Wanaka has got to be one of the most picturesque towns in New Zealand. It sits on the edge of Lake Wanaka, while mountains are set pristinely in the backdrop. All of the surrounding hikes take you to the best seats [aka views] in town, and the best part is that it’s lesser known than its sister city Queenstown, making it a bit of a hidden treasure. Wanaka is filled with great food, great hikes, great attractions, and like everywhere in New Zealand, great company.
- Federal Diner
- A local favorite. Located right on the main stretch (Helwick Street), but you have to find the walkway that leads you back to the diner as it’s a little hidden. Try The Buddha and take advantage of the fast, free WiFi. [Sidenote: Wanaka has some of the best WiFi in all of New Zealand.]
- Kai Whakapai
- Another local hotspot. This place always has a good crowd no matter the time of day or the day of the week. I guess that’s to be expected when you’ve got great brekkie, great coffee, great food, and local craft beers [Brewski, Treble Cone, and Cheeky Kea were some of my favorites.] The fact that this cafe & bar is right next to the lake is just the icing on the cake.
- Water Bar
- This happening place is also right on the lake and has great outdoor seating – even in wintertime! Heaters and fires make it comfortable as long as you dress warm. It’s usually busiest between 5-6pm for happy hour filled with a fun, young crowd. They had the cheapest beers we ever found in NZ at about $3-5/beer. That is unheard of. Needless to say, we found ourselves here a few nights in a row…
- Francesca’s Italian Kitchen + takeaway cart
- Make reservations for this one. One of the best restaurants in Wanaka serves up wood-fired pizza and some other great Italian dishes – try the polenta fries and mushroom ragu. The restaurant is cozy, but if you’re in the mood for something more casual they even have a food cart right across from Cinema Paradiso for you to grab a couple pizzas to go. They’re just as good as the restaurant ones!
- Red Star Luxury Burger
- Another great place for takeaway, although they do have a small seating area if you prefer to dine in on juicy burgers (beef, chicken, lamb, fish, & more!) and french fries.
- Amigos Mexican Grill
- Good ole’ Mexican food and a fun atmosphere. The night we ate here, school-aged kids served us as part of a local fundraiser, and it was adorable. Any establishment that supports the community is alright in my book. The service was great and so was the food!
- Coffee anywhere. This is not the name of a café. I’m just saying you can’t go wrong getting a coffee at any place in Wanaka.
- Not sure if you know, but I have an obsession with flat whites, and while all of New Zealand has great coffee, there’s just something about Wanaka that makes me WANAcoffee everyday. See what I did there?
- Roy’s Peak
- The time I thought I was going to have a heart attack. This hike pretty much involves going straight up the side of a mountain to a 1,578 meter summit. While you can see your final destination the entire time, it’s about a 5-6 hour return hike. We didn’t start early enough in the day to make it all the way to the top, but even halfway up offers some pretty spectacular views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and other surrounding mountains.Watch out for sheep and rabbit poop, and be warned there are no flat areas to rest. Start training now. The track starts at a carpark off of Mt. Aspiring Road on the left about 5 minutes outside of Wanaka, and be sure to go on a clear day for the best views!
- Diamond Lake Conservation
- Following the road another 5-10 minutes past Roy’s Peak carpark will lead you to this conservation area on the right. There are a few different hikes you can choose from, like the Diamond Lake Lookout track, which is about an hour return or less. From the platform you can turn back or carry on to either the Lake Wanaka Lookout, which is about another hour, or my recommendation, the Rocky Mountain Summit… [Tip: Diamond Lake freezes over in winter for some ice skating adventures.]
- Rocky Mountain Summit
- At the Diamond Lake Lookout, follow the sign postings for Rocky Mountain Summit Track. Once you go a little further up, you can decide to either take the Eastern route or the Western one. I’d recommend taking one up and the other one down, since each track is unique! The track was a little wet, muddy, and slippery in parts which made me almost eat it a couple times. But, seeing families hiking with their children reassured me. There were definitely a few sketchy areas along the way, but it was a fairly easy hike overall. I mean, I still had to stop and catch my breath a couple of times, but stopping to take photos of the scenery is the best excuse to take a break. The top is great for a snack and obviously a photo shoot, although it tends to get a little windy up there. From the carpark, it’s about a 2.5-3 hour return hike.
- Glendhu Bay Track
- An easy track around Wanaka and Glendhu Bay that can be as long or as short as you’d like. All the way to the carpark is about a 15km walk, but there are other stops along the way, like Waterfall Creek. It seems to be a local track good for running and walking dogs, and it starts at the Wanaka lakefront or Glendhu Bay carpark.
- Rob Roy Glacier
- Probably my favorite hike near Wanaka. It’s about an hour’s drive from Wanaka, 30km of which is on a gravel road. Prepare to go slow and be ready for crossing 9 fords along the way. If we can do it in a station wagon, so can you. The drive through the Matukituki Valley is half the fun – just watch out for sheep and cows. The hike is about a 3-4 hour return to the Upper Lookout from the Raspberry Flat carpark. The Lower Lookout is about 20-30 minutes shorter, but you might as well go the extra bit. It’s a gradual incline most of the way to the glacier through forest, but you get to enjoy waterfalls, streams, and sneak peeks of Rob Roy throughout the trek. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic at the top, but beware of New Zealand’s mouse problem…luckily they’re just little guys.
- Blue Pools
- This is a good pit stop on the way to Wanaka [depending where you’re coming from], as it’s about an hour north of the city. The short 30 minute return trip begins at the Blue Pools carpark right off of State Highway 6. We were driving in from Franz Josef, so a nice walk through the forest to some swing bridges and crystal waters was the ultimate rest stop for stretching our legs. I’ve heard the Blue Pools make for a refreshing dip, but I wasn’t brave enough in wintertime.
- Cinema Paradiso
- What’s better than a movie after a day of hiking? This movie theater is so unique that it’s actually considered a site to see. Instead of typical theater seating, you can lounge on couches and recliners, enjoy food, drinks (including alcohol), and even fresh baked cookies at intermission! Yes, they pause the movie halfway through so you can go get fresh baked cookies, homemade ice cream, or just take a bathroom break. Basically you can go see a movie and not feel guilty that you should be out exploring more. I’d call that the best of both worlds.
- A tree so famous it has its own hashtag. Walk the lake front toward the Glendhu Bay track, and you’ll find this beauty sitting right in the water. Check out Instagram, and you’ll see it has been photographed manyyyy times.
- Lake Wanaka
- Lake Wanaka is huge, and it’s great for kayaking, paddleboarding, and all sorts of water sports. It’s also good for just staring at, hence why you need to check out the nearby hikes and restaurants on the lakefront.
- Lake Hawea
- “The Neck”
- Between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea is a narrow stretch of land known as the Neck. You can enjoy it on the drive in to Wanaka via Route 6. Be sure to pull over to take pictures or you might find yourself off-roading!
- Mount Aspiring Road
- So if you haven’t figured out, not only is Wanaka stunning, but all of the surrounding area is something to see. This road which takes you to a lot of great hikes is beautiful in and of itself and worth a Sunday drive.
- Rippon Vineyard
- I was so upset because we were in Wanaka in June, and Rippon is closed for most of the winter months. Although we couldn’t go for a wine tasting, I could see the vineyard, and it looked like the most perfect setting for an afternoon well spent. I can’t imagine anything better than boozy frolicking through vines overlooking Lake Wanaka.
So do you WANAvisit Wanaka yet? I can’t say enough good things about it!!! Or if you’ve already been…what are your favorite Wanaka eats? Hikes? Things to do?