I knew New Zealand was beautiful, which is why I was really excited to spend some time there recently. I expected to fall in love with Queenstown and never want to leave, so I was really surprised when it was somewhere else that completely captured my heart.
Wanaka is around an hour drive north of Queenstown, so it’s easy to get there if you find yourself in Queenstown with a hire car and time to spare. In fact, I kind of insist you visit this beautiful area even if it is just for a day trip.
The first thing you notice about Wanaka is how jaw-dropping beautiful it is. Lake Wanaka is stunning and comes alive with colours and reflections at dawn and dusk, making it the perfect spot for photographs or just somewhere to sit and watch the world go by. The famed Southern Alps create a dramatic backdrop for the lake, adding a sense of magic and wonder to the area.
The town itself is small with a whole lot of charm and heart.
Talking to the locals, you learn a lot of people who now live here used to be holiday-makers, spending their summer swimming in the lake. Just like me, they fell in love with Wanaka and moved there. I found this gives the people who live there a sense of pride and appreciation for their town, you can’t help but feel their passion when they talk about it.
In summer, Wanaka comes alive with families and other visitors. With long summer days and a sun that doesn’t set until 8:30pm, it becomes an amazing destination to escape to. The town is bursting with cafes and restaurants, burger shops and other cool little places ready to explore. Best of all, the Lake is free from any kind of man-eaters we’re used to here in Australia, so you can swim without fear of snakes, sharks, jellyfish or anything else.
If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Wanaka in winter, you won’t be disappointed. Wake up early and head up to one of the local ski fields, like Treble Cone or Cardrona. You can hire all the gear you need and even get a lesson if you’ve never learned to ski or snowboard before. Even if you decide not to partake, sitting in the on-site cafe marvelling at the one-in-a-million views is worth the trip.
It’s an area bursting with activities for the outdoor adventurers.
You can take the hike up to Roys Peak for some of the most memorable, breathtaking views you’ll ever find. Take a helicopter ride up to Mount Aspiring National Park and land on Isobel Glacier for a once-in-a-lifetime champagne picnic. Drive up to SnowFarm NZ and lose yourself in a winter wonderland by cross-country skiing or taking charge of your own sled-dog team.
The surrounding area is bursting with award-winning vineyards, so it’s definitely appropriate to do a self-guided winery tour or jump on a guided group tour. Central Otago is famous for its amazing Pinot Noir, so it would be rude not to try as many varieties as you can from different vineyards. Grab a few bottles and a cheese platter, head to a scenic spot and watch the world go by.
Not only is Wanaka a beautiful place to look at, it’s a beautiful place to be. The locals are incredibly warm and welcoming. If you find yourself having trouble fitting snow chains on your car, it’s easy to ask a passer-by for help. If you need insight on the best places to eat, they’ll give you their recommendations no worries.
Trust me, it’s a little too easy to imagine yourself living in this ridiculously gorgeous, serene part of the world.
Looking back over the photos I took in Wanaka, which are in the thousands, I can’t help but want to go back there sooner rather than later. It’s a place that was unexpectedly amazing and has totally and completely etched itself on my travel-loving heart. It’s no wonder, then, that Wanka is my absolute favourite place to visit in New Zealand’s South Island.
Phoebe Lee is a writer, award-winning blogger and travel lover sharing helpful travel tips, insight and reviews for regular people. Follow her adventures at home and around the world, on her blog Little Grey Box .
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.