Holiday town of Wanaka

View of Lake Wanaka and surrounding countryside from our AirBnb.

Wanaka is a lake town located in the Otago region of the South Island. Wanaka is like the younger bohemian sister of Queenstown, its ideal for tourists wanting a more authentic experience than what the adventure capital can provide. The vibe of this town is laidback charm, akin to a surfing beach town. Wanaka, however is much larger than first meets the eye. Accomodation options range from upscale apartments with views of the lakeside to camping facilities right by the lakeshore.

Lake Wanaka

 I feel like I need to take a moment to describe the lake view itself. We arrived into town at dusk, and were presented with an eery view of the lake and its surrounding mountain range shrouded in a layer of fog. The whole atmosphere felt like a medieval tale – you know the one about that famous sword in the stone? It was incredibly magical. We were lucky enough to stay at an Airbnb that overlooked this stunning fairytale view!

Things to do:

Wanaka is an ideal destination for travellers who are keen to explore the UNESCO listed Mount Aspiring National Park. The township is surrounded by four ski resorts with Cardrona and Treble Cone being two of the most popular. Wanaka though, is an ideal place to visit throughout the year for skiing in the winter to skydiving, canyoning, mountaineering and hiking in the warmer months. Lake Wanaka is also an ideal place for water based activities like kayaking, fishing, jet boating and lake cruising. Honestly you’re spoilt for choice for things to do in this area. 

Views of the Mount Aspiring National Park.

Wanaka Lavender farm:

The Lavender farm is located just outside of the Wanaka township. It is renowned for its beautiful lavender fields and locally made lavender products. Visiting the farm is a fun family day out where you can walk through the beautiful grounds, visit with the local farm animals and play some outdoor garden games. The farm also has an onsite cafe where you can eat some of their handmade lavender ice cream. On a sunny day its a perfect place for a relaxing picnic and stroll.

Lavender Farm maze
Garden games: Connect Four
Veggie patch and the local scarecrow
The farm animals.

Hiking:

With its proximity to the Mount Aspiring National Park there are plenty of hikes and natural wonders to see around Wanaka. Here are a list of hiking options near the township.

Blue Pools:

The Haast Pass Highway lies between Wanaka and the west coast and is well known for the numerous scenic spots along the way. The Blue Pools are located a short drive away from Wanaka along the highway. The Blue Pools are famous for their turquoise coloured water. You can spend time taking in the view by taking the one hour loop hike through the surrounding beech forest. This is a relatively flat hike recommended for families.

Blue Pools

Roys Peak:

The Roys Peak hike is one of those must do hikes of New Zealand. It is a 5-6 hour return hike with its departure point 6 mins drive out of the Wanaka township making it incredibly accessible. The elevation to the summit is 1578m, with the track length spanning 11km. This track requires a reasonable level of fitness due to some steep areas. The scenic viewpoints and the summit near the top will give you a view of the southern alps, Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring. This view at the top is a popular instagrammed photo and the hike itself is listed as one NZs best day hikes.

The view from the top of Roy’s Peak

Mount Iron:

For those who want a shorter climb, Mount Iron gives panoramic views over Wanaka town itself with a much shorter hike time of 1 hr and 30 mins return. 

Rob Roy Glacier:

We decided to hike to the Rob Roy Glacier as we really wanted the opportunity to see a glacial landscape whilst on the South Island. The entry point for this hike is the Raspberry Creek carpark which is actually located an hours drive from Wanaka through the Matukituki valley. During this drive you get a chance to appreciate the NZ countryside. Two private properties line both sides of the road and it’s possible to see the farmers herding their sheep during the day. This feels like a quintessential NZ experience waiting for the sheep to pass before you can continue driving! 

The local sheep in the Matukituki Valley crossing the road in front of us.

The hiking trail, opens up in the Mount Aspiring National Park with its glacial valleys, alpine lakes and rocky mountains. The hike itself takes 4 hours return and spans a distance of 10 km. This track also requires a reasonable level of fitness as there are narrow areas of trail hugging the cliff face and some rocky areas. It is an incredible beautiful walk though, as you meander up the mountain you walk through the valley floor and all the way up into the alpine skyline. During the ascent the temperature does drop quickly so be sure to pack appropriate gear for the summit.

The beginning of the Rob Roy Glacier hike.
The views of the national park during the hike.

The first lookout point gives you a nice glimpse of the glacier and is a nice way to take a short break. However, it definitely is worth spending the extra 30 mins to hike to the summit. The glacier sprawls out in front of you. It is so much larger than you could have imagined from the glimpse at the first lookout point. The temperature up here is cold and we ended up putting on our pre-packed layers.

The Rob Roy glacier. Its difficult to see, however it is the mass of white at the top of the photo.

The really beautiful thing about the Rob Roy glacier hike is you have an opportunity to get right up close and personal with the National Park. The vistas at the beginning of the walk are incredible and it’s easy to imagine that you are just a traveller in a very rocky yet picturesque lord of the rings landscape. 

A scenic viewpoint into the valley during the hike.

Food:

When anyone speaks about an upcoming trip to New Zealand, food generally takes a back seat to the stunning scenic beauty of the South Island. It really shouldn’t though. The South Island has a strong farm to table philosophy resulting in delicious, fuss free cuisine. The township of Wanaka is within the famed Otago region of the South Island. As such the food options here are diverse and plentiful. Within a short drive it is possible to end up at nearby wineries and farm shops. 

Eating a famous New Zealand pie from one of the local bakeries in Wanaka by the lakeshore.

Our three hour drive from Lake Tekapo to Wanaka led us to visit the High Country Salmon Farm and Cafe in Twizel for a late brunch. We took the opportunity to stretch our legs and roamed the decking surrounding the salmon farm and had the opportunity to feed the salmon as well. The draw cards at the cafe are the salmon pies, hot smoked and cured salmons. We ended up buying some cold cured salmon to take with us during our journey. It was some of the best cured salmon we have eaten. 

The waterways of the salmon farm.
Feeding the salmon
Hot smoked salmon pie.
Some of the salmon products on sale at the High Country Salmon Cafe.

The food scene within the Wanaka township itself is thriving. There is a parking lot in the centre of town dedicated to food trucks and plenty of restaurants on the lake foreshore. There is even a food truck that specialises in Bluff oysters during the season! We ended up at the Mexican food truck twice. It’s authentic style Mexican food with a choice of tacos and burritos on offer. B highly rated the fish tacos here!

Burrito Craft food truck located in a carpark in Wanaka.
Tacos from the Burrito Craft foodtruck.

We also completed a short drive to the Mt Difficulty vineyard for a long lunch. The drive was 45mins from Wanaka and was through the beautiful Otago countryside. The vineyard restaurant is situated on the top of a mountainside and the stunning valley lays beneath you. The food has a fantastic farm to table ethos with a touch of gourmet. The wines though are the real winner here. We decided to share the Pinot tasting box and were blown away by the intricacies in the different Pinots. It would have been fantastic to have had more time in the Otago region to sample all the amazing food and wine as there are a range of highly recommend wineries to visit. 

Savouring a Mt Difficulty pinot overlooking the Otago countryside.
The food at the Mt Difficulty Winery.

Things to remember:

  1. This is the type of place to go if you want a laidback holiday town atmosphere 
  2. Plan to spend time in the Otago countryside during your time in Wanaka, there are so many fantastic places to dine at
  3. Wanaka is a good place to situate yourselves if you are interested in skiing over the winter months
  4. #ThatWanakatree is a famous insta photo opportunity and is located at Roy’s Bay. It has a stunning backdrop of the Mount Aspiring National Park
  5. The Mount Aspiring National Park is a wilderness of alpine flora, mountains and valleys. Definitely try and access one of the hikes in this area to experience some of the South Islands natural beauty
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