Where is Wanaka, New Zealand?
Wanaka, New Zealand, is located in the Southern Alps, about four hours from Franz Josef Glacier and just over an hour from Queenstown. Like its more famous neighbor, Queenstown, Wanaka is home to a vast sparkling lake, snow-capped mountains, river valleys, alpine meadows, and dense forests. However, Wanaka is more low-key than Queenstown, with fewer tourists and more peaceful for travelers needing downtime. So, for those who want an alpine adventure but don’t like the crowds, Wanaka is a great option.
We love Wanaka for a couple of adventure days and a few down days to relax. Regarding adventure, most of the activities in Queenstown can also be enjoyed in Wanaka despite Wanaka’s smaller size. Go hiking in a national park, try your hand at fly fishing, feel the river water from a jet boat, or take a helicopter to a remote peak for the ultimate selfie.
In terms of relaxation, Wanaka is surrounded by the natural beauty that allows you to rest and rejuvenate in wilderness style.
Places to stay in Wanaka:
There are fewer places to stay here than in Queenstown, and they tend to be smaller. However, they still run the full range of budgets and styles. You’ll find three-, four-, and five-star accommodation options in and around Wanaka. Some of our favorites take up acres and acres of land, creating a natural playground to enjoy both land and water (whether on a lake or a river).
There are fewer chain hotels here than elsewhere, so we recommend splurging on an authentic wilderness lodge. Some are truly luxurious, while others are more like country inns or small resorts. Since there are fewer places to stay here relative to Queenstown, and each is unique, ensure to book early to get the location most suited to your interests. A New Zealand expert travel agent can help you decide what will suit your needs.
Many Wanaka properties have great views and space at a great bargain compared to Queenstown. Make sure to stay at least four nights so that you have time to enjoy the adventurous surroundings and spend time relaxing.
Things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand:
Many of the best activities in Wanaka are similar to those in Queenstown. However, the options in Wanaka tend to have fewer crowds, which makes for a more authentic, immersive experience.
Just outside Wanaka is Mt. Aspiring National Park. You’ll find hiking and walking trails to suit any fitness level here. Go on a short stroll around Lake Wanaka, or head out for a full day of backcountry hiking in the national park with an expert naturalist. You can also enjoy mountain biking on forested trails.
Another popular activity in Wanaka is sightseeing by helicopter, known as flightseeing. There are flights over Mt. Aspiring, Mt. Cook, the West Coast glaciers, or Milford Sound. Consider landing on a backcountry glacier or remote mountain peak where no other tourists will disturb your view. It’s the ultimate in private wilderness experiences.
Consider a 4WD tour to a high country farm for those feeling less active but no less adventurous. Learn about early settler history, then board a jet boat for a wild ride on a backcountry river. One unique thing that Wanaka offers is flightseeing in a vintage biplane! Or, maybe you’d like to try flying a plane yourself — try your hand at flying lessons while soaring over the Southern Alps.
What other fun activities can we do in Wanaka?
- Relaxing and enjoying the view of mountains, valleys, and rivers
- Hiking in and around Mt. Aspiring National Park
- Helicopter flightseeing to a glacier, a mountain peak, a fjord, or the wild West Coast
- River jet boating
- Mountain biking
- Touring a high country farm and learning about early settler history
- Vintage biplane flights and flying lessons over the Southern Alps
- Dining at fine restaurants downtown or your luxury accommodation
- Tandem skydiving, parasailing, and paragliding
- Mountaineering and climbing
- Skiing in winter
- Heli-hiking, heli-fishing, heli-skiing almost year-round
- Spend a couple of hours at Puzzling World — great fun for the whole family
How do you get to Wanaka, New Zealand?
We highly recommend self-driving to Wanaka. That way, you can have access to all the best scenic locations. Wanaka is about an hour northeast of Queenstown, driving through the beautiful Cardrona Valley. It’s about four hours southwest of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Or, if you’re coming from Mt. Cook, you’ll drive about three hours through the broad valleys of the Mackenzie region.
Where is the closest airport to Wanaka?
The closest commercial airport is in Queenstown, about an hour away, and no train routes currently serve Wanaka. Wanaka is an excellent stop between the West Coast and Queenstown or Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
When is the best time to visit Wanaka, New Zealand?
As with most places in New Zealand, you can go to Wanaka and have a great time in any season. However, if you’re going skiing, the colder months of July and August are best. You aren’t likely to see snow right around town, even in winter, only on the tallest peaks.
September is slightly more likely to experience mudslides over Haast Pass than in other months. That means you may have more difficulty driving between Wanaka and the West Coast in September than in other months.
From Christmas through January, the holiday period tends to see the highest volume of local tourists because New Zealand children are on their Summer school holidays throughout January. Therefore, tourist areas can get crowded at that time of year.
Our favorite time to visit Wanaka is between February and May and from October through mid-December. These months tend to have the mildest weather conditions, with fewer tourists. If you have your sights set on the holiday season, January or February, then start planning early — 10 months ahead is best.
How do I book a vacation to Wanaka in New Zealand?
Our New Zealand Travel Specialists can handcraft you an itinerary that will have you journey through beautiful Wanaka.
Ready to visit Wanaka? Start planning today! Contact us now.