Reasons why you need to visit Wanaka

When people ask me ‘where’s your favourite place that you’ve been to?‘ I usually jump to these 3 countries and specific places:

  1. Slovenia (Lake Bled),
  2. China (Yangshou) and
  3. New Zealand (Wanaka).

So this was the first time I’d ever returned a second time to a place I once loved so much.

When driving from Franz Josef to Wanaka, I felt like a lot of pressure as I really hoped this town would live up to the memory I had during the Kiwi Experience 3 years ago. I recalled the drive to Wanaka and how it surprised everyone, you suddenly turn around a bend and slowly approach Wanaka lake and you’re overwhelmed by the scenery, the mountain ranges and all of that beautiful blue lake and you’re desperately looking for a safe place to stop and just admire the view.

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The drive into Wanaka in March 2015

Wanaka is the gateway to the Southern Alps’ Mount Aspiring National Park, a wilderness of glaciers, beech forests and alpine lakes. It’s a resort town on New Zealand’s South Island in the Otago region.

So with all of these mountains, lakes and forests, all in all, it’s a stunning place to visit! Everyone talks about Queenstown as the best destination of the South Island, which might be the case if you’re here for extreme sports or nightlife, however I think Wanaka has better views.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re here for skiing, it’s a gateway to Cardrona, Treble Cone, Snow Farm and Soho Basin. Unlike places like Franz Josef and Arthur’s Pass, this is a bigger sized town so there’s plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants to be able to enjoy the place for a few days. I’d recommend spending 2-3 nights here

What to do in Wanaka:

ONE: Roys Peak

It’s a 6 hour round trip and it’s marked as ‘easy’ in some cases and ‘hard’ in others – very weather dependant and also it’s about the person… I would say it’s an easy route that requires stamina and patience because as soon as you start, it’s all up hill. You just go up, up and up and you’ll be out of breath a lot. But the view is incredible the whole way up and it just keeps getting better and better. You will (and should) keep going because you know the ultimate view overseeing Wanaka lake and the surrounding mountains is coming up.

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This was around 6am

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When we started seeing snow

This walk is by far the most beautiful and scenic that I have ever completed. We started at 5.30am which I thought was perfect because we saw the hike in the dark and as the sun rose. So it just kept changing which just kept us going. Then when we hit the first peak, there were just a handful of people. The view was absolutely mind-blowing.

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Some Irish guys camped the night before – apparently it was freezing!
The first peak worth walking for!!!!

The next peak (and the very top) is an hour roundtrip and it was thick with snow but again we kept going for the view.

It was a little bit more technical because of the snow and we were in trainers so our footwear wasn’t the best for this kind of hike but we were so so so happy to make it to the top. My goodness it was beautiful – I felt a great sense of achievement to have completed it and I couldn’t believe my eyes looking around what the 360 views of mountains and islands. WOW, just WOW!

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The walk down is also as incredible as walking up, so see so much of the lake and the mountain range in the distance. It was also wonderful to know that the worst is over and you’re on your way back… but the walk down is long and a bit hard on the knees.

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This hike is a must do, but be warned it is closed between 1st Oct – early November for lambing. If you do go, I’d recommend a big bottle of water and a packed lunch.

TWO: MT IRON PEAK

I’ve done this walk on both trips and it’s worth doing because:

  1. It’s easy, it’s an 1.5 hour round loop trip to the car park.
  2. You oversee Wanaka and some great views of the mountain ranges surrounding Wanaka (and you can see Roys Peak)
  3. You can do it whilst other people are (wasting their time) in Puzzle World across the road.

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THREE: #THATWANAKATREE

This is apparently the place to go at sunset and it’s the only tree I’m aware of with it’s own hashtag.

Honestly, even though you are surrounded by tourists with their tripods aI did think it was really beautiful tree and I’d recommend you go see it.

We saw this tree twice (sunset and on a clear day) and it’s worth seeing both times. From the town it’s a 15-20 minute walk or it’s on the drive back from Roys Peak.

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A few bonus pieces of advice:

  1. Stay at Wanaka Bakpaka for the best view to wake up to of the lake – $30 for a dorm or $66 for a private twin room ($33 each for a couple)
  2. I didn’t visit this, but apparently the inside of the local cinema is really cool.
  3. Buy a $5 (£2.25) Domino’s Pizza and sit by the lake. The bargain price of Domino’s in Aus and NZ really is worth mentioning.
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