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Wanaka – Guide for Backpackers

Miles Holden on Tourism NZ

What’s a backpacker to do in the beautiful Wanaka?

The autumn leaves reflecting off of the lake or the snow-capped mountains visible not so far in the distance makes Wanaka one of the most picturesque towns in New Zealand during autumn and winter.

Wanaka, based along the shore of Lake Wanaka, is a steadily growing tourist town with much to offer backpackers and people on their working holiday. Adventure is everywhere from the nearby ski fields in winter to the pumping mountain bike tracks enjoyed year-round. There’s plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs too with easy lakeside walks to the more challenge peak climbs.

At the end of an awesome day, head to the town to enjoy the lakeside bars or relax in the two cool and quirky cinemas. There’s always something happening in Wanaka for those who seek it!

Things you can’t miss in Wanaka

  • Walk to Roys Peak
  • Be, well, puzzled at Puzzling World!
  • Hit the slopes in the winter season
  • Go on an adventure on your bike, by skydiving and by canyoning
  • Have an ice cream at Patagonia.
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Walks and hikes in Wanaka

Roys Peak (5-6 hours return)

This view of Lake Wanaka and Mt Aspiring is what people climb 1300m to Roys Peak for. So many have sat on the very same protruding rock as the guy pictured – a token tourism photo you must take. The Roys Peak walking track is 5-6 hour return beginning along the Mt Aspiring road (6 minutes from Wanaka). Please note that the track is closed annually from 11-October – 10-November.

Lakeside walking trails (varying times)

Doing a lakeside walk in Wanaka is just a matter of how far you want to go and for how long. From the town, head east to reach the likes of Eely Point, Beacon Point then meet up with a track taking you down the Clutha River. Alternatively, follow the lake from the west end of town to Stony Creek to Waterfall Creek and beyond. Of course.

Mt Iron Track (1h30min loop)

The Mt Iron car park is well-signposted off State Highway 84 just as you leave Wanaka. The hike takes you to awesome views overlooking Wanaka and its surrounding mountains.

Upper Clutha River (4-5 hours return)

Follow the brilliantly blue Clutha River as it starts its journey from Lake Wanaka. This 16km track can be walked or biked. Start this walk either from Holiday Road or Kingston Street.

Newcastle (2 hours return)

Combine this track with the Upper Clutha River Track to make a loop. This extends your journey along the stunning Clutha River.


Get Stuck in a 3d maze at puzzling world

Yes, Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World is as mad as it looks. Enjoy some simple fun yet total frustration when trying to figure out the illusions and escape The Great Maze! Allow yourself 30 minutes to an hour to complete this multi-storey maze. Also, remember your camera, as there are some hilarious illusions you’ll want to capture, such as the Ames Forces Perspective Room.

Even the toilets are an attraction you have to check out whether you are bursting for the toilet of not – now, that is a commitment to illusions.

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Ski and snowboard at Treble Cone and Cardrona

Wanaka comes alive with avid skiers and riders in winter due to the town’s proximity to two excellent ski fields.

Treble Cone is the South Island’s largest ski field. Experienced skiers and riders favour it for its technical trails.

Cardrona has something for everyone including incredible terrain parks with varying kickers, rails and halfpipes. You can even go up and enjoy the scenery with a Cardrona sightseeing pass.

Tip: Remember to take into account travel costs if you are not driving. Shuttle buses to the ski fields tend to be around NZ$35 return.

For more information, check out The 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand and What it is Like to Work on a New Zealand Ski Field.

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Adventure activities in Wanaka

Don’t worry people who didn’t make the winter season, because mountain biking in Wanaka is a must-do in spring, summer and autumn! It’s a great way to explore the perimeter of Lake Wanaka and to do something incredible, such as getting far from the beaten track with a heli-biking tour.

Skydiving over Lake Wanaka gives one of the best views of the Central Otago region, encompassing mountains and lakes. Take the plunge at 15,000ft. Check out where else you can jump out of a plane: 11 Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, back on land, delve into a deep canyoning adventure. Canyoning in the Wanaka area means manoeuvring waterfalls by abseiling, climbing and sliding. Plus, you get to jump off cliffs into deep pools. Alternatively, more adventures can be had with Wild Wire, a climbing adventure for the experienced climber or pure beginners.

If you have some extra time in Wanaka…

  • Explore Mt Aspiring/Tititea for walking tracks, jet boating and Lord of the Rings scenery
  • Sit in a Morris Minor or a comfy sofa for an authentic cinema experience with Cinema Paradiso
  • An easy walk from the town, which offers good views of Wanaka, is the Mt Iron track
  • Go kayaking on Lake Wanaka
  • Take an artistic photo of the Wanaka Tree
  • Visit the 5 Best Wineries in Wanaka
  • Do some free activities, more information at 10 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.
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