Top 12 Things To Do In Wanaka | A Scenic Wonderland

The resort town of Wanaka, with its beautiful blue lakes rimmed with majestic, snow-capped mountains offers many things to do for nature lovers and adventure seekers. This hidden gem, about an hour northeast of Queenstown, is a must-visit on the South Island. It’s less touristy than Queenstown, yet similarly stunning. Set near the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage area, it has a picturesque and charming town center, a laid-back vibe with friendly locals, and no shortage of opportunities for relaxation and adventure.

This post covers the top things to do in Wanaka, from a hike to one of the most instagrammed views in New Zealand, seeing New Zealand’s most photographed tree, leisurely walks along, or boating and adventures in Lake Wanaka and its captivating islands, local wine and craft beer tasting, skiing, skydiving, and much more.

Things To Do In Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka sits near the center of town in a beautiful u-shaped valley created by glacial erosion. It’s located at the eastern base of the Southern Alps, so it’s rimmed with majestic mountains often capped with snow.

Exploring Lake Wanaka is one of the top things to do in Wanaka
Lake Wanaka

The lake gets it name from either the Maori word Oanaka, or Place of Anaka, a historic Maori chief, or the word wānanga, a sacred knowledge or place of learning. Founded by the Maori, they visited in summer, hunting and fishing for provisions. In the 1800’s it became a gold-rush era boomtown. Today it’s a year-round resort town.

There are four small islands in Lake Wanaka to explore (more in this below) and a wide promenade to walk along, picnic by, or just admire the views.

That Wanaka Tree

That Wanaka Tree sits on the southwestern end of Lake Wānaka and is a very popular place to visit. The tree started as a branch used as a farmers fence post over 80 years ago. It became famous when a photo of the tree (taken by Dennis Radermacher) won the 2014 New Zealand Geographic photograph of the year. Now it’s the most famous tree in New Zealand.

Visiting That Wanaka Tree is one of the top things to do in Wanaka
That Wanaka Tree

It’s a simple stop, but worth the 30-minute walk along the lake from the center of town, or 1.2 mile (2 km) drive. It sits solemnly in Lake Wanaka with the mountains poised picturesquely in the distance. Don’t be surprised if the shore is lined with others doing the same thing (it was when I was here).

Roy’s Peak Track

The view from the saddle of Roy’s Peak Track is one of the most instagrammed views from a track in New Zealand and one of the top things to do in Wanaka. Walking to the edge of the ridge at its saddle, you stand above beautiful Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, with views of Mount Aspiring National Park and the Southern Alps.

Hiking Roy’s Peak is one of the top things to do in Wanaka
Roy’s Peak Track

The full trail is challenging at 10 miles (16 km), including return, with an elevation gain of over 4,000’ (1,300 m). Although signs at the trail says it’s a 5-6 hour hike, you can do it in 4 if you’re in good shape (as I did).

The trail zigzags up the side of Mount Roy from a small parking area near Lake Wānaka. It’s not technical, and the trail is well-groomed, making it manageable for those who are persistent, even if only in average condition.

Most people just hike to the saddle for the view, but you can also climb all the way to the summit if you’re ambitious. The saddle, however, really has the best view so no need to go any higher.

Hiking Roy’s Peak is one of the top things to do in Wanaka
Roy’s Peak Track

Roy’s Peak Track is about a 10-minute drive west of central Wanaka. To learn more about hiking the trail and how to get here, see my post on Roy’s Peak Track.

Iron Track

Iron Track, also known as the Rocky Mountain Summit Track, takes you through beech forest and rocky ridgelines to a different view of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding valley.

This trail is not as challenging as Roy’s Peak, as it’s only about 3 miles (4.8 km) with 790’ of elevation gain. The views are also not as stellar, but it’s a great option if you don’t have the time or the energy for Roy’s Peak.

Iron Track is east of central Wānaka, while Roy’s Peak Track is west of it, so offers a different perspective of the lake. It’s much closer to town, only about a 15-minute walk, which makes it a little easier to get to.

Explore Ruby Island

Ruby Island, once used for cabaret parties in the 1920’s, is the closest and most accessible of the four islands in Lake Wanaka (see map of islands below). There are trails to explore, picnic areas (with BBQ facilities) and you can see the old cabaret dance floor.

There are usually several vans renting kayaks, Stand Up Paddle Boards, or other water crafts at the lakefront to access the island on your own. You can also take the Wanaka water taxi or take a tour.

Islands of Lake Wanaka

Explore Mou Waho Island

Mou Waho Island is predator free, so designated as a nature preserve for rare birdlife here. At the center of the island there’s a small lake called Arethusa Pool. It sits at the top of a hill that you can trek to for a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding peaks.

The hike out and back is 1.6 miles with 570’ of elevation gain. As this is a preserve, no pets are allowed here. Camping is permitted and there are BBQ facilities.

To get here, take the Wanaka water taxi or take a tour.

Explore Mou Tapu Island

Mou Tapu is also predator free so also has rare plant and animal life. Because of this, as with Mou Waho, no pets are allowed. This is a scenic reserve with no tracks or facilities.

To get here, take the Wanaka water taxi or take a tour.

Explore Te Peka Karara Island (Stevensons)

Another island to visit is Te Peka Karara, or Stevensons Island. You can walk to the top of the island for great views. It’s a little more than 1/2 mile with less than 100’ of elevation gain. There is also a beach area.

To get here, you can take the Wanaka water taxi or take a tour.

Skydive Wanaka

For an exiting thrill, try Skydive Wanaka. I chose this as the location for my first skydive and loved it! The location here is amazing, as you freefall with views of the lakes and the majestic mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park and the Southern Alps in the distance. Also, as the weather here is sunnier than other skydive locations on the South Island, your dive is less likely to need to be cancelled due to clouds or rain.

Skydiving is one of the top things to do in Wanaka.
Skydiving In Wanaka

There are three options to choose from, you can skydive from 9,000’, for a 25-second freefall, 12,000’, for a 45-second freefall, or 15,000’ feet, for a 60-second freefall. They also offer a variety of photo/video packages to document your dive.

It’s such a thrill, you’ll have a natural high that lasts for a long while, yet it’s safe as you jump with a Tandem Master Diver that has years of experience. To learn more about Skydive Wanaka, see my post on Skydiving in Wanaka | Soaring Through Paradise.

Visit A Lavender Farm

If you want something more relaxing, visit the Lavender Farm. Summer, December through February, is when you’ll find it in bloom, but other times of the year it’s still worth a visit for its seasonal foliage, farm animals, the lavender and honey products sold in its shops, as well as lavender and honey goodies.

The Wanaka Lavender Farm is just a 5-minute drive southeast of central Wanaka. Tickets for a self-guided tour are $15 NZD for adults and $7.50 for children.

Visit Wineries & Craft Breweries

When you’re ready for some refreshment, Wānaka has multiple wineries and craft breweries to choose from.

The five best wineries here include: Rippon, Maude, Aitken’s Folly, Paddon’s Paddock, and Nanny Goat. Each is family owned with a range of wines to try. Tastings are available, but need to be booked in advance. Some offer a menu for grazing, while others focus only on wines. Check the links above for details.

The four craft breweries here include: Ground Up, Rhyme x Reason, Wānaka Beerworks, and b.effect. All, except Wanaka Beerworks, which is a little farther out, are just a few minute drive or 15-minute walk from central Wanaka. They all offer a variety of tastings and tasty treats. Even if it just is a food truck parked nearby.

Another great place to enjoy a local craft beer or a glass of local wine (and you can just walk there without a reservation) is Kai Whaka Pai. It’s located on the main sidewalk near the lakefront.

I stopped here for dinner and to try the local craft beers (which change often) a couple times while staying here. Tables are first come first serve, and the picnic tables out front are shared, so it’s also a great place to meet other travelers and talk about your experience that day.

Fill Your Water Bottle At A Natural Spring

There’s a natural spring in Wanaka where you can fill up your water mugs or jugs. This is a great way to say “no” to refillable plastics. This water comes from the Cardrona River aquifer.

Look for the waterspouts in the rocks just beyond the children’s playground by the waterfront. Don’t be surprised if there is a line here.

Filling your water bottle at this spring is one of the top things to do in Wanaka
Wanaka Natural Spring

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Where To Stay In Wanaka


  • I stayed at the Mountain View Backpackers on this trip as I wanted to meet other travelers here. They offer 4-bed dorms, a shared kitchen for cooking, and laundry facilities. There’s also a Four Square market nearby for groceries. The main square, lake, and several restaurants are also in walking distance. I found the staff and guests really friendly here. The evenings here were relatively quiet as most people were up early to do some adventuring. The only thing I didn’t like about this hostel is that there were several digital nomads working in the kitchen. As a few of them were having live meetings in the kitchen/living room area, it kind of killed the social vibe (we were all trying to respect their meeting by remaining quiet).
  • Adventure Wānaka is another popular hostel here. They offer 6-bed dorms with a shared kitchen and lounge, laundry facilities, and free bike usage. It’s located near Mountain Backpackers above, so also close to groceries, the lake and town.


  • If you want something a little more luxurious and private, stay at Lakeside Luxury Studio Apartment. These units festure modern decor and are situated with stunning lake views and within walking distance of central Wānaka. Rooms have tea and coffee making equipment.


  • If you want more something even more luxurious, stay at Luxury Lakeview on Ardmore With Sauna. These units are located very close to the center of town and rooms feature mountain and lake views with kitchen and living room area, and, a sauna.

How To Get To Wanaka


If self-driving, Wanaka is about an hour northeast of Queenstown, 4 hours southwest of Franz Josef Glacier, and 5 hours southwest of Christchurch.


There is a shuttle from Queenstown to Wanaka that takes about an hour and 50 minutes and costs about $40 NZD (as of April 2024). See Ritchies for more details.


The Intercity Bus from Queenstown to Wanaka takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The cost is about $40 NZD (as of April 2024). The Intercity Bus from Christchurch to Wanaka takes about 7 hours and costs about $100 NZD.

Shared Rides

Look for shared ride opportunities. There are several Facebook groups where you can post for shared rides (search for the latest in Facebook Groups). Another option is to sign up at Coseats, where drivers list rides they are offering and the cost.

Want More Of New Zealand?

For other great things to do in Wanaka, see my posts on Skydiving In Wanaka and Hiking Roy’s Peak Track, two of the most popular things to do here.

For other great hikes in New Zealand, see my posts on Routeburn Track, Tongariro, Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Cape Brett Walkway, Key Summit Track, A Day Hike on Kepler Track, Ben Lomond Track, and Queesntown Hill Walkway. Routeburn, Tongariro, Kepler, and Abel Tasman are 4 of New Zealand’s 10 “Great Walks”, but all of these hikes are amazing.

If you’re on the South Island, you must visit stunning Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, the unmissable Milford Sound, sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world, and all the stops along the way on the drive from Queenstown To Te Anau and Te Anau to Milford Sound.

There’s also Wanaka, where you can get an amazing view of Mount Aspiring National Park hiking Roy’s Peak Track and incredible Franz Josef Glacier where you can walk on a glacier!

Christchurch is another great stop with amazing street art, many multicultural cafes, beautiful landscapes, and great museums.

If you’re a wine lover, make sure to stop in Marlborough to taste some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc. There are many famous wineries (and smaller local ones) to stop at and enjoy great food and wine. Even better, many now also offer beer as well.

To help plan your trip, see my New Zealand Travel Guide. It covers the top destinations above, how to get around, when to visit, safety tips, and more.

Safe Travels!


Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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