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. Thank you for sharing these precious tips, Amanda! Wanaka has so many beautiful things to offer.

      It really does! I’m happy to get to tell people about it!

    Wow it looks so beautiful. I can’t believe i lived in NZ for 11 years and didn’t hear of this place.

      Seriously?? That makes me so sad! Wanaka is awesome!

    Ahhhh! Amanda! I miss New Zealand so very much. And Wanaka was a place I usually only passed through but always wished I could stay longer. The buses always did their pit stop there real quick. But incredible photos, and I’ve been on that rope swing!!! Haha.

      Well next time you should definitely stay for a few days! 🙂

    You had me at winery. Seriously though, your photos are beyond beautiful and New Zealand is my dream destination. I’ve been LOVING your posts! Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

      Aww thanks, Lauren! I love writing about New Zealand, so I’m happy to hear people are enjoying reading them!

    Loving these New Zealand posts

      Thanks, Rebecca! Glad to hear it, because I have plenty more to come! 🙂

    Oh my, Wanaka is a place that I can so see myself falling in love with! I’m planning to head to NZ some time during the next two years and your posts (and Liz’s, of course!) just make that desire bigger every day! 🙂

      Definitely not difficult to fall in love with Wanaka!

    You have completely sold Wanaka to me, what a beauty and such a cute name too!!
    I went to Nara and Kyoto in Japan, small towns close to Tokyo which were pretty charming and not crowded as well. Even in India, the smaller villages have so much more beauty then the bigger cities!

      It’s definitely true in New Zealand, too! Some of my favorite places there are the smaller towns that a lot of people skip. I’m glad I’ve sold you on Wanaka!

      Kyoto and Nara are not so small! Many tourists go there. I lived in Kanazawa, Japan for two years. Now THAT’S a beautiful city that’s only just opening up and getting popular for tourists. I really recommend it!

    I’m sure to explore Wanaka on my NZ trip, and the credit goes to you! 🙂 Can’t miss out on those gorgeous views…(gasp)

    New Zeland will probably be my next destination. When do you think is the best season to go?

      Any season, really! Summer (Dec.-Feb.) generally has nice weather, but it’s also high season, so you’ll run into more tourists and higher prices. I’ve gone quite a few times in the winter and actually had a good time. You’ll run into more rain up north in the winter, but as long as you pack layers you’ll be fine!

      My *favorite* time to go is in shoulder season. May or November are both great. In May, you’ll see fall colors on the South Island, and in November the lupins will be blooming.

    That is some gorgeous scenery! I can totally see why hiking would be popular there. And that brunch doesn’t look too bad either!

      New Zealand in general is a hiker’s paradise – especially the South Island!

      And yeah… kiwis love their brunches! I had eggs benedict so many times during my month there! Haha.

    Wanaka is one of my favourite spots in the South Island and I have only visited in Winter so far so I’m sure I will love it even more in summer! I’m actually getting married there at the end of next year 🙂

      Aww that’s awesome! Where in Wanaka are you getting married?

    I think this post should be called ’11 Photos Why You Shouldn’t Skip Wanaka’ – they’re gorgeous! Oh, and that brunch looks amazing… Would love to properly explore Wanaka on my next trip to NZ. (Determined that there’s going to be another one – it’s too beautiful a country to only explore once.)

      NZ is definitely a place that deserves many return trips! And yes, make sure to chill out in Wanaka next time! I spent a week there on my most recent trip, and it was amazing!

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