If you’re planning to travel to New Zealand, especially if you’re exploring the South Island, Wanaka deserves a place on your itinerary. It’s a small town on the edge of a lake, surrounded by mountains. If you love outdoor adventures and spectacular views, Wanaka is the place for you. There are so many things to do in Wanaka that you could easily spend a few days there.
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Justin and I spent two nights and one day in Wanaka. We felt as though this Wanaka itinerary was a great balance between outdoor activities, absorbing the scenery, and checking out the foodie scene. The two of us also stayed in a super interesting accommodation where you’ll want to spend some time, too!
Top Things to Do in Wanaka Video
Prefer watching videos to reading? Here’s everything that we did during our one day in Wanaka. If you’d like more information about the locations in the video, read on!
Also, please excuse my pronunciation of “Wanaka”. As I tend to be the queen of pronouncing things incorrectly, the name of town should sound more like “WAN-ah-kah” than “Wanak-ah”.
What to Do in Wanaka: Go Hiking at Diamond Lake
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Wanaka New Zealand. The most famous hike in Wanaka is the one to Roys Peak. The Roys Peak hike time can take the better portion of a day. It’s about a 5-7 hour hike. Knowing how much I love to stop and take pictures along the way, I can imagine that it would be more like 8 hours. It’s also a fairly strenuous hike: 16km round trip with an elevation of 1.2km. If you choose to do the Roy Peaks hike, I recommend getting to the car park early in the morning. Justin and I drove past the Roys Peak car park around noon and it was packed.
Diamond Lake Conservation Area is a fabulous alternative hike to Roys Peak. There are beautiful views, even if you only hike a portion of the trail. If you’re short on time or you’re interested in a short hike, consider walking the path at Diamond Lake Wanaka. It’s the perfect hike for one day in Wanaka.
Hiking Trails at Diamond Lake Wanaka
At Diamond Lake in Wanaka, you’ll have a few options for hitting the trails. The path starts at the car park (it is free and it has a small outhouse if nature calls). Walk along the path until you reach Diamond Lake. You can choose to take the Diamond Lake Circuit Track that encircles the lake or climb upwards to the Diamond Lake Lookout. We hiked to the top of the hill for the lookout where we enjoyed brilliant views of Diamond Lake. On a brighter day, you can sometimes see reflections of the mountains in the lake. The path to the Diamond Lake Lookout takes about an hour in total (round trip) and it’s 2km in length.
If you’d like to continue your hike, you can take the circuit path to the Lake Wanaka Lookout (two hours in total, 5km in length). You can also take the Rocky Mountain Summit Track (three hours in total, 7km in length). The Rocky Mountain Summit Track offers stunning views of the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring from the top. Unfortunately, it was a little too muddy and raining off and on when we visited, so we only hiked to the Diamond Lake Lookout.
Take a Stroll Around Town and the Lake Wanaka Waterfront
When I visit small towns, I love simply walking around and absorbing the bustling atmosphere. Wanaka has a little downtown area with restaurants, patios, cafes, and shops. I recommend walking around Wanaka on foot and popping into the stores and cafes that catch your attention. While we went to a few restaurants in Wanaka (see below), we also visited a small natural grocery store called Soulfood to grab a few grocery items and vegan treats.
Lake Wanaka is such a gorgeous body of water because there are impressive mountain peaks all around. Go for a walk along the waterfront of Lake Wanaka right from downtown Wanaka. There’s ample parking and there’s a lengthy shoreline to explore. If you’re lucky, you might visit at a time when the lupines are in bloom. We managed to find lupine blooms in shades of yellow, pink, and purple on our stroll. I recommend visiting Wanaka in November if you love lupines. If you’re looking for things to do in Wanaka, it can be something as simple as stopping to smell the flowers!
If you’re looking for more Wanaka activities, some of the top things to do in Wanaka are right on the lake itself. For instance, you can go for a half day kayaking tour on Lake Wanaka. There’s also a stand up paddle boarding (SUP) tour on Lake Wanaka, too. For an entirely unique experience, take a luxury catamaran cruise on Lake Wanaka to Stevensons Island for a guided nature hike.
Wanaka Attractions: That Wanaka Tree (#ThatWanakaTree)
While you’re down by the Wanaka waterfront, you should stop to see “That Wanaka Tree”. It’s a very famous tree that stands alone in the middle of Lake Wanaka. The tree even has its own social media hashtag – #ThatWanakaTree! There aren’t too many Wanaka attractions that are quite as popular as this tree, especially on Instagram.
So, what’s so special about this particular tree? Well, it’s growing far from the shoreline on its own in the lake, so it’s rather striking. It makes for the subject of a beautiful photo with the mountains in the distance. You might even capture a pretty sky at sunrise or sunset. Otherwise, it’s a tree, plain and simple. It’s not necessary that you visit That Wanaka Tree. I’m not sure that it belongs on the list of top things to do in Wanaka, but you should check it out if you’re in the area.
Taste the Delicious Vegan Food in Wanaka
If you follow a vegan, vegetarian, or healthier food diet, you’ll have no problem finding delicious food in Wanaka. There’s really something for everyone here! Well, there aren’t any strictly vegan restaurants in Wanaka, but there are plenty with yummy vegan options. Here’s my entire vegan guide to Wanaka if you’re interested in delving deeper.
Jack Rabbit Restaurant
The Jack Rabbit Restaurant and Bar is a spacious restaurant just outside of town. It’s right next to a cinema and an indoor rock climbing facility, if the mood strikes you for either of those activities. There’s a separate vegan section of the menu with pizza and a burger. Also, there are other items marked “VG” on the menu that are also vegan, including a dessert.
Kai Whakapai is a chill cafe and restaurant – the name of the restaurant means “food made good”. There’s a variety of food, coffee, tea, and beer here. There are vegan pizzas, and we each opted for the tofu noodle bowl. Paired with a beer, it totally hit the spot!
The Dripping Bowl in downtown Wanaka is among a small collection of food trailers. They serve healthy and whole food options that are about 80% vegan. You’ll find smoothies, smoothie bowls, soups, coffee, and raw desserts. It’s a fabulous little breakfast or lunch spot in town. I devoured my acai smoothie bowl made with coconut milk.
Burrito Craft is right across from Dripping Bowl in the food truck area. They have vegan burritos all day long, including a breakfast burrito in the morning. They also offer vegetarian and vegan options like a mushroom filling and smoky jackfruit.
Stay Overnight in a Yurt in Wanaka
In Wanaka, we recommend that you seize the opportunity to stay in a super unique, quirky, and amazing accommodation: Oasis Yurt Lodge. Oasis Yurts is one of the best places to stay in Wanaka for nature lovers. It’s a way to experience a form of “glamping” in New Zealand. Your hut is far more luxurious than camping because you have a comfortable bed and it doesn’t require any setting up on your part. Even still, you can step outside your front door and look up to the stars at night. Your yurt is closer to the great outdoors than a traditional hotel room, and it’s a very peaceful place to stay.
Interested in staying at one of the most unique properties in New Zealand? Book your stay at Oasis Yurt Lodge and read more reviews from fellow travelers, too. One of our favorite things to do in Wanaka was relaxing at our yurt.
Day Trips From Wanaka
While there are lots of things to do in Wanaka New Zealand, it’s also a fantastic home base for day trips. There are so many other highlights in the region, so why limit yourself to staying entirely in the town of Wanaka? New Zealand is such an amazing road trip destination, so you’ll want to get out of town to make the most of your journey.
Visit Historic Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining village dating back to the mid-1800s. Built on the banks of the Arrow River, Arrowtown has many perfectly maintained original buildings that certainly add to the town’s charms and quirks. In 1862, thousands of miners raced to Arrowtown, completely taken by gold rush fever. Even though the miners have long departed, their stories are preserved in local museums and landmarks. It’s a wonderful little day trip from Queenstown or Wanaka.
Take a Walk Around Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is a small lake that’s pretty close to Queenstown (15 minutes from Queenstown and about 50 minutes from Wanaka). It’s easy to incorporate a trip to Arrowtown and Lake Hayes because they’re pretty close together. It takes around two or three hours to completely walk around Lake Hayes (the loop is 8km in total). It’s a beautiful place to admire the lake, the trees and flowers around it, and stunning views of the distant mountains.
Spend a Day in Queenstown
Queenstown is only an hour’s drive from Wanaka, so you can easily drive there for a day trip. Ride the Skyline Queenstown Gondola, walk around the lake, go hiking, sample delicious food at Queenstown restaurants and stop for a cup of coffee. There are so many things to do in Queenstown in a day. We spent two nights in Queenstown and two nights in Wanaka on our New Zealand road trip. However, you could easily spend three nights in Wanaka and take a trip to Queenstown for the day.
More Things to Do in Wanaka
If you have even time for even more Wanaka activities, here’s are more suggestions and ideas. There are so many things to do in Wanaka that you could spend a day here or a week!
- Go hiking at Mount Iron (a 4.5km loop that takes approximately 1.5 hours with a magnificent view at the top)
- Rent bikes and ride all over town. Or, better yet, experience a self guided bike ride from Lake Hawea to Lake Wanaka, including a shuttle to Lake Hawea to start and bike rentals (you can also choose an e-bike!).
- Check this one off your bucket list: a scenic helicopter ride into the majestic Southern Alps with a glacier landing for the best views.
- The ultimate thrill-seekers’ experience: go skydiving over Wanaka with views of six lakes, the Southern Alps, and Mount Cook.
Hopefully this blog post inspires you to take a trip to Wanaka, New Zealand as soon as possible. And I hope that if you were searching for what to do in Wanaka, you’re no longer left wondering. Whether you spend a day in Wanaka or longer, I’m happy that you’ll get to experience this magical destination.
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