21 Best Things To Do In Wanaka For Adventurous Travellers

You know that feeling when you arrive at a place and instantly feel like you’ve found home – not literally, but in a way that you immediately connect with the destination? That’s how it felt when we visited Wanaka for the first time, and I know we’re not alone!

Wanaka is an adventure lover’s paradise, you’ll find endless hiking and mountain biking trails to suit all styles, loads of adrenaline-fueled experiences and some of the best food and craft beer in New Zealand!

We have returned to Wanaka multiple times throughout our 4 months in New Zealand, always finding ourselves drawn back to this buzzing mountain town anytime we’re nearby. Although we still have a long list of things to do in Wanaka, we have seen and researched more than enough to help you plan your adventurous trip!

There are countless things to do in Wanaka to satisfy your adventure spirit and plenty more for the necessary moments of indulgence and relaxation. But instead of overwhelming you with an exhaustive list, we’ve created the ultimate guide for the best things to do in Wanaka for adventurous travellers.

Moody sunset at the Wanaka Tree, the most popular thing to do in Wanaka

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21 Best Things To Do In Wanaka For Adventurous Travellers

Quick Tips For Visiting Wanaka, New Zealand

  • Allow 2 – 3 days at the very least to truly get a sense of Wanaka
  • We recommend spending a week in Wanaka if you want to complete some of the best hikes near Wanaka
  • Get your groceries at the New World just out of town, it has a bigger range of options and loads of affordable pre-made food at the deli
  • Grab fuel from the Allied 24/7 Fuel Station behind New World, near Ryme X Reason Brewery – it is always at least 10 – 20 cents cheaper than in town!
  • Book your accommodation in advance and during the shoulder seasons for better deals, we always use Booking.com because we’ve found they offer the best discounts and have a very user-friendly app
  • The best time to visit Wanaka is from April to June, this is usually a quieter time of year but before winter truly sets in
  • If you’re visiting Wanaka for the snow, the most reliable month is August
  • The warmest months to visit Wanaka are typically January and February, where you’ll enjoy a pleasant daily temperature average of 23℃
  • For visitors travelling in a certified self-contained campervan, you can find a freedom campsite 15 minutes out of town at Red Bridge
  • The Wanaka Recreation Centre near the New World supermarket on the outskirts of town provides shower access for $2 during off-peak hours and $4 during peak hours, with unlimited use
  • The cheapest public laundry facility is at the Caltex on the corner of Ardmore and Brownston Street

1. Stand Beneath The Mighty Rob Roy Glacier

Looking up at Rob Roy Glacier from the Lookout on the Rob Roy Glacier Hike

Rob Roy Glacier is one of the most impressive glaciers we have had the good fortune to witness. But the best part is, the walk leads you through one of our all-time favourite places in New Zealand – the Matukituki Valley.

You’ll begin the easy-moderate hike from the Raspberry Creek Car Park and wander alongside the Matukituki River for a kilometre before crossing a swing bridge and entering the dense forest. A wide dirt track gradually ascends through the magical moss-stained forest to two viewpoints.

The last viewpoint is our favourite, allowing you to stand almost directly beneath the hanging glacier that clings to the formidable slopes of Rob Roy Peak and Glengyle Peak. We recommend allowing roughly 3 – 4 hours for the 10 km return hike.

Rob Roy Glacier surrounded by waterfalls while hiking near Wanaka

Note: As of January 2024, the bridge that crosses the Matukituki River is under repair. If you’re skilled in river crossings, there is a shallow section roughly 5 – 10 minutes further west of the bridge that is accessible when the river is low. For the current status of the bridge repair, visit the DOC website.

2. Hike Up To Isthmus Peak – The Better Alternative To Roy’s Peak

Hiking up Isthmus Peak Track near Wanaka overlooking Lake Hawea

While every man and his dog flocks to Roy’s Peak to wait in line for their turn to snap that iconic Instagram shot, why not check out the arguably better panoramic views from Isthmus Peak?

Isthmus Peak is one of our favourite hikes near Wanaka and honestly, the walk itself and the views from the long ridgeline are better than Roy’s Peak! You’ll still need to ascend along an arduous farm road to reach the peak, but the views that accompany you of the Southern Alps and both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka keep your attention off your burning legs!

The 16 km return walk to Isthmus Peak takes roughly 5 – 7 hours and ascends 1,175 m in elevation! There’s no denying it’s a big climb but other than a small rocky section near the beginning, the trail is very straightforward.

3. Go Surfing At YourWave

Surfing at Your Wave, one of the most adventurous things to do in Wanaka
Image sourced from Get Your Guide

I bet you never thought you’d be able to go surfing in Wanaka but the legends at YourWave have made it possible. YourWave is the world’s first custom standing wave that has been artificially built using chambered air-filled waveforms and inflatable surroundings.

A public session – which you’ll share with 4 – 8 others – costs $100 for an hour and includes a standard surfboard and a wetsuit, though you can upgrade to a premium surfboard if you wish. You can also rent booties, gloves and hoods so you don’t need to bring anything with you if you’re travelling without your gear!

But the best part about YourWave is the fact that it can be altered to suit everyone from beginner to advanced and can even be customised for a left-hand or a right-hand ride! This is seriously genius and we’re sad we haven’t personally visited – but there is always next time!

Book with Get Your Guide for the cheapest price

For The More Advanced Surfers and Kayakers, Check Out Hawea’s Wave!

If you’re searching for something more hard-core and free, then don’t miss the Hawea Wave! This purpose-built white-water park on the Hawea River caters to surfers, bodyboarders and kayakers with two drop features on the wave to suit various styles.

4. Go Kayaking On Lake Wanaka

Kayaking on Lake Wanaka, one of the best things to do in Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is the heart and soul of Wanaka so what better way to explore the tiny islands scattered throughout this mountain lake than on a kayak!?

You can simply rent a kayak from Wanaka beachfront or join one of Paddle Wanaka’s adventure days. Their options include self-guided kayak trips where they drop you off at a location and you paddle back to town, or a guided tour to hidden local spots or to Ruby Island.

5. Skydive Over Wanaka

Skydiving over Wanaka with incredible views over New Zealand's Southern Alps
Image sourced from Get Your Guide

While skydiving in Queenstown is extremely popular, we will argue that the experience would be far more incredible from Wanaka. Firstly, it’s slightly cheaper and secondly, you get to fall out of the sky while admiring two of the most iconic mountains in New Zealand – Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring!

There are two companies that you can choose from for your skydiving adventure – Skydive Wanaka and NZONE Skydive. Both companies offer three heights to jump, which are 9,000, 12,000 or 15,000 feet but NZONE Skydive are slightly cheaper.

6. Take On The Mighty Adventure Of The Gillespie Pass Circuit

Hiking on Gillepsie Pass during sunset

If there was just one multi-day hike that we could recommend in New Zealand’s South Island, it would be hard for us to choose anything over the Gillespie Pass Circuit. This was one of the most incredible hikes we’ve done so far and it showcases all that New Zealand is famous for.

The hike takes between 3 – 4 days to complete and includes the incredible Crucible Lake side trip. There are some logistical challenges accompanying the Gillespie Pass Circuit to get across the unpredictable Makarora River, but these small hurdles are 1,000 times worth the effort to experience the wonders waiting for you on the Gillespie Pass Circuit.

7. Explore Mou Waho Island For Some Secluded Nature Time

Mou Waho, an island reserve on Lake Wanaka, is home to the rare flightless Buff Weka and harbours a hidden lake. This is a breathtaking spot for a picnic or a peaceful bushwalk without the crowds.

You can either get a water taxi to the island and explore yourself, or join a 3-hour Island Cruise & Nature Walk where knowledgeable guides will provide insight into the local flora and fauna, geology and both colonial and Maori history.

8. Take Your Taste Buds On An Adventure At Big Fig

Eating a massive meal at Big Fig in Wanaka

Every adventurer has to eat at some point and we believe that everybody needs to experience the mouthwatering food at Big Fig at least once on their trip! Their motto is slow food, cooked fast and the continuously changing selection of dishes will leave you wanting more!

Big Fig serves modern Middle Eastern food in a family-style setting where you get to choose one meat and 3 – 5 sides from the buffet. The food was incredibly delicious and healthy and the large plate – which has 5 sides and 1 meat – was huge!

9. Experience The Thrill Of Canyoning

The deep valleys surrounding Wanaka are home to some incredible canyons that are just waiting to be explored. Wanaka Canyoning offers a range of tours that cater to all levels and explore various canyons within the region.

For most of their canyoning tours, you don’t need any previous experience – just the ability to swim and a good level of fitness. If you haven’t tried canyoning before, we highly recommend this adventure. What’s not to love about jumping off waterfalls and wandering through some truly enchanting landscapes!?

10. Catch A Sunrise At The Top Of Rocky Mountain

Standing on Rocky Mountain Hike looking over Lake Wanaka, one of the best things to do in Wanaka

For a relatively easy sunrise summit mission, we highly recommend Rocky Mountain. This small but stunning peak rises beside Lake Wanaka, overlooking Glendhu Bay to the east and offering sneaky glimpses of Mt Aspiring to the northwest on a clear morning.

We sadly missed sunrise at Rocky Mountain’s summit, but we did score a stunning blue-bird morning and were gifted with incredible vistas across the mountainous landscape. The ascent takes roughly 1 hour, but allow 1.5 hours so you don’t miss the sunrise from the peak!

11. Sample Some Delicious Craft Beers

Tasting Paddle of craft beer at Rhyme X Reason in Wanaka
Rhyme X Reason tasting paddle
Rhyme X Reason Craft Brewery in Wanaka
Rhyme X Reason

The best way to unwind after an adventure is with an ice-cold craft beer and Wanaka will gladly provide the goods!

There are four breweries in Wanaka and each one offers a unique vibe and incredibly tasty beers! We especially love b.effect, who do some seriously addictive hazy IPAs. But Rhyme X Reason comes in at a very close second.

The other two breweries in Wanaka are Ground Up and Wanaka Beerworks. Wanaka Beerworks is located a little further out of town, but they also own the Brew Bar in town, which has 16 beers on tap. Each brewery also serves food and provides a great vibe for an afternoon beer.

12. Try Your First Overnight Hike To Aspiring Hut

Aspiring Hut Communal Area with large glass windows
Aspiring Hut

The best thing about the hiking trails surrounding Wanaka is that they cater to all skill levels. While Mt Aspiring National Park boasts some epic and challenging routes, it also features accessible trails like Aspiring Hut for beginners to enjoy.

Aspiring Hut is an 18 km return walk that winds deep into the Matukituki Valley. This walk is super straightforward and the hut has almost everything you need for an overnight adventure. All you need to pack is food, cooking equipment (gas stoves are provided), warm clothes and a sleeping bag.

Sunset over Aspiring Hut while hiking near Wanaka
West Matukituki Valley Track

This is a fantastic entry-level overnight hike but for more experienced hikers, it can also be extended to include some other of our favourites like Cascade Saddle, French Ridge Hut or Liverpool Hut.

If you’re looking for something a little more exciting, check out the Shotover Saddle Route in the Matukituki Valley.

13. Swim In The Translucent Blue Pools

Blue Pools in Mt Aspiring National Park north of Wanaka

New Zealand’s South Island is famous for its impossibly blue rivers that snake through the lush valleys. But the Blue Pools take it up a notch with some of the clearest and turquoise water we have ever experienced!

The Blue Pools is a short 3 km return walk that starts just past the tiny rural town of Makarora. From the car park, you’ll wander through a towering forest of beech and podocarp trees before arriving at a swing bridge that will lead you over the Makarora River and to the second bridge that crosses above the Blue Pools.

Now, I will warn you that even at the height of summer, these pools are numbingly cold. But it’s well worth it to freshen up in the purest and clearest water we’ve encountered.

14. Go Snowboarding At Treble Cone

Snowboard jump at Trable Cone while holidaying in Wanaka
Image Credit: Graham Gee | Candace at Treble Cone

You’re spoilt for choice when you visit Wanaka or Queenstown on a snow holiday. There are four epic ski resorts between the two towns. But our favourite of the four is easily Treble Cone.

Treble Cone is smaller than the other three ski fields, but that just adds to its allure. You’re almost guaranteed a smaller line at the lifts compared to the Remarkables or Cardrona and there are plenty of off-piste missions for experienced riders.

15. Step Back In Time At The Cardrona Hotel

Cardrona Hotel near Wanaka

There’s just something about old-school pubs that reel us in every time we pass one. The story was no different when we drove past the Cardrona Hotel on the scenic route through the Crown Range, dividing Queenstown and Wanaka.

The Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs and arguably the most photographed building! Inside, you’ll get that rustic feel that we love and a range of great beers and hearty meals.

16. Try Out Mountain Carting At Cardrona

Cardrona Alpine Resort

This phenomenon is new to us and sadly, we didn’t get to test it out but oh my gosh does it look fun! Mountain carting is basically go-carting but on steroids

The three-wheeled mountain carts are purposely built for alpine trails and their low centre of gravity will have you speeding down the loose gravel roads on Cardrona with squeals of delight!

Your mountain carting experience is 2 hours long and includes the price of a lift ticket so you can try and fit as many laps in as possible!

17. Go Outdoor Rock Climbing

Wild Wire Rock Climbing Tour in Wanaka
Image sourced from Get Your Guide

Wanaka is surrounded by natural rock outcrops and walls that cater to all climbers, from fresh beginners to the advanced. If you’ve got your gear with you, you’re spoilt for choice on where to climb, mostly with sport routes but also a few traditional choices available in the Matukituki Valley.

If you’re new to rock climbing or would like a guide to show you the best spots, then you can book a session with Basecamp Adventures. They provide introductory climbing options as well as hands-on lessons in lead, multi-pitch and trad climbing.

For the ultimate experience that doesn’t require any climbing experience, book the exhilarating Wild Wire tours that will introduce you to Via Ferrata and have you climbing up beside a monstrous waterfall!

18. Play Disc Golf At Lismore Park

Disc golf – aka frisbee golf – has taken mountain towns by storm! As the name suggests, this fun sport is a mixture of golf and frisbee, with 9 – 18 holes (baskets) that you must throw your frisbee into.

This is just another way to get outside for free (except for the cheap price of a frisbee) and is the perfect afternoon activity for a group of friends. You can rent or buy frisbees from Outside Sports in town and you have two courses to choose from, one at Lismore Park (which is slightly easier) and another at Eely Point.

19. Hit The Many Mountain Biking Trails

Glendhu Bike Park in Wanaka
Glendhu Bike Park

One of the top things to do in Wanaka for adventurers is mountain biking. There are several different locations to choose from and each one offers something slightly different. 

For the best downhill mountain biking, you can’t beat Cardrona. Here, you’ll have endless trail options that range from green to double black and a handy chair lift to avoid long drives or any climbing.

If you’re more of a cross-country, enduro or adventure trail kinda mountain biker, then you’ll love Bike Glendhu. With loads of trails that cut through over 1,000 hectares, you’re sure to find a trail that suits your style. But for the ultimate adventure, splurge on an epic heli-biking experience!

For something within riding distance from Wanaka – and free of charge – check out the Sticky Forest mountain bike park. Over 20 single tracks cut through the pine forest and provide plenty of variety with some fun hand-cut jump trails thrown in.

20. Catch The Wanaka Artisan Market Every Thursday Afternoon

Stock up on fresh organic produce and taste some delicious street food every Thursday afternoon at the Wanaka Artisan Market. The market is held near the Speights Alehouse alongside Bullock Creek from 3 pm – 6 pm year-round and is the best way to support local farmers and artisans on your travels.

21. Give Back To The Community By Volunteering With Te Kakano And Planting Trees

Wanaka community planting trees
Image sourced from Tekakano

Being an outdoor lover often goes hand-in-hand with caring for the environment that allows us to enjoy adventures in so many incredible landscapes. But as travellers, it can be hard to know how to help or how to give back to a community that you’re travelling to.

An easy and enjoyable way to give back to the Wanaka community is to join Te Kakano in a tree planting or a nursery session. Te Kakano is a non-profit organisation that facilitates community-based native planting and habitat restoration. They run nursery sessions every Tuesday and Wednesday and planting sessions every Saturday from April to September/October.

Final Thoughts

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do in Wanaka, but merely somewhere to start! While Queenstown is known to be the adventure capital of New Zealand, we do have to argue that Wanaka is a strong competitor for the title!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of things to do in Wanaka and we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If we have left something out that you feel should be included in our list, then please feel free to let us know!

Happy Adventuring 🙂