The area around Lake Wanaka is a kaleidoscope of seasonal colours – from winter-whites, to the buds of spring, deep hues of summer and autumn reds.
To their regret, most visitors to Wanaka are unable to stay through a full twelve-month cycle to see that riot of colour. And of course it’s not only the colours of landscape that change but the plethora of adventures available to take visitors into it.
Winter belongs to skiers and snowboarders, spending their days at Cardrona or Treble Cone then making their way down the mountain to enjoy après-ski by a raging log fire at the historic Cardrona Hotel, mulled wine in hand. Trampers and climbers return in spring, reclaiming Mount Aspiring National Park from the snow and ice. Soon summer rolls around and the lake fills up with yachts, kayaks and fishing boats and the trails in the National Park and around town throng with walkers and mountain bikers. The blue skies are dotted with small aircraft, paragliders and skydivers. The days become long and hot, bathers head for the lake, and dinner is served al-fresco. Slowly the trees turn a hundred shades of autumn, and the hills gain a dusting of snow. Grapes are harvested, firewood is cut and skis are waxed, ready for another winter.
Lake Hawea paddle boarding
Whichever season you come there is more to see and do in Wanaka than you’d expect, so make sure you allow enough time in your itinerary to savour this alpine wonderland.
Wanaka nests by the lake of the same name, which stretches from the town beach and marina to the foot of Mount Aspiring in the distance. The town centre is compact, with a supermarket, numerous outdoor equipment suppliers and excellent eateries. A full range of accommodation is available, with multiple campgrounds on or close to the lakefront, motels, apartments and hotels.
There are a number of short walks easily taken from town. Heading along the lakefront past the marina takes you to the Lake Outlet, where Lake Wanaka turns into the Clutha River, beginning its 338km journey to the sea. A walk to the summit of Mount Iron provides a wonderful vista over the region. There are numerous mountain biking opportunities in this area, from leisurely lake and riverside rides, to fully formed forest trails for those looking for something a little more technical.
The sky above Lake Wanaka seems to be a shade of blue deeper and brighter than you’ll see anywhere else in the world, so not surprisingly this is a popular location to take to the skies. Wanaka hosts the bi-annual Warbirds Airshow every second Easter, but for a taste of aviation history outside this time; Classic Flights operate scenic flights in their vintage Tiger Moth bi-planes. For those wanting to head further into the mountains, Southern Alps Air operate flights from Wanaka right across the Alps to Milford Sound, Mount Cook and of course Mount Aspiring. Or for those wanting to throw themselves out of a perfectly good aircraft strapped to a beautiful stranger, Skydive Wanaka offer tandem skydiving up to 15,000ft.
Wanaka is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, which is part of the sacred peaks and valleys that make up Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area. The area is especially loved by hikers, day walkers and climbers, who revel in this pristine alpine wilderness. A place full of adventure, there’s almost nothing you can’t do in Wanaka – jet boating, helicopter rides, clay shooting, and off-roading are all on offer for action-seekers. Wild Wire offer the highest waterfall climb (via ferrata) in the world, with a return to the ground in style by helicopter. Popular canyoning tours are available from October with Deep Canyon, who have two brand new trips available for the summer season (October til May). Plunge into the depths of the earth, experience the raw power of waterfalls close up, and float in magical rock-pools.
Wild Wire Wanaka
Lake Siberia Valley
ALL SEASON FUN
Another of Wanaka’s top attractions is the National Transport and Toy Museum, an incredible private collection boasting over 700 vehicles (including 30 fire engines), 14 aircraft, 50,000 toys and thousands of miscellaneous items. In keeping with the offbeat theme, Cinema Paradiso is a great spot for a flick, with comfy couches, a Morris Minor, and freshly based cookies at intermission.
Cardrona Ski Resort
Header image: Treble Cone