Nestled between the mountains and lake, Wānaka is a stunning place. Join us as we share the best things to do in Wānaka. We’ve been sure to include something for everyone and every season.
Wānaka in Māori means “place of sacred knowledge or meaning” and if you get a chance to visit Wānaka yourself, you too will feel the sense of wonder that comes from being in such a beautiful place.
As well as being beautiful, it is also a place of adventure, with plenty to do.
Join us as we uncover the very best things to do in Wānaka!
Related: The best places to eat in Wānaka.
COVID-19 has come with its fair share of challenges for New Zealand businesses. Though we do our best to share accurate information, this can change quickly as some businesses make the decision to operate under reduced hours or hibernate. We suggest you double-check they are open before finalising your plans.
Unmissable Things to Do in Wānaka
1. Visit Lake Wānaka
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in town will be Lake Wānaka. The fourth largest lake in New Zealand, it is there that you will find the Insta-famous ‘That Wānaka Tree’.
The most photographed tree in New Zealand, That Wānaka Tree has been a must-see for everyone that values photography. As you stand, looking at the lake, turn to your left and look for the masses of people – that’s where you’ll find the famed tree!
But that’s not all that there is at Lake Wānaka. You can fish, boat, swim, and take part in water sports. Or you can spend the day relaxing on the beach, taking in the gorgeous scenery.
The town itself is built around the lake so you’ll be sure to see plenty of it whilst visiting to region.
2. Enjoy Some of the Best Hiking in the Country in Wānaka
Mount Aspiring National Park is a real treasure in New Zealand’s crown. It is nestled at the ‘great divide’ of the Southern Alps where the landscape is truly breathtaking. There, you can see wildlife habitats, glaciers, snowfields, mountains and valleys, waterfalls, braided rivers and lush forests.
You won’t be able to take all of that in on a day trip, since it covers approximately 3,500km2, but you’ll have plenty of options. There are shorter hikes, longer tramps, helicopter overpasses, 4WD adventures and jet boat tours too (if you’d rather not walk).
If you’d like to stay overnight, you’ll find four separate campsites located within the national park, each offering opportunities to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural beauty.
We recommend checking out the following tramps:
- The Blue Pools – Walk a short 1.5km loop through beautiful beech forest before arriving at the icy glacier-fed waters.
- Aspiring Hut walk – A great first overnight stay for families and those new to tramping. Accessible from the Raspberry Creek car park via West Matukituki Track: Approx 2 hours, 15 minutes one way.
- Rob Roy track – Enjoy beautfiul views of the Rob Roy Glacier on this 3 – 4 hour return hike.
- Roys Peak – With such a steep descent, you’ll want to ensure your shoes it well so as to avoid blisters.
- Isthmus Peak – A stunning walk, with view to revival the more famous Roys Peak.
Read more: Our favourite Wānaka walks.
3. Go Horse Trekking at The Cardrona
The Cardrona is a little settlement, leftover from the gold rush days, that is linked to Wānaka through the stunning Cardona Valley. At The Cardona, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a horse trek through the area with an experienced guide. They can cater for any level of ability, from beginner to veteran, so it is accessible to just about anybody.
There are a few different trails available and all of them will give you the chance to really take in the beautiful rugged wilderness of New Zealand.
What a magical place to ride!
4. Ski or Snowboard in the Wānaka Mountains
If winter sports are your thing, then you will be spoilt for choice in Wānaka.
There are four ski fields within 45 minutes of Wānaka’s town centre – Treble Cone, Cardrona, Snow Farm, and Soho Basin – and they are all highly rated.
Or, if you want to take things up a notch, you could give heli-skiing a try. Jump in a helicopter and head up to the top of the mountain before skiing back down. Doing so gives you the opportunity to get to the more obscure mountain ranges, such as those in the Mount Aspiring National Park. With untouched runs and incredible back-mountain views, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Wānaka really can be the perfect base for your snow adventures!
5. Take Part in a Variety of Water Sports
It would be a shame to visit a place that has so many amazing rivers and lakes and not give some water sports a try.
We recommend enjoying a jet boat tour – the Clutha River or the Wilkin & Makarora rivers are a popular choice. Doing so will give you the chance to see amazing wildlife and scenery up close. Plus jet boats are always an exciting ride!
If you want to try your hand at parasailing then Lake Wānaka is the place to go. It is truly an unforgettable experience to fly so high above against such an awe-inspiring backdrop.
Or, if you’d like something a little more gentle, then you can always hop on a paddleboard or kayak and enjoy exploring the lake at your own pace.
Alternatively, head along to Hook Wānaka for a lake to plate fishing experience. It’s family-friendly fun and a great way to enjoy incredibly fresh salmon.
6. Hop on Your Bike and Go For a Ride
There are fabulous biking experiences to suit all confidence and experience levels in Wānaka. From sedate to exhilarating – it’s all there!
There’s no need to cart your own bike along (though you are able to, of course) because you can easily grab a rental and hop on a trail or one of the many guided tours that are on offer.
And just like with skiing, if you want to start your trail at a more remote location, you can always give a heli-bike tour a try. You will get picked up at Wānaka, and taken to a remote mountain where your guide will take you through world-class trails to your road transfer site.
If you like biking, this is an experience you won’t want to miss!
7. Climb along a waterfall with Wild Wire
Whether you’re an experienced climber or you’re someone who just wants to give it a go, it’s worth checking out the Wild Wire climb just out of Wānaka.
This is a cable-guided climb alongside a waterfall that overlooks Lake Wānaka, led by a guide every step of the way. There are three different climb difficulty levels – the biggest of all takes you right to the top of the cliff, ready to be helicoptered back down!
You will have a training session before your climb – this demonstrates how to use the Via Ferrera system – and then you’ll be off to explore the region’s amazing scenery – from a height!
8. Skydive Above Wānaka
Is skydiving on your bucket list? Well, you can tick that one off at Wānaka too!
There, you’ll freefall from up to 15,000 feet on your tandem skydive and reach speeds of 200kph. If you are looking for something exhilarating, this is it!
Jumping here also gives you a chance to see Wānaka from a whole new angle. There is no better opportunity to view vast, breathtaking landscapes with your own eyes – and all whilst doing something that most people never get the chance to do.
Book: Prefer to pilot a plane than jump out of one? Book a trial flight. Promo code NZTTPLAY.
9. Relax and Sample Fantastic Local Pours
If that is quite enough adventure for you, then why not kick back and sample some world-class spirits and wines?
With a view that takes in the Southern Alps as well as Lake Wānaka, you could do a lot worse than attending a Cellar Door tasting at Rippon Valley. The tastings are completely free of charge and no appointment is necessary. They are open Wednesday to Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm so be sure to plan your trip to the region around their availability.
Or, if spirits are more your thing, check out a local distillery. The Cardrona Distillery, for example, serves a range of quality liqueurs and spirits, offering a number of tours and tastings.
No matter which you choose, a tasting will provide the perfect opportunity to sit back and reflect on the adventures that you have had in Wānaka.
10. Explore Puzzling World
Next up is Puzzling World, a unique place located right on the edge of Wānaka’s township. It has three main attractions – a set of illusion rooms, a great maze and the ‘Picture This’ attraction (which is a set of unusual photo opportunities).
The five illusion rooms are designed to challenge your perception of reality, with exhibits including a tilted house and a hologram room! Watch water flow uphill and be amazed as sculptures appear to watch you as you walk around the room.
In the great maze, test your sense of direction by seeing if you can make it to each of the coloured corner towers before escaping from this winding labyrinth!
Get your camera ready for the Picture This attraction, where you can pose and take photos amongst a set of wacky backgrounds, such as an MC Escher courtyard and the leaning tower of Wānaka (inspired by Pisa)!
This family-friendly attraction has been wowing guests for years – it’s well worth checking out.
Book: Tickets to Puzzling World. Save 10% with promo code NZTT.
11. Indulge at the Lavender Farm
Located just out of town is the Wānaka Lavender Farm. This 20 acre stretch of farmland is full of lavender fields and farm animals.
Wander through the fields of purple and take in the intoxicating scent of lavender (season dependent). Then go and visit the sheep, pigs and even llamas that are resident on the farm.
After that, stop by the onsite shop for some tea or even lavender ice cream! They also sell other lavender treats and honey that is produced right at the farm. In addition. you’re able to buy lavender essential oils, soaps and fragrances – all of which make for great souvenirs and gifts.
It only costs a few dollars to visit the farm, so why not check it out?
12. Enjoy a Movie at a Very Special Cinema
The perfect rainy-day activity whilst in Wānaka, this movie theatre is a must-do – regardless of the weather!
Cinema Paradiso is a quirky little independent movie theatre. Instead of sitting on traditional seats, you’ll lounge on their sofas or sit in a converted vintage car.
Though intermission breaks were done away with decades ago in most theatres, Cinema Paradiso still indulges in them – do you too can indulge.
Treat yourself to freshly homebaked cookies (we recommend the ginger and white chocolate chunk) and the most delicious buttery popcorn. There’s also homemade ice cream and freshly poured beer ready to go.
Whilst in āanaka we suggest putting time aside to enjoy a blockbuster in this memorable theatre.
Deservedly one of Wanaka’s biggest attractions and just maybe a NZ National Treasure!Lonely Planet
13. Ride the Cardrona Mountain Carts
If you’re looking for an amazing dose of adrenaline during the summer seasons, head straight for Cardrona.
These mountain carts are gravity-fuelled and don’t require any previous experience to ride.
You’ll get access to three different tracks, the required safety gear and, of course, your alpine cart, for a full 2-hour session.
You’re in control of your speed as you make your way down the track. Once you find yourself at the bottom, board the chairlift back to the top and do it all again!
14. Take in the Views from the Top of Cardrona
If you’re not keen to ski/snowboard or to ride the mountain carts, it’s still worth heading up the top of Cardrona.
Catch the McDougall’s Express Chondola up the mountain to enjoy spectacular views. It’s open right throughout the year, providing a different experience during each season.
In under 4 minutes you’ll find yourself at the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy a coffee or champagne, whilst taking in incredible views.
Hike for just 2 minutes to a lookout where you’ll see Queenstown and the Wakatipu Basin unfold below.
This is the perfect way to enjoy the best views in Wānaka without exerting yourself too much.
With so much to do in the region, we hope that this list has helped you find some inspiration for your next trip to Wānaka!
There is an adventure there for everybody, whether it’s an exhilarating skydive or a walk through the awe-inspiring scenery.
Be prepared to make memories that will last a lifetime.
By Louis Grant
Photo credit: Miles Holden and Vaughan Brookfield.