Soulful Wānaka | 13 Best Experiences | Things To Do
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If you are someone like me who enjoys exploring unique and lesser-known destinations, then Wānaka is the perfect place for you. This quaint town is a gem found in the Otago region of New Zealand. You can find an array of soulful things to do in Wanaka that go beyond the typical tourist trails.
From the heart-stirring peaks of the Southern Alps to the tranquil shores of Lake Wānaka, this lakefront town is a treasure trove of experiences that can awaken your soul and invigorate the senses.
Image – Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wānaka & Mt Aspiring
Is Wānaka Worth Visiting?
Wānaka is a cozy little town surrounded by the Southern Alps. This quaint town sits right at the southern end of Lake Wānaka and is covered by stunning mountain ranges that are part of Mount Aspiring National Park. Such breathtaking scenery will keep you coming back for more.
How great would it be to hang out at the awesome Wānaka Lakefront while grabbing a bite and soaking in the stunning views? Pretty amazing, right? And let me tell you, the water of Lake Wānaka is this amazing shade of turquoise—you’ve got to see it to believe it!
Pro Tip: Grab your free, comprehensive and printable travel planner at the bottom of this blog! You’re welcome.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Wānaka?
You might be wondering, Is there a best time to visit Wānaka? Well, Wānaka is a year-round destination. There’s literally no bad time to visit Wanaka. Let me give you a quick rundown of what to expect in each season:
One of the best things to do in Wanaka during the summer is to immerse yourself in its outdoor activities. Hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming—you name it. The sun’s out, and the vibe is just perfect for exploring.
Winter transforms this lakefront town, offering unique things to do in Wanaka. Imagine snow-capped mountain ranges and loads of fun on the slopes. Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, or just enjoying a hot chocolate and watching the snow fall—you can have it all!
Spring brings its own list of things to do in Wānaka, blending snow and sun. This season allows you to enjoy a little bit of everything, from catching up on some snow to enjoying a mountain bike ride in the sun or dipping your toes in Lake Wānaka.
Autumn is also a not-to-be-missed season that offers many colourful things to do in Wānaka. The whole place lights up with reds, oranges, and golds. It’s cool but not too cold, just right for some epic adventures.
Image Credit – Finlay Woods
How to Get to Wānaka, New Zealand
Now, let’s talk about getting to Wānaka. Whether you’re coming in from far away or just making a hop from a nearby town, knowing your options can make the journey part of the fun!
From Queenstown to Wānaka, New Zealand
Queenstown is often the starting point for many Wānaka adventures. It’s a scenic one-hour drive, filled with stunning landscapes that are quintessentially New Zealand. Plus, Queenstown Airport is the closest if you’re flying in, making it super convenient.
With the Southern Alps playing peek-a-boo in the distance as you cruise the road, this scenic drive is among the most enjoyable things to do in Wanaka.
Road Tripping Around New Zealand’s South Island
If you’re already on a road trip around the South Island, Wānaka is perfectly positioned. Head west, and in about two hours, you’ll reach Haast, or drive a bit further to the breathtaking Fox Glacier in around 3.5 hours. If glaciers and rugged coastlines are your thing, this is a journey you can’t miss.
Alternatively, if you’re into majestic mountain ranges and stunning lakes, drive up to the island’s centre. Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo are about 2.5 hours away. The drive itself is a showcase of nature’s artistry, with landscapes that change and evolve as you go.
Heading from Christchurch?
For those coming from Christchurch, buckle up for at least a 5-hour drive. Lucky for you, this is no ordinary drive. It’s a journey through some of the most beautiful terrain New Zealand offers, making those hours fly by. Plus, Christchurch hosts the nearest major international airport.
Public Transport Options
Not a fan of driving? No worries! Ritchies runs a twice-daily coach service to and from Queenstown. It’s a hassle-free way to travel and lets you soak up the scenery without worrying about the road.
Where to stay
For a range of stay experiences, heres’ our handy stay finder –
Best Things to Do in Wanaka, New Zealand
Here comes the fun part! Allow me to guide you through some soul-stirring things to do in Wanaka. Let’s dive in.
1.Rediscover Serenity with a Panoramic Stroll or a Hike
Taking a panoramic stroll is one of the most serene things to do in Wanaka. The following are some hiking trails that offer more than just a walk—they’re a journey into the heart of Wānaka’s beauty.
Mount Iron Track
The Mount Iron Track will easily top any list of breathtaking things to do in Wanaka. Imagine a place where you can see everything—360-degree vistas of lakes, valleys, and peaks. That’s Mount Iron Track for you.
It’s a short trek, but the stunning views from this 240-meter-high knoll are anything but small. You get to see Lake Wānaka and Lake Hawea, and it’ll make you feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s a must-do for anyone visiting Wanaka.
Roy’s Peak Track
Now, this one’s a bit of a challenge, but believe me, it’s totally worth it. Conquering this Roy’s Peak Track is one of the most rewarding things to do in Wanaka. The view from the 1,578-meter Roy’s Peak is like a postcard coming to life.
Just remember, it’s pretty exposed up there, packing well is essential – so bring warm clothes and plenty of water, especially in the summer.
Fancy a walk by the river? The Outlet Track is your best bet. It’s a relatively easy hike along the Clutha River, starting from Lake Wanaka and ending in Albert Town. Perfect for both walkers and bikers, this track is all about the crystal-clear waters and the peace that comes with being near them.
Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track
Exploring the Diamond Lake conservation area and Rocky Mountain Track is among the top things to do in Wanaka. Here, you’ve got two choices. Want a short walk? Head to Diamond Lake. Feeling adventurous? Go up to the Rocky Mountain summit. Either way, you’re in for amazing views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding peaks.
Just a heads up: it can get slippery in winter, so watch your step!
Waterfall Creek Track
The Waterfall Creek stroll is one of the most picturesque things to do in Wanaka. Starting from Roys Bay, it takes you along the gorgeous lake, past the iconic “Wānaka Tree,” and even by a vineyard.
Fancy some wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard? You can do that too. The track is great for a leisurely walk or mountain bike ride, with plenty of photo ops along the way.
Image – Hikers experiencing Roys Peak
2. Kayak to Ruby Island
Make the most of experiencing Lake Wānaka, and get up close with some kayaking or paddle boarding fun. The tiny island is set just offshore from the township of Wānaka itself, and is a peaceful and short trip across, giving you brilliant views all around, including back to the town and seeing it from a new perspective.
If kayaking or paddle boarding isn’t your thing, but you’d still love to check out Ruby Island, consider this cruise tour which takes you out, includes a guided walk and opportunity to take photos.
Image – Kayaking to Ruby Island
Image Credit – Victoria Sheridan
3. Hit the Slopes with Skiing and Snowboarding
In winter, Wanaka turns into a skier’s and snowboarder’s paradise. From world-class ski resorts to pristine slopes to backcountry adventures, it’s all here. If you are a winter sports enthusiast, skiing and snowboarding are some unforgettable things to do in Wanaka.
At Cardrona Alpine Resort, you can expect beautifully groomed slopes and some neat freestyle facilities. Whereas over at Treble Cone Ski fields, get ready for some epic freeride action. Steep, deep, and thrilling—that’s the game here.
On the other hand, Snow Farm is something different. It’s all about cross-country skiing with unique experiences like dogsledding and snowshoeing. And if you want something truly luxurious, check out Soho Basin. Imagine catskiing with a wine lunch to top it off.
Image Credit – Mark Clinton
4. Soar Above with Lake Wānaka Parasailing
And then there’s parasailing. If you’ve ever dreamt of flying, this is as close as it gets. Picture yourself soaring high above Lake Wānaka. You can go solo or bring a buddy along for a tandem flight.
When it comes to parasailing, some of us crave the adrenaline rush of soaring up high, while others love the peaceful, gorgeous views from above. Either way, parasailing over Lake Wanaka won’t disappoint you.
It gives you a bird’s-eye view of one of the most beautiful spots on Earth and is one of those things to do in Wanaka that you’ll never forget.
5. Bike the Gorgeous Wānaka Trails
Get adventurous and bike the gorgeous Wānaka trails. Many of them follow a water track, whether it be a lake or river, these trails are scenic, calming and relaxing. Take your time and get your legs pumping – whatever makes you feel better than when you began.
You can hire a bike with Bike Lounge, for half-day, full-day or overnight rentals. Wānaka is full of serious mountain biking tracks and pump tracks; today we are exploring the trails, rather than the mountain tracks.
Image credit – Andi Throssell
Glendhu Bay Track
This track hugs the coast of Lake Wānaka, through to Glendu Bay, a western bay of the lake which also takes you to the start of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Lakeside track to Beacon Point
Begin cycling in the heart of the Wānaka township and ride out to Beacon Point, on the eastern side of the lake.
Deans Bank Track
Deans Bank is a loop track which follows the Clutha River upstream and then back again. It offers those exploring, incredible mountain views and a peaceful surrounding.
Lake Hawea River Trail
This is a great trail. It links Wānaka, to Albert Town, to Hawea. You will cycle on a well kept, easy dirt track, with wonderful views, crossing the Hawea River on a suspension bridge and plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat.
New Castle Track
This is an easy-going afternnon ride for you to burn off your delicious lunch! Starting just over the swing bridge on the Hāwea River Track, the New Castle Track takes you 12km, each way. Its your choice how long you take!
If a tour sounds more like your cup of tea, here are some fab options:
Ride along the banks of one of Aotearoa New Zealands, most picturesque rivers. This tour is designed to give you amazing views, and see some of Wānaka’s beautiful countryside and rivers, without being exhausted at end of it.
A great way to see more than just Wānaka – this tours takes you through three township, and stops for some excellent french treats along the way – fun, social and relaxing.
Image Credit – Finlay Woods
6. Wine Tour and Māori Culture Experience
Now, for a change of pace, how about diving into the local culture and flavours? The Wine Tour & Maori Culture Wanaka is your gateway to this unique experience. This is the only wine tour in Wānaka and Cromwell that weaves the rich tapestry of Māori culture with exquisite local wines.
You’ll get to visit four boutique wineries in the Central Otago region, tasting 18–22 different wines and enjoying delicious food pairings. This tour isn’t just about wine; it’s a journey through history, culture, and sensory delights, connecting you with the land and its stories.
7. Glide in the Sky with Scenic Hot Air Balloon Flights
Have you ever dreamt of gently floating above a landscape on a scenic flight? The Hot Air Balloon Flights over Wanaka offer just that. It’s one of the most magical things to do in Wanaka. As you ascend, the incredible lake views of Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea, and the majestic Southern Alps unfold beneath you. Add to that, gliding over Mount Aspiring National Park, you’ll be treated to an aerial spectacle of glaciers and pristine wilderness.
It’s a 360-degree panorama of some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery. This scenic flight isn’t just a visual treat; it’s a moment of tranquility, high above the world’s hustle and bustle, offering a new perspective on life’s beauty.
8. Navigate the Rapids with Packrafting Adventures
For an adrenaline-fueled yet soul-soothing adventure, join Wanaka River Journeys on their packrafting tour. You’ll start with a scenic drive through the awe-inspiring Matukituki Valley, flanked by majestic snow-capped mountains and waterfalls.
Hop on a packraft and embrace the exhilaration of riding the wave trains and the serenity of floating through calm waters as you paddle along the river’s course. Stop for a picnic by the riverbank, swim in the crystal-clear waters, and let the natural beauty of Lake Wanaka rejuvenate you.
Image Credit – Patrick Edmondson
9.Wander Among Blooms at the Wanaka Lavender Farm
For a more serene experience, visiting the Wānaka Lavender Farm is one of the most soothing things to do in Wanaka. If you haven’t seen a lavender field in full bloom, trust me, it’s a sight to behold. And Wānaka Lavender Farm captures this beauty like no other. Picture yourself wandering through 20 acres of vibrant lavender, snapping photos that look straight out of a dream.
But it’s not just about the lavender. The farm brims with life, filled with fruit and vegetable gardens, adorable farm animals, and, wait for it… delicious lavender ice cream and local honey! The best time to visit? Between November and early March, when the lavender is showing off its best colours.
Image Credit – Stef Zeestraten
10. Try Your Hand at Frisbee Golf in Wanaka
Looking for fun things to do in Wanaka? Give Frisbee golf a try! It’s like golf, but cooler. You throw a frisbee at targets across a course. And, in Wānaka, you’re spoilt for choice with two courses: Lismore Park and Eely Point.
Lismore Park boasts 18 baskets with amazing views of Mount Aspiring National Park and Roy’s Peak, just a five-minute stroll from Wanaka town center. Eely Point, just a short drive away from the Wānaka town center, offers another great course. It’s a fun, laid-back way to spend a day, and the best thing? You don’t have to be a pro to have a blast!
11. Have Fun with Archery at Crossfire Wanaka
Are you ready to channel your inner archer? If yes, Crossfire Wanaka is your go-to spot. Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced archer, they’ve got the right bow for you.
The staff are awesome and will help you get that confident grip before you aim for the bullseye. Shooting down their 15-meter alley will be a unique experience, and it adds just the right amount of thrill to your Wanaka adventure.
12. Go Glamping in Wanaka, New Zealand
Finally, we have glamping, which is one of the most glamorous things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand. It’s the trend that’s all about luxury meets camping, and Wānaka’s Cross Hill Glamping takes it to a whole new level.
Just 8.2 miles from Puzzling World in Lake Hāwea, here you can indulge in the comforts of a hot tub, surrounded by the soothing sounds of nature. Imagine waking up to birds singing, a gentle brook, and the rustle of trees. Glamping in Wānaka is not just a stay; it’s a way to disconnect from the hustle and reconnect with the tranquil rhythms of nature.
Image Credit – River and Her
13. Wānaka Festivals
Ripe is Wānaka’s wine and food festival, presenting the regions best wine and food producers with stalls, food trucks, masterclasses, in a fun, easy-going atmosphere thats family friendly.
The day also takes the opportunity to showcase local arts and fashion, giving you a moment to meet with a range of talented, local producers of all kinds, have a chat, enjoy the fruits of their labour and experience a taste of Otago. Its also go a pretty incredible backdrop of Lake Wānaka with Insta-worthy prop’s for photo taking.
Wānaka Festival of Colour
Wānaka’s Festival of Colour is the Southern Lakes expression of themselves, their best artworks and artists on display in a glorious display of diverse arts – from dance and music to theatre and more. Such a colourful display is set on the background of Wānaka’s incredible autumnal golden and crimson hues.
This event is not one performance, but many, with several event locations set mostly around Wānaka, but spans out to Bannockburn, near Cromwell, also. Wānaka’s Festival of Colour see’s communities come together to appreciate the arts, increase social cohesion between people and brings vibrancy, fun and colour lives – it’s a must see.
Image Credit – Deanna Gerlach
Our recommended eats are wholesome, healthy and full of love. They sing with respect for food, nutrients and our bodies, but have no compromise on excellent flavour, texture and overall experience – complete with 10/10 service.
A cafe-restaurant with a difference – “slow food, served fast”. Big Fig is a gormet buffet-style cafe where you choose the size of your plate, and serve from an incredible array of beautifully prepared options. Big Fig is actually good for any of breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks! They also make a mean coffee – highly important if you want to survive in Aotearoa New Zealand’s coffee culture! But, remember to take your takeaway coffee cup if you want it to-go, as they are proudly, single-use cup free. Located in the heart of Wānaka, sit outside with the sun on your back and take the incredible alpine-lake views of perfect Wānaka.
Located just on the outskirts of Wānaka, in Albert town, Hook is the perfect place to relax, soak up the sunshine in the outside lounge, complete with bean bags, lawn games, a range of local craft beer and wine, and order some home-grown salmon -or! Go catch it yourself. Thats right, Hook has a large, spring fed, pond/lake from which you can catch your own fish, take it to the the preparation station, then take it home, or have it cooked for lunch! Great for little kids and big kids, alike. Sun, fun and excellent cuisine. Hooked?
Looking for somewhere to try some of that kiwi lamb you’ve heard so much about? Head to Muttonbird.
Muttonbird bases their menu on locally and NZ-wide produce and ingredients that are available seasonally. They offer you a slow-grazing menu, designed to help you relax, enjoying a casual evening of excellent kiwi cuisine, from local people, to finish and very satisfied tum.
Snacks and treats
Oh boy. Please don’t miss this one. It’s a little artisan taste of France, in Wanaka. An excellent Patisserie that has the locals flocking – our only suggestion: Go early!
Aka, heaven in your mouth. Patagonia was originally established in Queenstown by a local couple who settled in New Zealand from Argentina. Longing for their beloved sweet treats from home, owners Alex Gimenez and Lorena Giallonardo, started their first shop in 2005 and thank goodness they did! They are chocolatiers, coffee roasters and brewsters, and ice-cream makers. Its safe to say they are well loved here in the Southern Lakes and it’s a must try.
Our journey through the enchanting Wānaka town has come to a close. And it’s clear that this is more than just a destination; it’s a vibrant tapestry of natural beauty, tastes, arts, adventure, and tranquility. Each trail, lake, mountain and local business in Wānaka tells a story, inviting you to become part of its narrative.
Whether you’re seeking a peaceful escape or an adrenaline-filled expedition, these memorable things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, offer a unique opportunity to reconnect with nature and rediscover yourself.
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