1. Visit the Cardrona Distillery

In 2013, Canterbury farmer Desiree Whitaker and her husband Ash sold everything they had, and set up a distillery in Cardrona. Using just water, yeast and malted barley, the distillery makes vodka, gin, and an orange liqueur. In November last year they filled their first barrel of whisky, which will be available in 2025. Everything is seemingly perfect, from the hand-beaten copper stills imported from Banffshire, Scotland, to the rows of ancient damask roses growing outside the grey stone buildings. Though you can't try the whisky yet, a tour of the distillery comes with a tasting at the end — featuring the Whitakers' own delicious spirits, plus a few from their extensive Scotch collection. Tours start at $25 per person.

2. Take a boat ride to Mou Waho Island

Visit Mou Waho Island - an island on a lake on an island in a lake. Photo / 123RF
Visit Mou Waho Island - an island on a lake on an island in a lake. Photo / 123RF

On a drizzly Saturday morning I met mustachioed Chris Riley, owner of Eco Wanaka tours. From behind the handlebars he told me we were going to Mou Waho Island on Lake Wanaka to meet a buff weka — the rarest and stupidest of the weka. We took a boat to the island and followed a track to its summit.


There we had tea and biscuits overlooking a lake, overlooking Lake Wanaka (there is a small lake on the island), while two weka kept us company (and tried to steal our biscuits). Chris is a charismatic, knowledgeable fellow, who plants a native shrub on every visit to the island. $450 per adult (minimum two adults).

3. Take a walk

The lake and its Southern Alps backdrop paint a picture straight out of a postcard and on a lakeside walk you'll often stop your walking to take in the stunning views. There are easy walks from the Makarora at the head of Lake Wanaka, up through the Cardrona Valley and all the way down the Clutha River.

Walking around the lake. Photo / Jocelyn Kinghorn
Walking around the lake. Photo / Jocelyn Kinghorn

4. Eat at Bistro Gentil

If you do one thing while you're in Wanaka, you should eat at Bistro Gentil. I made a mad dash there for Sunday lunch and it was worth it. The food was incredible (I had chicken liver pate, then fish, then a lemony dessert. The lunch menu changes daily depending on what's in the garden) and there was a wine machine. An Enomatic wine dispensing machine. Unfortunate name, fantastic result — the restaurant offers 24 wines by the glass. It's a bit like a posh version of the Coke machine at Burger King. The waiter said the only people who'd managed to spill wine down their shirts when using it were Nasa scientists in town to launch a weather balloon.

5. Stay at The Edgewater

The Edgewater overlooks the lake and is a beautiful 15-minute walk from the town centre. "Touch the seasons", its website boasts. My one-bedroom suite was spacious and warm and clean. I wanted to spend more time in bed. There was hot chocolate and cookies (plus tea and coffee). There was a bathtub, and robes, and couches perfect for lounging about on while wearing said robe. In the main building there was a breakfast buffet with bacon and eggs and toast and beans and fried noodles. The one-bedroom suites start at $295 per night.