Queenstown is known for its stunning scenery with the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, and of course for its status as the adventure capital of New Zealand. But only an hour’s drive away its little neighbour Wanaka sits in equally beautiful scenery, mostly overlooked by tourists. Nonetheless, this little town of 5000 inhabitants has a lot to offer!
Take a walk along Lake Wanaka
An obvious one, perhaps, but many road trippers on their way to or from Queenstown regret not spending more time in Wanaka, as did I on my last visit. And then, once stopping at the parking lot along the lake promenade, conveniently next to the iSite (local tourist information centre), the trap snaps shut: once you set eyes on that beauty of a lake, it’s hard to leave. I could have spent hours and hours sitting on its sunny, stoney shore.
Explore Wanaka’s Photo Lounge
This is where New Zealand always surprises: no matter how small the town is, there is always something very noteworthy, odd or even urban to find. In this case, Wanaka’s very own photo gallery, the Photo Lounge, really impressed me. The gallery has a great selection of landscape photography on display that had me stay for a wee while and soak in those works of art and beautiful vistas.
Queenstown may be New Zealand’s adventure capital, but skydiving doesn’t get any better than in Wanaka. With a choice of 12,000 ft or 15,000 ft, the brave, crazy and the wise can throw themselves off a beautiful orange aircraft, with a beautiful stranger strapped to their back. Sound interesting? Here’s a run-down for those thinking of taking the plunge!
Outdoors throughout the seasons
Wanaka offers plenty of outdoorsy pursuits, most notably hiking in the summer, being the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, and skiing in the winter. Mount Aspiring National Park is the third largest national park in New Zealand and really caters to everyone by offering short walks as well as multi-day alpine trekking. In the winter, Wanaka is ideally situated for skiing and snowboarding in the Treble Cone and Cardrona Alpine Resorts. And not to forget the obvious, there’s a lake… with plenty of water-based activities, such as sailing, kayaking or water-skiing, for example.
Have some sweets at Patagonia Chocolates
Patagonia Chocolates is a gem of a place. Whether in Queenstown, Arrowtown or right on the lake promenade in Wanaka, every one of its outlets has the best chocolate one can get their hands on in New Zealand. Founded by an Argentinian immigrant a few years ago, this store has been busy expanding, and it’s not hard to understand why they have been so successful. Both their many varieties of chocolates (a favourite – chili dark chocolate) and ice creams (dulce de leche – wow) are highly addictive. Certainly worked on me, I have now visited all three of their outlets, always leaving with a bag full of bars that don’t seem to last until the end of the day.
Experience Wanaka’s nightlife
Despite the small size of Wanaka population-wise, its nightlife is quite lively. Plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafes along the lake promenade keep you entertained and well-fed. Wanaka even boasts its own micro brewery, Wanaka Beerworks. If you’d rather watch a movie, Cinema Paradiso offers what going to the movies should always be like: sitting on comfortable couches instead of boring multiplex seating, and being served freshly-baked cookies and homemade ice cream.
Where to stay in Wanaka
If you like budget accommodation but want a certain standard of quality, the YHA Wanaka is a great choice. It served me extremely well as my Wanaka base during my recent New Zealand road trip. Located just a moment away from the lake promenade, I was right in walking distance of pretty much everything.
Wanaka’s YHA property is one of my favourites in the country. Ample parking (free) right out front, fabulous common room with comfy sofas and dining tables right next to the massive bay windows, with direct vistas onto the lake.
Rooms are warm and cosy, with extra heaters and plenty of additional warm blankets for those rather chilly Otago winter days. As with most YHA hostels, guests are a delightful mix of all ages and walks of life, rather than being the night time stop for party bus crowds. Self-catering is not only possible but quite convenient as well, with a well-equipped kitchen and constant boiling water for your instant tea and coffee needs! Staff are very nice and friendly, and were extremely knowledgeable regarding things to do in and around Wanaka!
Disclosure: I received a night’s accommodation free of charge at YHA Wanaka as part of my #Blog4NZ trip to raise money for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. As always, opinions are entirely my own. A huge thank you to YHA New Zealand for being part of Blog4NZ and for hosting Meagaan and me in Wanaka – we had a very comfortable stay!