Wanaka is a small town in the Central Otago region of New Zealand on the Southern Lakes. Wanaka is a holiday resort town that fluxes with the stream of year round visitors, but the permanent population is just over 7000. Wanaka is full of charm and beautiful scenery. Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown, and has often been compared to Queenstown with some even calling it “Queenstown’s sister”. We enjoyed our time in Wanaka with our 18 month old, and found it has a very different feel from Queenstown that we fell in love with. It is very charming, and a perfect setting for a family holiday! We also found Wanaka to be less expensive than Queenstown which is always a plus!
Travel: Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown via the Cardrona Road. Wanaka is also a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park located only 54 minutes to the park via State Highway 6. There are also some bus options that will carry you from Christchurch which is an appx 5 hour drive away.
Hotel: There are plenty of hotels, inns, hostels, and bed and breakfast options in Wanaka. We chose to rent a house via bookabach.co.nz, NZ’s equivalent of homeaway or airbnb, and it was lovely. We highly recommend bookabach. We had an entire balcony that overlooked Lake Wanaka, and we were close enough to walk to town!
The Lake: Lake Wanaka is crystal clear, and amazingly beautiful. There are so many activities to participate in. You can swim, wade, kayak, paddle boat, fish, raft, jetboat, sail, waterski or wakeboard. Our toddler enjoyed wading in the water, and collecting rocks as the water is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom and see tons of rocks! There are also tons of ducks which is a great recipe for a toddler adventure.You can also rent kayak’s, boats, etc right on the lake front from Lakeland Wanaka.
Biking: You can also rent bikes from Lakeland Wanaka right on the lakefront. There are lots of bike trails, bikes parks, or road cycling available. You can even do heli biking for a more challenging ride. I have found the best source of info on biking in Wanaka can be found here!
The Dinosaur Park: The Dinosaur Park is amazing, and was our daughter’s favorite attraction in Wanaka. We visited this park daily. It is right in the center of town, directly on the beach, and full of lots of fun activities including the famous dinosaur slide! This is a must stop with kiddies in tow. We were able to sit and take in the awesome views, picnic, wade in the water, etc while our little one played at the park and chased ducks! My suggestion is to get fish & chips take aways wrapped in newspaper from Wana Takeaways, and picnic beachside. You will see lots of other people doing the same!
Wanaka Lavender Farm: Our daughter loved running through the rows of lavender, sitting on the purple tractor, seeing the farm animals, and eating lavender ice cream! This is a beautiful farm, and a great place to visit. We also partook of the lavender ice cream as well as tea, and it was simply divine! The little shop also has fantastic lavender products / souvenirs! Link to their website here!
Hiking: There are lots of family friendly hikes in/around Wanaka. The visitor’s center told us the Mount Iron Walk was a good walk for kids and would allow us to see sprawling views of Lake Wanaka, but we ran out of time to complete this hike. This is a full comprehensive guide of all of the hiking/walking options in Wanaka.
Lone Lake Wanaka Tree: We really enjoyed hiking around the beach to the Lake Wanaka Tree with our daughter. It was an easy beach walk around to the south end of the lake to see this feat of nature. There are no signs or placards that will point you in the right direction so make sure to just keep walking, and you will find it around the side of the lake. The tree sits just off shore from the public beach access, and is framed by the Southern Alps.
Roy’s Peak Hike: Besides our trek up to Machu Picchu and The Great Wall, this is the most awe inspiring view I have ever had the privilege of seeing! And this def takes the cake for a natural landscape! This hike is NOT TODDLER/KID FRIENDLY. I try to tailor my recommendations to only kid friendly activities, but this view is so stunning I thought it needed mentioning. We left our daughter with my parents while we embarked on this hike. They took her to the dinosaur park, Patagonia Chocolates, and lots of other fun activities around town while we were gone! If you have an older child who is physically fit you can make the determination as to whether to take them along. The hike will take you appx 5-6 hours depending on your level of fitness. It took us about 6.5 hours as we stopped several times on the ascent. You climb appx 1500 meters straight up a mountain thru private farmland. There are sheep grazing alongside the hiking path, and can sometimes block your path. This is an exposed track. There is no shield from the sun, heat, rain, wind, etc. When we hiked, the sun was blazing. The burn time in New Zealand is appx 12 minutes so I required lots of sunscreen, layers of clothes, and an umbrella! I am very fair skinned. My husband fared better since he is not! Also, there are only bathrooms at the beginning/end of the trail so plan ahead for this. You will need to carry lots of water, provisions, clothes, etc as the temperature changes drastically throughout the day and as you ascend. On the descent, it is worth noting that you will be utilizing your knees very frequently as you are walking down a mountain the entire way down. I have relatively good knees, and they were extremely sore following this hike. It is also noteworthy to state that I am not a hiker. I am not extremely fit. I was working out regularly before this trip, but I was by no means an “athletic” individual so this may be WAY easier for someone else!
Wanaka Golf: My husband played this course, and loved it. He is an avid golfer, and said this course was great to play and the views were beautiful yet distracting 🙂 You can hire a cart, and take your kids along for the ride! Our daughter loves going golfing with dada!
Amigos Mexican Grill: We really enjoyed this restaurant right in the center of town on Ardmore. It was very kid friendly. They have mariachi hats that my daughter loved, and also have hoola hoops on the lawn street side to be enjoyed.And get the Churros con Chocolate! Amazing!
Patagonia Chocolates: I have the same entry for this place under Queenstown as it is worth mentioning twice, and visiting multiple times. I am a huge fan. This place is amazing for adults and children alike. My favorite is the spicy hot chocolate, and my daughter loved the chocolate croissants. This is a must stop. They also serve ice cream and loads of other treats. My recommendation is picking up a treat before going to enjoy it lake side!
Puzzling World: A bizarre, fun filled alternate reality! Fun for the whole family! Visit their website here!
Make sure to save some time to visit the Hekwick Street Boutiques which are lovely. We found some of our favorite souvenirs in Wanaka!
Its also important to note we visited Wanaka in November. During the winter months, Wanaka is an amazing place to view the southern lights as well as ski and participate in winter activities! Cardrona Ski Park is loved by families!
And if you have time, tack on some time in Queenstown. Check out my guide to family fun here!