hot Pools

Wondering if it’s worth driving an hour to go to the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown? Yes. The Onsen Hot Pools are a luxury experience in a beautiful location overlooking the Shotover River and mountains. They book up quickly so make sure to book in advance.

31. Visit the famous gold mining town Arrowtown

I have mixed views on Arrowtown. I do think it has lovely charming historic buildings, but I also think it has sadly been ruined by over-tourism. The main street has been taken over by tourists, cars and souvenir shops. I still think it’s worth visiting, just bear this in mind if you’re not a fan of super touristy places.

32. See a tourist free gold mining village in Cromwell

I always thought Cromwell was a boring ugly town. Before I moved to Wanaka, I’d just driven past on the main road, and thought there was nothing to see.

But, Cromwell actually has an amazing Old Town, which is off the main road. It’s like a mini-Arrowtown, but without the tourists or tacky souvenir shops. It’s also on a lovely bright blue lake. It’s definitely worth doing a day trip to Cromwell to see the Cromwell Heritage Precinct.

RELATED: Ultimate Guide to Central Otago and Cromwell

33. Visit the cute historic town Clyde

I love Clyde. If it’s not already on your itinerary, I’d highly recommend doing a day trip there. It’s a tiny cute town with historic stone buildings. It’s also worth visiting Clyde just for the beautiful drive there. You follow the brightest blue river you will ever see. Make sure you read my guide to the best things to do near Clyde.

RELATED: Ultimate Guide to Clyde and Central Otago

Wanaka Accommodation

Looking for the best Wanaka accommodation? These are my top recommendations:

  1. Mahu Whenua
  2. Wanaka Haven
  3. Distinction Wanaka Serviced Apartments
  4. Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages
  5. Cross Hill Glamping
  6. Cardrona Hotel
  7. The Lindis
  8. Minaret Station

Looking for other Wanaka or New Zealand inspo?

Looking for other things to do in Wanaka and New Zealand? Read my other travel guides:

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