Lake Wanaka, New Zealand is almost the perfect city with a small town feel and large city amenities. Guests will enjoy special events, local tourism, and award-winning foods and wines. Lake Wanaka was founded in the mid to late 1800s, although the local Maori tribe had settled it long before then. It was a natural crossroad between the Haast Pass and the Cardrona Valley.
It is currently used for sheep farming as well as tourism. Lake Wanaka has been used for many film backdrops as well, like the Lord of the Rings and Mission Impossible. The town is located at the base of the Southern Alps and its nearest large city is Queenstown, New Zealand.
Lake Wanaka is close to a stunning national park, Mount Aspiring. The area is an official “world heritage” site and allows visitors to hike up the glacier (Rob Roy), jet ski through the heart of the local mountain range or take a flight through the glaciers.
A fun attraction for visitors of legal drinking age (which is 18 years of age) is to visit the Cardrona Distillery. This distillery manufactures the only whiskey that is considered “single malt” in the entire country of New Zealand and is made with pure alpine water from the Cardrona area. There are three different tour options for guests - from a classic tour of just the distillery itself to an entire half day experience including a master class in creating handmade cocktails.
Visitors who like to get out into nature will enjoy taking a bike tour. These guided tours will lead visitors through trails at their level and preference, from meandering, slow rides through trails along the lakefront to adrenaline pumping Heli-biking (landing at one of the highest elevation trails in the country at 6500 feet). Experienced and knowledgeable guides will provide in-depth information about the region, including stories about the history of Lake Wanaka.
The Lake Wanaka area is also well known for its “eco” tourism. Tours start with a cruise across the lake that ends at Mou Waho, a magical island and nature reserve that is home to the Buff Weka (a rare, flightless bird indigenous to the area). Once reaching Mou Waho, guests will be taken on an hour-long hike leading up the island to the very top and ending at the lake there. Guests will enjoy afternoon tea on the scenic island and will then be able to plant a native tree and give back to the ecosystem of this beautiful island.
Thrill seekers will also enjoy scaling to the top of the highest waterfall in the world, via ferrata (translating to iron road). Tour guides will lead guests up the trail to Twin Falls, crossing wire bridges, hidden pools, and finishing with a picnic lunch with some of the most stunning views in not only New Zealand, but the world.
Visitors to Lake Wanaka should also enjoy a day spent on the actual lake. Guests can rent or bring their own kayak or paddleboard and spend anywhere from a few hours to a full overnight experience on the lake. There are guided tours available although they are not necessary to enjoy the full lake experience.
The Warbirds over Wanaka event, a live airshow for airplane enthusiasts that occurs annually during the end of March, is a top special event in Lake Wanaka. Guests can even purchase rides in some of the aircraft, which ranges from microlights, helicopters, warbirds, and more.
Guests who enjoy music will love the Festival of Colours, a six day and night musical festival held in April every year. Featuring top artists in not only music but also dance/performance and visual arts, the Festival of Colours is one of the biggest local draws (next to the similar Rhythm and Alps festival, held in December).
Visitors who enjoy sporting events will love the Audi Quattro games, which attracts the top athletes from all over the world to Lake Wanaka. X Games, Paralympic, and even Olympic athletes come to town to complete in freestyle, snowboard, cross country, and other winter events. There is also live music and DJs, food, and family friendly events.
Dining and Shopping
Lake Wanaka is considered a haven for food lovers, mainly due to its many lakefront restaurants. Many of the restaurants are award winning and feature the best the region has to offer (lamb, wine, bread, and more). There are also a variety of shopping options, mostly from local artisans and boutique shops.