Planning a trip to Wanaka?
I live in Wanaka, so I know all the best places to go (and where to miss). I’ve also done every popular walk in Wanaka (and a few random ones you’ve never heard of) so I can tell you which ones are the best.
Before I moved to Wanaka, I’d only been to Wanaka twice (just in passing) and I didn’t know what the big deal was.
If I’m honest, I thought it was kind of boring and overrated.
But now that I live here, I’ve discovered it’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand – if you know the right places to go.
Keep reading for my ultimate guide to Wanaka: the best places you should go, where you should miss, and all my top tips for travelling in Wanaka.
TOP 10 PLACES YOU SHOULDN’T MISS
When friends are visiting Wanaka, these are the top places I tell them they shouldn’t miss:
- Rob Roy Glacier: One of the best walks I’ve ever done. It’s a fairly early three-hour return walk to a glacier. A very underrated walk. Read my ultimate guide to Rob Roy Glacier here.
- Blue Pools: One of my favourite places in New Zealand that you shouldn’t miss. Read my ultimate guide to the Blue Pools here. The drive there is just as beautiful as the pools – don’t miss the Best Places to Stop on the Haast Pass and the Lake Hawea Lookout.
- Isthmus Peak: One of the best walks I’ve ever done (yes I know I said that above). Incredibly beautiful views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Almost every Wanaka local will tell you it’s better than Roys Peak. Read my ultimate guide to Isthmus Peak here.
- Diamond Lake walk: I always take my family and friends here when they visit Wanaka. It’s a good alternative to Roy’s Peak (or Isthmus Peak) if you don’t want to walk that far. It’s only 2-3 hours return and has similar views. Read my complete guide to Diamond Lake here.
- Wanaka Lavender Farm: If you’re in Wanaka during lavender season (December to February), make sure you go here. One of my fav lavender farms in the world (and I’ve been to a lot). Read my ultimate guide to the Wanaka Lavender Farm here.
- Mou Waho Island: Go on a boat cruise to Mou Waho Island, a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Wanaka. It has a lake on the island – the famous saying is it’s an “island in a lake, on an island in a lake, on an island in the ocean”. You can also do a boat cruise to Ruby Island, another popular island on Lake Wanaka.
- Skiing at Cardrona or Treble Cone: Wanaka is one of the best places in New Zealand to go skiing. I recommend spending a few days skiing in Queenstown and a few days skiing in Wanaka. Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
- Winery tour: There’s a couple of wineries in Wanaka, but most of them are out of town. Not sure which vineyards to go to? Read my Guide to the 5 Best Bannockburn Vineyards. Or go on a winery tour and explore the local vineyards.
- Shop at local boutiques: Wanaka has no large chain stores. Instead, there’s lots of lovely locally owned small boutiques.
- Cardrona Distillery and Cardrona Hotel: There’s always lots of tourists taking photos of the Cardrona Hotel, but it’s a really cute building and the food is good. The Cardrona Distillery is just across the road and does a great whisky and gin tour.
OVERRATED PLACES YOU SHOULD MISS
Wondering if somewhere is worth going? Here’s my honest review of the places you can skip…
- Wanaka Tree: Don’t even get me started ranting about the Wanaka Tree. I think it’s very overrated, but it’s easy to visit so I do think it’s worth popping in to see quickly. If you’re still undecided, read my ultimate guide to the Wanaka Tree for my full honest opinion to help you decide if it’s worth adding to your bucket list.
- Puzzling World: I’m probably offending 90957575 people by saying this, but I really don’t get why everyone goes here? I’ve been here a few times and it can be fun (especially if you’re with kids), but really it’s just a cheesy touristy trap (sorry).
- Roys Peak: Another controversial one. It does have beautiful views and I’d still recommend it, but if you ask any Wanaka local they will tell you it’s boring, touristy and overrated. They will probably also tell you that Diamond Lake and Isthmus Peak are better.
- Mt Iron: It’s a nice walk and I’ve done it a lot. But there are better walks in Wanaka. Still not sure if you should do it? Read my Ultimate Guide to Mt Iron and see all my photos here.
BEST OF WANAKA
Not sure where to start? Read my curated collection of the best things to do in Wanaka.
Best of Wanaka
Best Wanaka walks
Best Wanaka swimming spots
Skiing in Wanaka
WANT MORE SUGGESTIONS?
Feeling overwhelmed? Want more suggestions? Download my Wanaka Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Wanaka.
TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN WANAKA
HOW TO GET AROUND WANAKA?
If you’re just visiting the Wanaka township, you can get around by walking. It’s a small town – there’s only a few streets.
But the best places in Wanaka are outside the main township. The easiest way to see them is by car.
DRIVING: The best way to get around Wanaka is driving. The best spots are out of town and there’s no public transport to them. I always use rentalcars.com to book a rental car – you can easily compare every rental car company, just like Skyscanner or booking.com.
BUS: You can get a bus to Wanaka with Intercity. There are also local buses in Wanaka, but they’re designed for local commuters and just go around the local suburbs. It won’t take you to any of the popular places like Roys Peak, Diamond Lake, Blue Pools etc which are all out of town.
SHUTTLES: You can get a shuttle between Queenstown and Wanaka for around $30 each way. Shuttles are also a reasonably popular way for tourists to get around Wanaka. See the Wanaka Tourism website who can help you book.
TAXI/UBER: There are two taxi companies in Wanaka – Yello Cabs and Wana Taxi. They’re small taxi companies and I recommend booking in advance, especially if you want to go outside the main township. It would be a hassle with a taxi (especially if you’re doing a walk out of town); it’s much easier to have your own car. There’s no Uber in Wanaka.
TRAINS: There are no trains that go to Wanaka.
TOURS: Wanaka is a small town which you can easily see yourself, so there’s not many “tours” of Wanaka. But there are lots of boat cruises, winery tours, and adventurous day trips (kayaking, waterfall climbing, jet boating etc). I recommend these Wanaka tours:
ACCOMMODATION IN WANAKA
Honestly I don’t love most of the hotels/resorts in Wanaka. There are a few incredibly beautiful luxury hotels just out of Wanaka (some of the best in New Zealand), but most of the hotels in the actual Wanaka township are dated and overpriced.
There are also some beautiful Airbnbs. Check if they’re on booking.com – they’re often cheaper and you get really good discounts if you’re part of the booking.com loyalty programme.
I also love Mr & Mrs Smith – it’s a curated collection of the best luxury boutique hotels in the world. There’s only one Wanaka hotel on there (they have very high standards to make the list) – Mahu Whenua.
I would prioritise finding a nice hotel/bnb over location. Wanaka is a small town so location isn’t important – you can easily drive everywhere and there’s lots of free parking.
Looking for the best luxury hotels and cute B&Bs in Wanaka? Add these to your bucket list:
- Mahu Whenua (The most luxurious hotel in Wanaka. It’s outside town near Glendhu Bay – one of the most beautiful areas in Wanaka.)
- Wanaka Haven (A beautiful bnb. Just out of town near the Wanaka Lavender Farm).
- Distinction Wanaka Serviced Apartments (A resort made up of around 30 private apartments. I lived in an apartment here for six months. Pros: two hot tubs/pools with beautiful views, sauna, tennis court, large apartments with full kitchens, good location. Would def recommend for families and large groups, especially if you’re in Wanaka for a ski holiday. Cons: decor was a bit modern for me, nice but not 5 star luxury. )
- Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages (Gorgeous bnb. Amazing location in walking distance to the Wanaka Tree, main township, and Wanaka lakefront).
- Cross Hill Glamping (I’ve never been a fan of glamping (it sounds too much like camping), but these domes look very luxurious and I’d love to stay. I’ve had friends who stayed here and loved them. They overlook Lake Hawea – a prettier lake than Lake Wanaka and only a 15 minute drive from Wanaka.)
- Cardrona Hotel (Beautiful historic building, charming rooms with cute interiors, and good food. A great base if you’re skiing at Cardrona).
- The Lindis (This hotel has been on my bucket list for years – the architecture and interiors are incredibly beautiful and it’s very luxurious. It’s between Lake Tekapo and Wanaka. I wouldn’t use this for a Wanaka base, but it would be amazing for a weekend away or if you can work it into your road trip itinerary.)
- Minaret Station (Only accessible by helicopter and very luxurious. One for the bucket list.)
WHEN TO GO TO WANAKA?
The best time to visit Wanaka depends on what you want to do.
- Skiing – August to mid-September is best. This has the best snow and it avoids the July school holidays which are very busy (you’ll just be waiting in lines all day).
- If you’re not here for skiing, the best time to see Wanaka is February to April. The weather is lovely (it’s Summer/early Spring) and it’s fairly quiet because it’s outside school holidays.
HOW LONG TO SPEND IN WANAKA?
How long to spend in Wanaka depends on what you want to do.
Do you just want to pop in and see the lake and township? Do you want to do lots of walks in Wanaka? Do you want to use Wanaka as a base and do day trips to other towns? Are you here for a ski trip?
- Allow one day if you only want to see the main township and Wanaka Tree (I don’t recommend this – you need to get out the town and do some walks to see the best part of Wanaka. It doesn’t take much effort, but it is well worth it.)
- Allow at least 3-4 days to explore Wanaka – You’ll be able to see Wanaka, do 1 or 2 nice walks, and do a couple of other activities (like a boat cruise or visit the wineries – read my Guide to the 5 Best Bannockburn Vineyards here).
- If you want to do more day walks, allow an extra day per walk – Some walks are only a few hours, but you won’t feel like walking up two hills in a day.
- Allow 3-7 days if you’re on a ski holiday – I recommend going for a week and splitting your time between Queenstown and Wanaka. Some people prefer to just spend a whole week in Wanaka (or Queenstown). Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
This is just a rough estimate. Obviously it will depend on how much time you have available and the kind of things you want to do.
I’ve done quick overnight trips to Wanaka when I was on a big road trip around the South Island and only saw the main township (and there’s a reason I thought Wanaka was overrated and boring – I wasn’t getting out of town to see the best parts).
I’ve also lived here for over a year and explored every possible area near Wanaka – and still haven’t run out of new things to do.
VISAS + COVID
New Zealand had very strict covid rules – the border was closed for almost two years, even to New Zealanders. (I was a New Zealander stuck overseas during covid – it was very hard trying to get back). Make sure you check the New Zealand immigration website for the latest covid and border closure rules.
People from most countries can travel to New Zealand for up to 3 months without getting a visa. You just need to get a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority. Check the New Zealand Immigration website to work out what visa you need.Wanaka-top-tips
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