Star Gazing at Wanaka

What to do in Wanaka? (2024)

Anyone who has explored New Zealand likely holds a special affection for Wanaka. This charming and picturesque small town, nestled in the South Island, captured my heart during my backpacking trip in South Island. Wanaka stands out as one of the most stunning places I encountered during my travels. In this post, you will find detailed insights into the wonders of Wanaka and outline the various activities that make it an absolute must-visit destination. Whether you are drawn to scenic landscapes, outdoor adventures, or the serene charm of a small town, Wanaka offers a delightful experiences waiting to be discovered.

What to do in Wanaka?

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About Wanaka

Nestled in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island, Wanaka is a picturesque resort town and a gateway to the Southern Alps Mount Aspiring National Park. Renowned for its iconic lone tree, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lush forests, and pristine lakes, Wanaka is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

The town offers unparalleled opportunities for hiking, biking, and skiing, making it a versatile destination for adventure seekers. Whether you’re captivated by the scenic landscapes or enticed by the prospect of thrilling outdoor activities, spending time in Wanaka stands out as one of the best things to do in South Island.

Legend and historical accounts suggest that Wanaka derived its name from the term Wanaka, a South Island variation of Wnanga, signifying sacred knowledge or a place of learning.

This enchanting destination beckons visitors year-round. The summer months, from December to March, are ideal for indulging in the splendors of hiking and biking. Meanwhile, the winter season, spanning from June to September, provides the perfect conditions for skiing enthusiasts. To fully appreciate all that Wanaka has to offer, plan for a stay of at least 2 to 3 days. This ensures ample time to immerse yourself in the diverse experiences that make Wanaka a year-round haven for those seeking both adventure and tranquility.

How to get to Wanaka?

  • By Air – The nearest airport to Wanaka is located in Queenstown , situated in the South Island. Queenstown Airport is approximately a 60-minute drive from Wanaka. Both Jetstar, a budget airline, and Air New Zealand operate flights connecting major cities to Queenstown, providing convenient access to this charming town.
  • By BusIntercity NZ is the prominent bus service provider, offering frequent and reliable transportation between various cities in New Zealand, including Christchurch and Queenstown, and the scenic town of Wanaka.
  • By Road – The optimal way to reach Wanaka is by embarking on a scenic drive from the nearest airport Queenstown. Covering a distance of approximately 75 kilometers, the road journey between Queenstown and Wanaka unfolds over the course of 60 minutes. Driving in New Zealand is a visually enchanting experience, with stunning landscapes and breathtaking views gracing the route. This road trip not only provides efficient transportation but also offers an opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural beauty that characterizes the picturesque landscapes of this part of the world.

Where to Stay in Wanaka?

Review of YHA in Wanaka

As a passionate traveler with a penchant for budget-friendly journeys, I often seek out economical travel options. Opting for hostels is my preference, allowing me to connect with like-minded solo travelers, many of whom turn into lasting friends. During my visit to Wanaka, I chose to stay at the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) Wanaka, and without a doubt, YHA Wanaka is the ideal accommodation in this charming town. Positioned in close proximity to the town center, the hostel offers convenient access to numerous restaurants and cafes, enhancing the overall experience of my stay in Wanaka.

Hotels in Wanaka

For those who may not prefer hostel accommodations but seek a comfortable and well-appointed stay, several options in Wanaka cater to such preferences. Oakridge Resort Lake Wanaka, Wanaka Springs Lodge and Distinction Wanaka Alpine Resort are notable choices. These establishments offer a more private and upscale lodging experience, ensuring a pleasant and comfortable stay for guests who value additional amenities and a higher level of service during their visit to Wanaka.


What to do in Wanaka?

While Wanaka is renowned for its iconic and frequently photographed tree, the town boasts a wealth of attractions beyond this natural landmark. During my brief one-day stay in the town, I was able to explore and experience the following highlights.

Wanaka or Lone tree

‘The Lone Tree,’ also known as the Wanaka Tree, stands as the foremost attraction when exploring Wanaka. This distinctive crooked crack willow tree is positioned on the tranquil waters of Lake Wanaka.

As the most photographed tree in New Zealand, it creates a mesmerising illusion of floating on the lake. Witnessing the beauty of this tree, particularly during the captivating moments of sunset, is a spectacle to behold. The opportunity to watch and capture images of this enchanting tree comes without any cost, making it a must-visit natural wonder in Wanaka.

Wanaka Tree
Wanaka Tree

Watch the Milky Way

Undoubtedly, New Zealand stands out as one of the most breathtaking locations worldwide to witness the Milky Way. Gazing upon the Milky Way above Lake Wanaka is a truly awe-inspiring experience, offering a view that is nothing short of extraordinary. The beauty of this celestial display is simply captivating. Moreover, during the winter months, fortunate observers may even be treated to the mesmerizing spectacle of the Southern Lights, enhancing the celestial wonders that adorn the night sky over Wanaka. The combination of pristine natural landscapes and celestial marvels makes Wanaka a celestial haven for those seeking the enchantment of the night sky.

My Story of Watching the Milky Way in Wanaka

At approximately 5 PM one evening, three of us, armed with tripods and sizable cameras, positioned ourselves near the Wanaka Tree, poised to capture the beauty unfolding before us. Engaging in conversation with the person adjusting his tripod beside me, I discovered he was a traveler from China, eagerly exploring the surroundings. Curious about the night sky, I inquired if he, too, was anticipating the appearance of stars. He shared that the stars would only be visible around 11 PM, showcasing an app on his phone that predicted celestial occurrences.

Star Gazing at Wanaka
Milky Way at Lake Wanaka

As the sun set, the crowd dispersed by 5:30 PM, including the person who had enlightened me about the later starry spectacle. Embraced by darkness and shielded from light pollution, I found myself amidst an almost surreal stillness, accompanied only by one other individual along the water’s edge, all patiently awaiting the stars. Despite the cold and the persistent cloud cover, I, along with the third photographer, persevered for an additional two hours. Although the elusive Milky Way remained mostly hidden, a brief glimpse through the clouds revealed a celestial spectacle. This prolonged wait, though challenging, rewarded me with the serene brilliance of many stars and the fleeting beauty of two shooting stars.

Hiking the Mount Iron

Embarking on the Mount Iron hike presents an excellent opportunity to spend a few hours immersed in the breathtaking vistas of Lake Wanaka and the town itself, particularly during the morning hours. The approximately 1.5-hour ascent to the summit rewards hikers with a panoramic 360-degree view. Covering a distance of around 8.6 kilometers, I commenced my hike from the town center.

The absence of an entrance fee to climb Mount Iron adds to the appeal of this outdoor adventure. Upon reaching the summit, the spectacular views unfold, creating a memorable and rewarding experience for those seeking the natural beauty that surrounds Wanaka.

You can also travel north of Wanaka to see the Blue Pools which makes a perfect and easy short hike.

Mount Iron Track

Puzzling World

A highly frequented destination in Wanaka is the renowned Puzzling World. Established in 1973, this captivating tourist attraction has evolved into an award-winning complex featuring a plethora of illusions and mazes. Serving as a delightful test for the mind, Puzzling World offers not only mental stimulation but also a great deal of amusement.

Exploring the various puzzles and enjoying the overall experience typically requires a minimum of an hour. Access to Puzzling World involves an entrance fee, with ticket pricing variations based on the specific attractions one wishes to explore within this engaging complex.

Puzzling World

Puzzling World is renowned for its iconic Leaning Tower, affectionately dubbed the Leaning Tower of Wanaka by locals. Capturing a photograph in front of this distinctive structure is undeniably a worthwhile and memorable experience.

Puzzling World

Is Wanaka Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

Wanaka is very safe for solo female travelers. Traveling alone, I did not encounter any issues and even made lasting friendships. The friends I made in Wanaka are still in touch with me. However, like any other place in the world, it is advisable to be cautious and aware of your surroundings, especially at night.

Are you new to solo traveling? Or do you have questions regarding where to start solo travels? Read frequently asked question about solo traveling.

Closing Notes | What to do in Wanaka?

With its picturesque landscapes, outdoor adventures, and a welcoming atmosphere that lingers in the heart, Wanaka is a delightful experience. Whether immersing oneself in the tranquility of Lake Wanaka, conquering the Mount Iron hike for breathtaking views, or indulging in the mind-bending wonders of Puzzling World, this town offers an array of experiences.

Wanaka’s unique blend of natural beauty and vibrant charm creates an unforgettable setting, leaving visitors yearning for more. As the sun sets over the Southern Alps, casting a warm glow on this idyllic town, one can’t help but appreciate the magic that Wanaka effortlessly weaves into the fabric of its allure. And I hope in this What to do in Wanaka guide you have found the details and information to do things in Wanaka.

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