6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Skip Wanaka

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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:

Gorgeous location

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:

Lupins in Wanaka
Lupins blooming in spring
Lake Wanaka
Stunning even under clouds
Wanaka in autumn

Rippon Vineyard

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.

Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka
The view over Rippon Winery

Hiking nearby

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.

Looking out over Lake Wanaka
Rocky Mountain track
Diamond Lake from the Rocky Mountain Track
Rocky Mountain Track

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.

Lake Wanaka from above
Flying over Lake Wanaka

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!

New Zealand breakfast
Brunch at Gusto

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!

Having fun in Wanaka, NZ

Have you ever been to a place that many people skip, but that you fell in love with?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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42 Comments on “6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Skip Wanaka

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  1. Thanks for this great post. Ex-pat Kiwi living overseas and planning a South Island trip with my partner for next Jan when we go back to see family there. I have driven through Wanaka, but as you wrote, I didn’t take time to look around in detail. We will definitely be stopping for a night or two!

    We’re in Wanaka now and loving it! Sadly I haven’t been able to find any lupin 🙁

      Glad to hear you’re loving it! Lupins generally bloom in New Zealand’s summer, and are often best in December. But keep your eye out for any late bloomers! There may still be some around.

    Another very helpful post. I will be basing myself in Wanaka for three days next month and I will not have a car as I will be traveling solo and was wondering how easy to get public transportation to nearby Mt Aspiring National Park.

      Hmmm I’m not sure on that. Wanaka is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and while the city itself is pretty walkable, I’m not sure there even *is* public transportation! You’ll have to look into it when you get there. There might be a hiking shuttle that I don’t know about.

    Which part of Wanaka was the lupins photo taken at? Might be there this Dec and totally want to see that! 🙂

      I don’t remember the exact location, but if you have a car, I would suggest just driving around the lake! There are so many fields of them in the South Island!

    […] Zealand (Mount Cook), the Southern Scenic Route along the coast, the Southern Lakes region around Lake Wanaka, strange rock formations like the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki and the Moeraki Boulders, and amazing […]

    […] And you might think that a country as small as New Zealand wouldn’t have much more to see. But oh how wrong you would be! New Zealand is FULL of incredible corners, from the beautiful beaches of the Bay of Islands to the bird sanctuary on Kapiti Island to the coastal town of Kaikoura to the wildness of the West Coast to cool and funky Wanaka. […]

    Hey Amanda, I can totally relate to your post, Wanaka is beautiful, but in a way sometimes it is a good thing when things dont get to out of Hand. Let Queenstown be the explored, Wanaka is cute and beautiful the way it is but why skyscrapers it would just not be the same anymore.

      Luckily you won’t really find skyscrapers anywhere in New Zealand, except maybe in Auckland (though even then they aren’t very tall because of the chance of earthquakes!). 😉 I don’t think you need to worry about them popping up in Wanaka! The locals definitely wouldn’t allow it.

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