How that place has managed to make it onto every single Wanaka ‘to-do’ list and guide ever published, I have no idea. But I’d love to hire their marketing guys for a while!
It’s not that it’s bad or even that I wouldn’t recommend it, because that’s not true. It’s a fun morning or afternoon out on a rainy day.
It’s just that there’s so many better things to do in Wanaka than being stuck inside playing puzzles.
So here’s 11 of the best things to do in Wanaka that don’t involve Puzzling World.
1) Take A Walk Along The River
The short track along the river from the mouth of Lake Wanaka to the bridge at neighbouring Albert Town is an easily achievable morning or afternoon return walk with plenty of rewards on offer.
The track is particularly cool during the Autumn, when the trees are changing colour and the leaves are beginning to fall.
Start at the holiday park down at the outlet, or if you’re feeling energetic and want to make a day of it you can even start from town or down near Eely Point to take in some of the lake front as well as the river.
This is a great walk at any time of the year, but particularly in the Autumn. There’s just something about the yellow and brown leaves against the bright blue water of the Clutha River.
An easier and quicker alternative is to bike it. The river track on the Wanaka side makes for a pretty good casual ride, or you can hit the designated mountain biking track on the other side if you’re up for something with a bit more adrenaline. It’s called Deans Bank and you’ll have to head to the Albert Town Camp Site to find the start of the loop track, but it’s well worth the extra effort.
2) Go Backcountry Skiing In The Winter
Being right in the middle of the Southern Alps makes Wanaka an ideal launching point for some back country ski or snowboarding action in some ridiculously cool scenery.
There are a few good companies based down in the town that run guided tour groups when the conditions are right, and there are even a few heliskiing firms dotted around if you like your skiing more downhill and less hard work.
You can also go exploring yourself if you’re experienced enough and have the necessary gear (i.e. take a PLB! You can hire them cheap from one of the outdoor shops in the town if you don’t have your own).
If you’re going out solo or as part of a tour, there’s a good chance you’ll be using the lift at the Treble Cone ski area to get some quick win vertical meters in before the real leg work begins. Backcountry access from the top of the TC boundary is easy and there are plenty of alpine huts in the hills beyond if you want to make it into a multiday trip.
Recommended people to talk to if you want to know more are Aspiring Guides and Adventure Consultants. You can also check out this great ski touring blog for some trip ideas and inspiration from other keen snow lovers.
3) Try To Catch Aurora Australis
Occasionally, just occasionally, if you’re lucky enough, the night skies of Wanaka can do some pretty beautiful things.
The Southern Lights (courtesy of the Aurora Australis) can be seen across the mountains from a few spots in Wanaka when the conditions are right.
Liz, from Young Adventuress, did a great post on this where she shared her awesome photos taken from just down at Eely point looking back over the Aurora soaked town.
More recently, friends of mine were on social media sharing pictures of a 2 night solar flare which set the night skies glowing.
The Southern lights are visible throughout the year, not just in winter, and New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to see them (although not many people know that).
Top tips for catching them for yourself would be to keep an eye on the Aurora Australis Forecast. I’ve also heard a few people saying that joining a couple of the Aurora Australis Facebook groups can be a pretty good source of info.
4) Try The World Class Trout Fishing
New Zealand in general is known around the world as being one of the best spots for trout fishing.
The water ways and rivers are so clear, and the fish so abundant, that you can often spot them in the shallows and target specific fish with your flies.
What’s more, the rivers around Wanaka – particularly both branches of the Matukituki River coming into the lake, and the river down at Makarora – are among some of the best and most renowned fishing spots on the South Island.
Whether you’ve fly fished before or never even held a rod before, there aren’t many better places to enjoy the worlds most popular sport. And who knows, you might even end up bringing home the dinner too!
5) Get On The Water
If hiking alongside the water or fishing from its banks aren’t your thing, how about getting out ontop of it?
There are plenty of hire places in town and out along the lakefront in town when the weather is good, who will kit you out with everything you need.
From kayaks to standup paddleboards and even chartered sailboats. Whatever your preferred mode of transport, it’s really all about getting out on the water.
We recently bought some cheap entry level kayaks from Torpedo7 and spent most of the summer out exploring different areas of the lake whenever we got a spare day or two, including an overnight camping trip to Stevensons Island which I’d highly recommend! Unfortunately camping is banned on some of the more popular and easily reachable islands like Ruby Island, but that just makes the paddle up Stevensons Arm to the Island even more rewarding.
During the summer, the Yact Club down at the marina also offers introduction to sailing courses if you’re interested in learning new skills there.
6) Go See A Glacier
With global warming showing no signs of slowing down, who knows how long you’ll continue to have the opportunity to stand face to face with a glacier.
The common story among glaciers around the world is that they’re melting and retreating. Fast.
Within a stones throw of Wanaka, you’ve got ready access to heaps of small glaciers, with 100 or so known ones in Mt Aspiring National Park.
The Rob Roy glacier is an impressive one to see and it’s an easy 10km return hike from the top of the Raspberry Creek Car Park.
Make the 2 hour return trek and take it all in while you have the chance. The drive up on the dirt road between Treble Cone and the Raspberry creek car park is also an easy candidate for one of the prettiest drives in New Zealand.
7) Practice Your Photography Skills
Being ridiculously picturesque, Wanaka is often referred to as something of a photographers paradise.
Classic Wanaka photo spots include the nearby Mt Roy hiking track and That Wanaka Tree.
Head to either of those spots and most days you’ll see plenty of other like minded photographers all vying for the best shots.
If you’re just getting into photography and want to learn how to capture those epic postcard shots while you’re in Wanaka, the Wanaka Camera Club are the people to talk to. Or if you’re already up with it and just want someone to show you all the best spots then Ridge Line Tours offer a great 3 day photo safari around Wanaka.
8) Float Down The River
This is a bit of a tradition on Christmas Day.
But it also makes for a great way to spend any warm summers day.
From late morning onwards on Christmas Day, you’ll find heaps of people hanging around the river mouth at the outlet where lake Wanaka runs into the Clutha.
Any inflatable or vaguely floating thing goes.
Just grab something, throw it in, jump on it, open a beer and hope you make it to the Albert Town bridge before it sinks.
The river is fast flowing in places, but it’s scarier than it looks.
9) Hone Your Backcountry Skils
Wanaka and the surrounding area is a hikers paradise.
The terrain is super diverse, interesting and has something to challenge hikers of all skill levels.
No matter what your experience level is you’ll find a chance to push beyond your comfort zone right on your doorstep here in Wanaka.
It’s also home to some of the best walks on the South Island!
And the countless backcountry huts in the mountains and valleys around town provide endless opportunities to explore and you can spend days hiking around and practising your backcountry skills.
10) Get Into Mountaineering
Wanaka has some great peaks on the doorstep just waiting to be climbed.
If you’ve been pushing yourself to develop your alpine hiking skills for a while and want to take things to the next level, there are opportunities every direction you look here.
As well as being home to Mt Aspiring, there are several other big peaks like Black Peak which is a great place to learn ice climbing and Mt Brewster on the Makarora side of the park.
Wanaka is also the home base for world renowned mountaineering instructors Adventure Consultants, and Aspiring National Park was the training ground for Sir Edmond Hillary before he became the first ever person to summit Everest.
If you’re there in summer when there’s a little less snow around, you’ll find plenty of keen rock climbers in town, all practising their skills in the Matukituki Valley.
If you’ve got a semi-reasonable amount of upper body strength (that’s probably me out) and a head for heights (that’s definitely me out) then rock climbing could just be your new sport!
And if the weather isn’t quite up to it, the indoor climbing wall at Basecamp Wanaka is a good, dry alternative and a great place to meet other climbers. It also makes for a great place to start off if you haven’t climbed much before and want to get some practice in before you head out and try your luck on some real rock.
Wanaka is a place that’s all about the outdoors. And fair enough too, when your outdoors is as beautiful as that.
No matter what the season, there’s heaps to do and lots of new experiences to be had.
Learn new skills or practice old ones.
As the kiwis say…just get out there and get into it!
What’s your favourite thing to do in Wanaka? Let me know in the comments below!
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