As small as New Zealand is, I still feel like there are some towns and areas that the average tourist does not even think of visiting. Or, they think about it, but then opt to go somewhere else.
Take Wanaka, for example. This small city located on New Zealand's South Island is an amazing place to plant yourself for a while. But most people either skim through it, or skip it entirely in favor of nearby Queenstown.
Now, don't get me wrong — Queenstown is awesome and I love it a lot. But you should make room in your plans to visit Wanaka, too.
Here are six of the many reasons you shouldn't skip Wanaka on a trip to New Zealand:
Located on the southern end of Lake Wanaka and within a short drive of Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka has some seriously amazing views to boast of. You can see snow-capped mountains from just about anywhere in town, find fields of lupins in the spring/summer, and get treated to fall colors in autumn.
I'll let these photos speak for themselves:
Speaking of great views, one of the best in Wanaka can be see at Rippon Vineyard. This view out over Lake Wanaka has made Rippon one of the most-photographed vineyards in the world (or at least in New Zealand). And the wine-tasting isn't half-bad, either.
If you want even BETTER views, there are plenty of hiking trails close to Wanaka that will take you up above the lake for some great vantage points. Mount Iron is a popular place for locals to go for a jog; the Rocky Mountain Track is only a 20-minute drive from town; and if you're feeling extra ambitious, go for the summit of Roys Peak, which has become Instagram-famous over the last couple of years.
Wealth of outdoor adventure sports
Wanaka is full of the sorts of crazy adventure sports that New Zealand is known for. You can do everything from mountain biking to kayaking to jet boating to skiing to sky diving here. You can even take the controls and fly a plane over Lake Wanaka with U-Fly Wanaka.
Talk to some locals from Wanaka, and you'll find out that nearly everyone has an epic hobby here because it's all so accessible.
Cheaper than Queenstown
And guess what? A lot of those adventure sports I mentioned above can be had for WAY LESS in Wanaka than in nearby Queenstown. Yes, Queenstown is the “adventure capital” of New Zealand and the home of bungee jumping — but you can do almost all of the same things in Wanaka for less.
This goes for accommodation, too — you can typically find better deals in Wanaka, especially during high season.
Cafes and quirks
Lastly, if all the adventure sports and outdoor activities aren't really for you, Wanaka has a fairly large number of cafes (considering its size). And most of them serve up great food and delicious coffee. There's even a decent Mexican place in Wanaka!
If you're looking for a cafe vibe AND some Wanaka charm, catch a movie at Cinema Paradiso. The main theater consists of couches and half-cars, and they have an intermission built in to every movie, during which you can go to the concession stand and buy freshly-baked cookies. Only in Wanaka.
After spending a week in Wanaka with my friend Liz, I can totally understand why she's fallen in love with it. The town gives you everything in a small, laid-back package. I basically didn't want to leave!
Have you ever been to a place that many people skip, but that you fell in love with?