7 things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand

Thursday, 12th March 2015

Lauren Shorney

new zealand lake wanaka lakeshore autumn slt

Set against a backdrop of Mt Aspiring National Park, the lakeside town of Wanaka is a gem in New Zealand’s Southern Lakes region. More tranquil than Queenstown but still packed with things to do, you might have already heard of Wanaka’s adventurous opportunities such as hiking, canyoning, kayaking and horse-riding to name a few.

Lauren, one of our New Zealand & Australia Travel Specialists has picked out a few lesser-known things to do, from spectacular routes in and out of the town to ultra-cosy cinemas.


1. Drive to Wanaka from Lake Moeraki via Haast

This drive was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to New Zealand because of the sheer beauty en route. It takes just over two hours to make the 111 mile-journey along State Highway 6, but we made the drive much longer as we couldn’t help but stop to take pictures and appreciate our surrounds.

2. Take in the view at the lakefront cafes and bars

Wanaka itself is a small lakefront town in Central Otago. The snow-capped peaks and glistening lake complement each other perfectly and there are few better places for tourists and locals alike to enjoy the scenery, than relaxing in one of the lakefront cafés and bars.

3. Go to the cinema

It might sound strange for a place renowned for outdoor activities, scenic flights and water sports such as kayaking, jet boating and sailing (which can all be done from Wanaka), but while you’re here, treat yourself to a night at the cinema. The quirky Cinema Paradiso shows the latest films which you can watch with where freshly baked cookies, homemade ice cream and an ice-cold beer, whilst relaxing on a sofa or even in an old Morris Minor car!

NZ lauren Lake Wanaka

4. Visit Mou Waho Island Reserve

The half-day trips starts with a 30-minute boat ride to Mou Waho Island and then you proceed to walk just over half-a-mile to the top. The walk is not strenuous and you are constantly stopping to see the plant life and even have the cheeky weka birds following you along the way.

Just before reaching the top of the island, you get to view the Arethusa Pool, which is a small lake with small islands in it – a fascinating and surreal thing to see. After taking in this amazing sight, you continue slightly further to the top with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, Arethusa Pool and the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka. There is even a rock in the shape of an armchair that you can comfortably sit in! Tea and biscuits are shared out and the beautiful surrounds are enjoyed before walking back down the track and planting a native tree to put your own stamp on the island.

5. Jet boating

Wanaka River Journeys really do provide a fantastic experience that combines the thrill of jet boating along the Matukituki River combined with a short nature walk along easy terrain through the forest. The jet boat makes its way along the river and our guide stopped and explained important Maori sites and of course pointed off the Lord of the Rings film locations. The river is surrounded by Mount Aspiring National Park, which encompasses waterfalls, towering mountains and also a fantastic view of hanging glaciers – a must-see experience!

new zealand jet boat and wilderness walk lake wanaka
New Zealand Jet Boat and Wilderness walk lake

6. Drive the Crown Range road to Queenstown

When leaving Wanaka I highly recommend you take this route; the views along the way are sublime and the drive certainly gets your pulse racing!

7. Learn how to 4WD in Queenstown

Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital is roughly an hours’ drive from Wanaka in Central Otago. Travelling by 4WD is a fantastic way to experience the different landscapes, as is learning how to drive a real 4WD Land Rover. I was very nervous about driving but our guide made us feel really relaxed and much more confident. We were taught how to drive up steep hills, across streams (some of them quite deep), climb steps and ride across the muddy tracks. I can truly say that this was one of my favourite activities during my time in New Zealand – it was something I never would have done and I am so glad I did.


Find out more about New Zealand

An accredited Tourism New Zealand ‘Kiwi Specialist’, Lauren has travelled extensively around New Zealand.

Discover more about Lake Wanaka and the Southern Lakes and start planning your own New Zealand holiday.

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