In Wanaka it all begins with the landscape – from the epic mountains of the Southern Alps to the waters of the beautiful lakes and lush valley lows. Then we add in a unique town with a thriving culture and renowned hospitality. Finally, the mix is finished off with amazing activities, endless experiences and personalised adventures.
Two or three days won't cut it here – you're going to need more time. That's why we've put together the perfect five day Wanaka itinerary for you.
Day 1 – Arrival
Whether it's by air or road, getting to Wanaka is as beautiful a journey as the final destination. Flying in from up North? We suggest requesting a seat on the right side of the plane; look out the window on the way down and you'll understand why. Driving? Don't feel left out, the views are just magnificent. Upon arrival, you'll probably want to settle in to your hotel, motel, apartment or lodge stay before heading out for a quiet dinner after a long day of travels. Why not try Ode Conscious Dining for organic New Zealand cuisine prepared in an open kitchen that overlooks a lounge-style dining room. Choose from an à la carte menu or the 3-course 'trust the chef' menu (which you won't regret). After dinner go for a wander through town and, if you're blessed with a warm evening, maybe indulge in Black Peak gelato or ice cream.
Day 2 – Hit the ground running
What gets Wanaka locals out of bed? Caffeine. Along the lakefront, pick from Relishes, Big Fig or Alchemy. If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path spot, go see Bonnie at the Coffee Shack.
The lake's waters are always the calmest in the morning, so after coffee get out on a stand-up paddleboard or kayak with Paddle Wanaka. You can choose to explore on your own or, if you're in for an informative session, hire a guide! Or maybe you'd prefer river waters? Look no further than an incredible day practicing the fine art of fly fishing with Southern Rivers Fly Fishing. There's world-class fly fishing here in Wanaka and a knowledgeable guide can help you land the big one.
If you're in a hurry, choose grab'n'go from Fedeli, but if you're in for a more casual sit-down affair, the Diner is your go. You might be in the mood to walk off all that kai – and there's plenty of gorgeous walks to choose from. If you're in for a bit of ascending, the Mt. Iron loop track is a short but steep treat with awesome views of town from the top, meanwhile the Waterfall Creek track will give you great views of 'That Wanaka Tree' and Ruby Island. Plus, Rippon winery is easily accessed from this track – so hello post-walk wine tour! Lastly, Gladstone Track in Lake Hawea will give you 15 minute to digest while you drive and features beautiful beachside strolls. Speaking of Lake Hawea, if you do decide to venture that way, check out the Hawea Store and Kitchen for dinner.
From farm to shelf to table, the restaurant works alongside local growers, beekeepers, winemakers and bakers to serve the best of the Southern Lakes. Then, turn your daytrip into an overnight glamping experience at The Camp. Be sure to wake up early for the most beautiful sunrise over Lake Hawea.
Day 3 – A Makarora daytrip
Situated on the Haast Pass between Wanaka and the West Coast, Makarora is on the edge of wild, offering visitors easy access to all that lies in Mt. Aspiring National Park and the Blue Pools track.
Aside from the many incredible hiking and walking tracks surrounding Makarora, there are air and water adventures to be had as well. Spend your morning on a scenic flight high above the World Heritage Area. You can even choose to land in the legendary Siberia Valley with Southern Alps Air – and feel like you've been transported back to a undiscovered New Zealand. Or, get your adrenaline pumping in the afternoon with a jetboat ride up the Makarora or Wilkin Rivers with Wilkin River Jets.
After all that adventuring, grab a spot of afternoon tea at Wonderland Makarora Lodge. Not feeling the drive back to Wanaka? Stay the night at the lodge or explore other accommodation options like a boutique night at Wild Earth Lodge or a farm stay at Makarora River Ranch.
Day 4 - The Cardrona Valley
After your day in Makarora, work your way in the other direction, towards the Cardrona Valley. The historic Cardrona village is just 20-minutes outside of Wanaka towards Queenstown.
Start your day in the valley with a horse trek with The Cardrona, where you'll get to explore the glorious surrounding mountains from the back of your very own steed.
After your tour, head to the famous Cardrona Hotel, one of the most photographed and iconic buildings in all of New Zealand. Originally built to quench the thirsts of gold miners, the hotel still serves as a year-round restaurant loved by both locals and visitors.
(The local craft brew on tap is a must-try!) Next, stop in at the Cardrona Distillery on your way back to town for a tasting tour. The distillery sources water from the subterranean snow melt from Mount Cardrona to make great hand-crafted Whisky, Gin, Vodka and Liqueuers.
Day 5 – Heading home
It might be your last day in Wanaka, but it's not time to pack it in just yet! Rent pedal-powered bicycles or e-bikes in the morning and soak in that last bit of exploring the Wanaka township – there are over 750km of tracks and trails to ride! And you can't leave town without trying the eats from one of our bespoke food trucks – perfect for a post-ride bite! Choose from crepes, fried chicken, burritos or even smoothie bowls.
And as you reluctantly return your rental bikes and go back to your accommodation to begin packing, we can almost guarantee that your Wanaka to-do list will be even bigger now than when you first got here. But that's a good thing – because there's always next weekend. We'll see you again soon.
To learn more about Wanaka and begin planning your own short break, visit lakewanaka.co.nz/short-breaks