Things to do in Wanaka

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

Lake Wanaka

Don’t miss the obvious and go for 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.

Things to do in Wanaka: tiles by the lake

Explore the history of Wanaka, New Zealand and the World on the tiles on the lake promenade

Explore Wanaka’s Photo Lounge

The Picture Gallery in Wanaka

Wanaka 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.

Go skydiving!

Things to do in Wanaka: Skydiving

Jump out of a plane at Lake Wanaka – views don’t get much better than this!

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

Things to do in Wanaka: Patagonia Chocolates

For a pick me up in the form of ice cream or chocolates, stop by 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.

Things to do in Wanaka: bars by the lake

Nice bars and cafes on the lake promenade in Wanaka

Where to stay in Wanaka

Things to do in Wanaka: YHA Purple Cow

Good place to stay in Wanaka: the YHA, aka Purple Cow

If you like budget accommodation but want a certain standard of quality, the YHA WanakaΒ 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.

View from the common room at YHA Wanaka

View from the common room!

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!

Twin Ensuite room at the YHA Purple Cow in Wanaka

Twin ensuite room at the YHA Wanaka


Disclosure: I received a night’s accommodation free of charge at YHA Wanaka as part of my #Blog4NZΒ  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!


Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook

  8 comments for “Things to do in Wanaka

  1. 19 December, 2012 at 16:20

    You always hear about Swiss or German chocolate. Armenian in New Zealand. Wonder how it stacks up to the others?

    • Christina
      19 December, 2012 at 23:25

      I’d walk past any German or Swiss chocolate just to get my hands on this one. Honestly. In reality I won’t, as there isn’t any Patagonia Chocolate in London, but if there were… !!! So good.

  2. 21 December, 2012 at 01:40

    I was in Wanaka a few years ago while on the South Island. It’s all you reported in your article. I never saw the Patagonia Chocolates though. Just another reason to revisit. Thanks for sharing!

    • Christina
      21 December, 2012 at 21:44

      Hi Cynthia! Glad you had a good time in Wanaka. Patagonia Chocolates just opened their store in Wanaka this spring actually. And you’re absolutely right, a nice add on to your next Wanaka trip! Happy Holidays!

  3. 21 December, 2012 at 22:19

    I think I’d like Wanaka very much, but I’d probably skip the skydiving — just not the thing for me. Chocolates – yes! Yay for NZ being the first country where women won the vote!!

    • Christina
      27 December, 2012 at 16:33

      I’m telling you, the walk along the lake is very informative – loved those tiles. Bit of a distraction from the views though πŸ™‚

  4. 24 January, 2013 at 03:30

    Hi Christina – glad you enjoyed your visit to Wanaka and to the gallery!

    Thanks heaps for the mention, always great to see people responding well to what we have set out to do πŸ™‚

    All the Best,
    Christopher Thompson

    • Christina
      29 January, 2013 at 22:17

      Hey, thanks for stopping by, Christopher!
      Absolutely in love with Wanaka, and the gallery is also partly responsible for that! So glad I wandered through the streets and came across it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: