Wanaka the Authentic, a Taste of Paradise.
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Schedule of the Visit.
- 1A Day at Wanaka.
- 2The Most Famous Tree of New Zealand.
- 3Picnic in a Vineyard.
- 4Enter the Fourth Dimension.
- 5Hike to the Lake Diamond.
- 6The Coolest Theatre on Earth.
- 7Wanaka or Queenstown?
A Day at Wanaka.
Legend says that the giant Rakaihautu dug the Lake Wanaka and carved the mountains with the strength of his arm. In reality, it was the glaciers whom gave birth to one of the most beautiful landscapes of New Zealand.
The lake bears the name of a Maori leader who led the jade research expeditions in the mountains. It was to make their fortunes that first settlers in the west built the city of Pembroke during the famous gold rush of 1853.
Fifty years later, the gold mines of the Otago were depleted and prospectors abandoned the region. But the arrival of the first steam boats helped tourism to take its rise in what will soon be the National Park of Mount Aspiring.
Over time, the region and its lake became a must-do destination of the South Island. Pembroke was renamed to Wanaka and draws essentially New Zealanders in search of a peaceful environment. The uninterrupted stream of international tourists passes more by Queenstown, located less than an hour from there by the road.
The City which escapes from the crowd of travellers enjoys a sunny summer life, punctuated by the barbecues and the boat trips on the lake. If the winter sees the mountains covered by snow and the ski resorts opening their doors, this is the autumn season which reveals Wanaka in all its splendour.
It is precisely during this period that we are going to visit this paradise lost in the middle of the mountains. Hiking, bicycle ride, wine tours, museum of illusions and a few surprises are on our daily schedule.
The Most Famous Tree of New Zealand.
The hills of Wanaka offer 750 km of cycling tracks. We are going to rent mountain bikes for the morning in the Outside Sport’s shop of Dunmore Street. While I pay the caution for the bikes, you can go to the nearby supermarket to buy ingredients for our sandwiches.
Since everyone is ready, we will ride along the banks of the lake and enjoy the first rays of sun. The track is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists and you can ride to your pace and enjoy the panorama. This is the period of the fall and the soil is littered with orange-coloured leaves deposited by the wind.
A tree stands apart and grows in the water about ten meters from the shore. It is called “the lone tree of Wanaka”. This willow is known to be the most photogenic and the most photographed tree of New Zealand.
The island that you distinguish behind the solitary tree is known as Ruby Island. Ruby was the daughter of a Catholic mother from Dunedin and a Chinese gold digger (and opium dealer). A seductress famous for her charms who had built her own Cabaret during the prohibition era, before mysteriously disappearing.
You could go forward indefinitely among the dead leaves, the coastline covered by small coves is 175 km long! But it is time to leave the shore toward the hills where the trail climbs to reach a fairy tale landscape..
Picnic in a Vineyard.
Wanaka enjoys a semi-continental climate. The hot and dry summers are followed by mild autumns with little precipitation. Ideal conditions for this wine region, the southernmost in the world, located 400 meters above the level of the sea.
The New Zealand wine quality improves year after year since the 80's, and they are now recognized on the international stage. The soil rich in minerals gives fruity aromas to the wine. Far from engaging in fierce competition, the winegrowers of Wanaka are often interrelated and share their knowledge.
Among all the vineyards, one is famous but not only for the great quality of its wine production. Rippon vineyard is established on the flank of a hill that goes down to reach the shore of the magnificent Lake Wanaka. This is an idyllic setting where you can take the most beautiful pictures of your holidays.
The family of winegrowers who work on this property since five generations produces organic wines of exceptional quality.
Riesling, Sauvignon blanc or Gamay rosé are improving each year, but it is the Pinot Noir which deserves the gold medal.
We did not come by chance! I invite you to join a free tasting organized by Nick Mills in person.
The owner of the domain will guide us during the visit of the cellar where the best wines are stored.
You can order a few bottles in remembrance of the visit. On my side I will order a plate of cheeses and a delicious Pinot Noir to complete our picnic among the vines. Even if you do not drink much wine, you might have a double vision during the first visit of the afternoon…
Enter the Fourth Dimension.
Strange tilted houses indicate its presence at the entrance of the city, and a construction tilted at 53° is famous under the name of “Leaning Tower of Wanaka”.
The outer part is occupied by a large labyrinth on several levels.
The aim of the game is to join all the coloured towers at each corner of the labyrinth.
I assure you that it is easier to say than done, but the trick is to memorize the top of the bridges to find your direction.
The holograms of the first part of the museum are beginning to be a little outdated, but they are being replaced one by one.
My favourite part reproduces a creation by Escher, the master of the geometric illusions. I’m sorry but it's impossible to describe it with words, you must see it with your own eyes.
The classical, but still fascinating electrified purple spheres will make their magic effect, especially among children.
The next part is already much more impressive and nearly thrilling. Rows of busts represent historical characters. Regardless of the direction in which you move, the eyes of Beethoven, Churchill or Albert Einstein seem to stare at you!
After what, I need two volunteers for the room where an illusion transforms an adult into a child. Place yourselves at each end of the room and I'll take a picture. The result is surprising! This technique was used in the “Lord of the Rings” to film the actors who play the roles of the Hobbits (the trilogy was made in New Zealand, and you can even visit the village of Hobbiton).
Another special room is amazing with its floor inclined at 15 degrees. The furniture compensates the perspective and tricks our brain. This is an upside-down universe where the ball of a pool table seems to defy the gravity by going back a slope it is supposed to descend!
The last gallery has been the subject of a collaboration with Weta Cave, the studio of Peter Jackson established in Wellington.
Twenty statues will trick your brain, like the water tap floating in the air and filling a basin. You’ll get the feeling to be lost in an episode of the fourth dimension, and before becoming crazy, it is time to return to reality.
Hike to the Lake Diamond.
The Diamond Lake track is located at 18 km from Wanaka. It is one of the 48 hiking trails of the region and a track followed by 15,000 trekkers each year.
The magnificent path in the middle of the bushes offers a taste of the Mt Aspiring National Park in New Zealand.
Put on your hiking boots, load the backpacks with bottles of water and take your windbreakers, because the temperatures at the summit can vary pretty fast, even in summer.
It is only a three-hour hike (round trip) and we'll be back in town in the late afternoon.
The marked itinerary is well maintained and does not present any particular difficulty. There are a few wooden stairs to facilitate the steep slopes, and it will be necessary to climb a few rocks sometime. However, keep in mind that the path climbs constantly, so do not hesitate to take some breaks on the way.
The first point of view is only 20 minutes from the start of the hike. The Diamond Lake bears its name well and reflects the mountains (such as the famous lake Matheson), but the best is yet to come. After several hundreds of meters and many loops, we reach the summit at 755 m of altitude.
At the top of the Rocky Mountain there is a breathtaking view on the Lake Wanaka and the summits covered by snow of the Mount Aspiring National Park!
We can spot two islands on the lake: Mou Waho et Mou Tapu who are natural reserves and are populated by wekas, an endangered bird species of New Zealand.
Your predecessors have stacked rocks at the summit to celebrate their exploits. Follow the custom and add your stone to the edifice without letting them fall. I’ll take some souvenir photos of our team and then we may start the descent.
Back in town, I believe that our efforts deserve a reward!
Black Peak Gelato proclaims that “Life is too short to eat bad ice creams”.
Queenstown is perhaps famous for its Fergburger,, but Wanaka has the best Italian ice cream shop in New Zealand.
It might be difficult to choose among the 68 flavours elaborated from seasonal fruits. If you need help, you may try the Hokey Pokey, the favourite flavour of New Zealanders. The sun slowly descends to the horizon, but I still have a great surprise for you in the evening.
The Coolest Theatre on Earth.
The Cinema Paradiso has the latest box-office releases. The idea to go see a movie in New Zealand during your trip is perhaps unexpected. But seeing a movie in the Wanaka style is an extraordinary experience.
The place is especially renowned for its relaxed style. We are going to order pizzas to eat during the film and Brewski and Cardronas, the excellent local beers. But it is not the simple fact of having dinner during the projection which is surprising…
The Paradiso offers a patchwork of old leather armchairs and various sofas to settle down comfortably.
The owners have even managed to get an old convertible car to reproduce the drive-in experience of the 60s.
As soon as the doors open, it is the rush to get the best seats.
Do you see the sofas in the front row? You should get them while I pick soft cushions in self-service at the entry.r
Here, no endless commercials, but a few trailers of art movies. The movie starts almost immediately and you feel as relaxed as if you were at home but with a giant screen! An hour passes before the lights come back… it is the intermission!
A great occasion to buy some pizzas, fresh beers, and the home-made cookies (still warm as they were cooked during the first part of the film).
Don’t hesitate to order several cookies per person, they are enormous and you can save some for the tomorrow trip to Queenstown. The film resumed and we wonder how we were able to appreciate modern cinemas being seated like sardines in a box. You can meditate on this question while you regain the hotel with a large smile on your face.
Wanaka or Queenstown?
The inhabitants of Wanaka do not appreciate when you present their city as a “mini-queenstown” (the world's capital of adventure being only one hour drive from Wanaka).
Wanaka is not yet the victim of mass tourism, but for how long?
The increasing traffic in the streets is the first sign of a metamorphosis that some consider as inevitable.
Life there is more expensive than in Queenstown, and it becomes more and more difficult to find a restaurant for less than thirty dollars.
And since a few years, it is even difficult to find accommodations without planning a trip far in advance.
Up to now, Wanaka has preserved its authentic character and a spirit of community. But the situation is evolving each year. The city depends more and more of the tourism economy while trying not to lose its soul.
If Wanaka looks more and more to Queenstown, it remains, however, far more peaceful.
As I have already talked about these activities in my article about Queenstown, I suggest you read it to get an idea of what can be done.
However, I feel sorry for having missed the opportunity to present the winter sports.
Cardrona and Treble Cone offer landscapes which allow them to outperform all ski resorts of Europe, in my opinion.
I almost had the feeling to share a secret with you. Enjoy Wanaka as it still exists today: one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Please do not hesitate to send us photos of your stay, we will publish the best ones on Kiwipal.
To follow my itinerary by your own means you may need a supplement of information. Ben the Kiwi will answer all your questions at the end of this article. He is an expert of Wanaka, because he frequents the region since more than 10 years.
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? Wanaka offers an incredible number of activities. But you cannot miss the hike to Rocky Mountain. It offers one of the most fantastic panoramas in New Zealand.
- All topics ... 54 answers in total
- Sports Activities 7 answers
- Puzzling World 7 answers
- Excursions in the Area 6 answers
- Practical Information 5 answers
- Lake Diamond 5 answers
- Accommodation and Restaurants 4 answers
- Ski Resorts 4 answers
- Biking Trails 4 answers
- Rippon Vineyard 4 answers
- Weather Forecast and Swimming 2 answers
- Transports 2 answers
- Movie Theaters 2 answers
- History of the Region 2 answers
- How to book a Canyoning trip?
Deep Canyon offers rappelling cave runs through waterfalls.Deep Canyon
- How to book a jet boat tour?
You can get off the Kawarau River rapids on a float in the spring and fall. The activity was imported by a Frenchman.Frogz Hydrospeed
- Can we practice climbing?
Wanaka attracts climbing enthusiasts from all over the world. The name is poorly chosen, but it is at Hospital Flat that one can find the best outings. You will get more information about the Wanaka Rock Climbing Club at the i-Site.
- Can you practice kayaking?
The easy descents of Clutha River and Matukituki River are organized by Alpine Kayak Guides and the half-a-day tour is priced at $150.Alpine Kayaks
- Is fishing allowed?
The fishing season runs from October to May 31st. Lake Wanaka and the rivers of the region are full of trout. You can rent a fishing rod at Lakeland Adventures.Lake Wanaka Fishing
- Can we play golf?
The Wanaka Golf Club was founded in 1922. It is an 18 hole open to all and which rents clubs to beginners.Wanaka Golf Club
- Can we do Heliski?
The Heliski concept is to land by helicopter on the summit of mountains and to go skiing. It costs about $775 for three descents on the pristine expanses of Harris, Richardson or Buchanan Mountains.Heliski booking
- Is Puzzling World reserved for children?
This is what I thought before visiting it, but it is a museum that also appeals to adults.
- What is the best time to visit Puzzling World?
Early in the morning to avoid the crowd that rushes during the day.
- Where is Puzzling World?
The access to the leaning house is at the entrance of Wanaka on the SH84. You can park safely or walk from the city center 2 km away.
- How long to defeat the labyrinth?
The first route consists of connecting the red, blue, green and yellow corners in this order. It takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour. The other challenge reverses the order of the corners and takes twice as long (I don't know why ...)
- Can we visit Puzzling World in all weather?
Getting stuck in a labyrinth in bad weather is not ideal, but emergency exits are available. In summer, plan sunglasses, sunscreen and a bottle of water. The terrain can be dusty when it is too crowded.
- How long does it take to visit Puzzling World?
It all depends on the time you allocate to the labyrinth. In general the full visit lasts 1h30.
- What are the conditions to visit Puzzling World?
The rate is about $15 and the museum is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (5 pm in winter).Puzzling World
Excursions in the Area
- Can we visit the islands of the lake?
There are four main islands on the lake. Mou Waho, Mou Tapu, Te Peka Karara and Ruby Island are nature reserves for birds like the weka. Ask the i-Site for the schedule of visits. Mou Waho is the most interesting (there is even a lake).
- How to reach Wanaka Lone Tree?
Walk along the eastern shore of Lake Wanaka from Ardmore St. The tree is perpendicular to Ruby Rd .
- Are there guided tours of the area?
Lakeland Adventure offers excursions to the islands of the lake. It is possible to continue with a stroll in the bush before going up the river Clutha in a jet boat.Lakeland Adventure Guided tours
- How to get the hiking map of the region?
This official map shows the main hikes:Wanaka Walks map
- Would you recommend the ride to Mount Iron?
It is more of a walk than a hike. It is the easiest and closest climb to Wanaka, with a departure in front of the Puzzling World car park. It takes only twenty minutes to reach the summit of the hill at 240 m altitude. You will enjoy a 360 ° view of Wanaka and Hawea lakes, Clutha Valley and the surrounding mountains. Information panels explain the history of the region.
- Would you recommend the ride to Mount Roy?
At 1578 m, Mount Roy offers the best view of Lake Wanaka. Count 5 or 6h for an ascent of 1100 m to be done if the weather is nice. The slope is exposed to the wind, so plan to wear warm clothes even in summer.
- Where is the Wanaka DOC office?
The Department of Conservation (DOC) of New Zealand is located in a cottage on Ardmore St facing the lake. It is open from 8 am to 5 pm.
- Where is the Wanaka iSite?
It is located at 100 Ardmore St. Open from 8:30 am to 7 pm (5 pm in winter).Wanaka iSite
- Would you recommend the museum about old planes?
The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum presents genuine World War II fighter planes (Hawkes Hurricane, Vampire, Tiger Moth, Chipmunk, Russian Poliakov ...). In even years, the sky of Wanaka is covered with fighter planes during a festival with air ballets.New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum
- Can we go shopping in town?
The shops are clustered in Helwick St and a small wooden village on Pembroke Mall.
- What are the main Wanaka festivals?
In mid-January the "Wanaka Challenge" attracts the best athletes in the world. In February, the "Rippon Vineyard Festival" hosts open-air concerts in the middle of the vineyards. The "Wanakafest" is organized in mid-October for 4 days, with many activities on the lake.Challenge WanakaRippon FestivalWanaka Fest
- How long does the Lake Diamond track last?
The return trip to the lake takes about 45 minutes for 2.5 km. If you decide to continue to the top of Rocky Mountain, it is 3 hours round trip and 7 km.
- Is there a toilet on the way to Lake Diamond?
You will find a toilet in the parking lot before starting the hike.
- Is hiking to Lake Diamond free?
Yes, but a $2 donation is encouraged.
- Should we go to Lake Diamond in case of bad weather?
I have also done this hike in the mist. The track was slippery on return, so I can't advise this activity in case of bad weather.
- Can I hike to Lake Diamond if I'm dizzy?
The part that joins the summit of Rocky Mountain can be problematic because the trail is narrow. It is delicate to cross the other people who descend. The excursion to Mount Iron will be more suitable for travelers who suffer from vertigo.
Accommodation and Restaurants
- How to find accommodation in Wanaka?
The city offers all types of accommodation, from motels to luxury chalets and campsites.
- How to find the Black Peak Gelato shop in Wanaka?
The Ice cream shop is located at 123 on Ardmore Street, just off Pembroke Park.
- Can you recommend me a good restaurant?
In a city where quality restaurants are expensive, Francesca's Italian Kitchen is an exception. This Italian restaurant welcomes you 7 days a week from 10.30 am until late in the evening. Reservations only by phone at +64 3 443 5599. The restaurant is located at 93 on Ardmore Street.Francescas Italian Restaurant
- Are there supermarkets in Wanaka?
The New World is on Dunmore St and you will find a Four Square at the 78 on Ardmore St.
- Can you reach the ski resorts with a motorhome?
Although this is possible, I advise against it, because it is very difficult, if not dangerous to maneuver at the top of the tracks.
- Do you recommend the slopes of Cardrona Alpine Resort?
This 320-hectare family resort is reached via an old gold-miner road, now the highest road in New Zealand. Located at 1670m altitude the resort attracts mostly families. Built on the eastern slope of Mt Cadrona, the resort enjoys a mild weather and opens its doors from June to October (8:45 am to 4:00 pm every day).Cardrona
- Do you recommend the ski slopes of Treble Cone?
Treble Cone occupies roughly the same area as Cardrona but has faster tracks. It is a resort that will please fans of speed or snowboard. The area overlooking the Matukituki Valley and Lake Wanaka is breathtaking.Treble Cone
- Can you ski at Waiorau Snow Farm?
At 20 km south-west of Wanaka and at an altitude of 1980 m, the 55 km of the Waiorau Snow Farm trails mainly attract cross-country skiers.Waiorau Snow Farm
- How to get a map of the bike tracks?
Mountain bike rental companies distribute free maps, but you can consult these two websites to prepare your outings.Wanaka trails map
- Are mountain bike tracks difficult to practice?
The region offers tours for all levels. The most pleasant routes follow the Hawea River and the shores of the lake. Minaret Burn and Dingle Burn tracks are the most interesting tracks such as Lindis Peak, Isthmus Pea and Grandview Range tracks.
- Which bike models should be rented?
The entry-level model with a front suspension (hard tails) is perfect for touring the lake and exploring the hills. If you are planning a more complex excursion, ask the bicycle rental company for advice.
- How to rent bikes on site?
- Do you have another wine tasting to suggest?
Mount Maude Vineyard located in the Maungawera Valley also offers tastings. I especially recommend experimenting Funny French Car which leads to the discovery of vineyards in 2CV!Maude WinesFunny French Cars
- How to get to Rippon Vineyard?
Join the 246 Mt Aspiring Rd 4 km from downtown. The entrance is indicated by a sign.
- What are the opening hours of Rippon Vineyard?
The tasting room is open from November to April from 11:30 to 17:00, and from July to October from 13:30 to 17:00. Annual closing from May to June.Rippon Vineyard
- What are the best local beers?
Speight's is the most popular beer in the Otago but you should also taste the "Cardrona Gold", the Brewski and the Tall Black.
Weather Forecast and Swimming
- What does the weather look like in Wanaka?
The weather is variable in spring (September to November) and turns around 17 ° C. The summer (December to February) is hot and dry with peaks at 34 ° C. Autumn is probably the ideal season (March to May) and one can expect a maximum of 25 ° C. The winter (June to August) enjoys a clear weather at 12 ° but favorable to frosts.
- Can we swim in the lake Wanaka?
The temperature of the water is 18 ° C. It varies little during the year, and only the warmest days of summer allow to bathe.
- How to get to Wanaka by bus?
- How to get to Wanaka by car?
If you are coming from the west coast, take the Haast highway which is one of the most beautiful roads of the country. You can also reach Wanaka by following Cardrona Rd, the highest road in the country (1121 m) but likely to be closed in winter.
History of the Region
- What were the Maori doing in the region?
Wanaka was a fishing and hunting stage for expeditions in search of the West Coast's jade (pounamu).
- Who discovered Lake Wanaka?
The settlers were led by the pioneer Nathaniel Chalmers, the first European to visit the lake region in 1953.
On the Country Map
Wanaka is located in the Central Otago region on the South Island.
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