Small Town New Zealand: Wanaka

discover wanakaMore laid-back than neighbouring Queenstown, Wanaka sits on the southern edge of glistening Lake Wanaka. With hiking, biking, skiing, boarding and rock climbing opportunities galore, it’s a bit of an adventurer’s paradise…

Discover Mt Aspiring National Park
The 355,543 hectares of nearby Mt Aspiring National Park are packed with glaciers, lush forest and soaring mountain peaks. The Matukituki Valley, an hour west of Wanaka, is the quieter end of the park and offers plenty of walking opportunities. The Rob Roy track is a popular and panoramic three-hour return walk. For a longer hike, try the West Matukituki Track to Aspiring Hut. It’s a scenic, four-to-five-hour return walk over mostly grassy flats.

Snow fun
In the winter months Wanaka is a popular base for skiers and boarders. It’s a 30-minute drive to Treble Cone, one of New Zealand’s top resorts. Also nearby is Cardrona and the cross-country ski field of Snow Farm.

Take a peek at Wanaka’s islands
There are four islands on Lake Wanaka, each a public reserve: Mou Waho Scenic Reserve, Mou Tapu Scenic Reserve, Ruby Island Reserve and Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island Scenic Reserve. Mou Waho and Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island are home to to the rare, flightless buff weka (extinct on the mainland). Several operators run daily cruises to the islands.

Climb Mount Iron
The summit of Mount Iron offers 360-degree views of the the Pisa range, the Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. It’s a fairly gentle, 45-minute hike to the top.

Clip on your crampons
Wanaka is a popular destination for rock climbing. Top spots include Hospital Flat, 12 kilometres from Wanaka town on Mount Aspiring Road, and the Diamond Lake Conservation Area. The Wanaka Rock Climbing Club website has lots of information on routes.

Baffle your brain at Puzzling World
Things get weird at Puzzling World. Bizarre buildings, rooms of illusion and a giant maze are just some of the attractions designed to confuse and confound. Make sure you pay a visit to the toilets! Puzzling World is on the road to Cromwell, 2km from Wanaka.

In the saddle
Speed demons will love the twists and turns of the road around Lake Wanaka – just remember to stop once in a while to enjoy the views! A fun and easy day ride is the 11km Hawea River Track, which links Lake Hawea township with Albert Town. Mountain bikers are spoiled for choice: try the Lismore Jump Park or take a short drive out of town to the Sticky Forest, where a network of technical switchbacks, berms and uphill corkscrews await. For a true gut buster of a ride, head to the Pisa Range, between Wanaka and Queenstown. Here you can test your fitness levels on the Tuohys Gully to Roaring Meg trail, a 20km bike ‘n’ hike across challenging terrain.

Kai Whaka Pai is a cool, local hangout with great coffee and food. Sagan Café and Indian has good value (and tasty) curry tubs.

Watering hole
Wanaka Beer Works brew all sorts of interestingly-named beers and ales. Their tasting room is next door to the brewery at the Flathead Café (9km out of Wanaka on the road to Cromwell).

Image: Ruth Hartnup