Summer Road Trip Series: Wanaka

(Māori: Wānaka)

A short scenic drive north from Queenstown (Between 1 hr and 1hr20mns), will bring you to another beautiful lake and township.  Not yet as populated as Queenstown, Wanaka still holds much of its small community charm with spectacular mountain to lake scenery.  Considered a resort town, it’s a hub for snow sports in the winter and water sports in the summer.  It does however get crazy busy during the high seasons so a little forward planning will help with things like parking, cafés and restaurants.

Given both the summer and winter activities available, from skiing to kayaking, harbour cruises to mountain carting etc, a more comprehensive action day may require a night or two stay in Wanaka so, for the sake of day tripping, we’ll leave them out of this post.

When deciding to visit Wanaka on a day trip, there really are two main options; a) Wanaka as your day destination, or b) a road trip to, around and back from Wanaka. 

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1. Direct to Wanaka – Day in Wanaka

By Bus: You can get there by bus by one of the following providers; Ritchies, or InterCity, both of which have affordable transfer options and a number of departures per day.  If you ask in our reception, we can help you with the booking and the timetable! 

Rental Car: If you have a rental car then the route is pretty simple.  Throw in Wanaka into your google maps or Waze and it’s a pretty much direct route from Queenstown via Cardrona Valley.  Head out of Queenstown on route 6a until you get to Arrow Junction, then turn left onto the Crown Range Road / Cardrona Valley Road all the way in to Wanaka.

This option gives you the chance to stop at the highly photographed and must do ‘Cardrona Valley Pub’ for either a morning coffee en-route or an end of day beer on your way home. 

And don’t forget to stop for a photo opportunity at the top of the crown range!

Please, drive carefully over the Crown Range.  It is an alpine mountain pass.  Respect the road rules, drive to the speed limit (not faster and certainly not slower…).  Please maintain your distance and HAVE PATIENCE!.  if you are NOT a confident driver used to navigating tight turns on a mountain pass, please reconsider driving yourself, and take the bus – it will make your day way more enjoyable and stress free!

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Parking in Wanaka

Most of Wanaka is ‘Pay by Hour’ parking with a time limit attached.  Make sure you read the signs well.  The easiest, but busiest place to park is on the waterfront – follow your nose, you can’t miss it!.  Otherwise there is a lot of parking outside of the immediate township, a short stroll in – if you don’t mind walking. 

What to Do in Wanaka

Probably my favourite pastime is to grab either an ice-cream from Black Peak Handcrafted Gelatos , or a coffee from Kai Whakapai and head over to the lake and sit on the beach. Wanaka has more outdoor and craft shops than high street ones, which makes for a pleasant afternoon of wandering around the streets and alleys. 

There are of course, a whole host of other attractions.  The best list can be found on the official Lake Wanaka web site .  Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Promenading – Around the Lake Wanaka Hike and Bike trail
  • Lunch at Rippon Valley Vineyards (an absolute must do)
  • Shopping – Stroll through town
  • Puzzle World – for small families
  • Drive out to Glendu Bay – great scenic drive
  • Drive out to Albert Town – great scenic drive
  • A walk up Mt Iron

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2. Road Trip to Wanaka + Surrounds 

The second of your day trip options involves more of a day spent exploring not only Wanaka but also its surrounds… - This of course, requires a car.

Suggested tourist route: 

Queenstown / Crown Range / Cardrona Velley / Wanaka / Glendhu Bay and further afield to Mt Aspiring National Park/ Albert Town (via Wanaka) / Lake Hawea / Cromwell Old Town/ Queenstown via the Gorge and Gibbston Valley.

This would be a big day, but you’d see a great amount of Central Otago in the process.  Be prepared for short stops along the way to take those magical photos.    Allow time for a stroll around Wanaka and aim to be leaving Lake Hawea for Queenstown (via Cromwell) by late afternoon so you don’t have to drive the gorge in the dark.

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