Located on the South Island of New Zealand, Wanaka is a quaint lakeside resort town surrounded by the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Located near four world-class ski resorts, this prime location makes Wanaka a snow lover’s dream destination, there are just so many mountains for skiers and snowboarders to explore!
Wanaka is ideal for a quieter New Zealand ski holiday, slightly removed from the 'hustle and bustle' of Queenstown. Wanaka has easy to access to all the incredible winter activities you can imagine, from skiing and snowboarding through to relxing hot pools and massages.
The town itself overlooks Lake Wanaka and is bordered by the Southern Alps of New Zealand. The towering mountain ranges make Wanaka a haven for skiers, snowboarders and winter holiday enthusiasts. Wanaka is a great base to visit the South Islands well known ski resorts Cardrona & Treble Cone; or adventurers can travel further south towards Queenstown and ski Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.
Wanaka caters to singles travellers, couples, families, groups and school ski trips, with a range of accommodation to suit all budgets. The vast terrain available in the region is ideal for all levels of experience, with runs for beginner skiers, through to advanced terrain suited to advance level ski and snowboarders. Having access to so many ski resorts, Wanaka is also ideal for groups with mixed ski or snowboard skill level; groups can split up to visit different mountains easily. There is a selection of accommodation options in Wanaka, from budget accommodation through to luxury hotels. There are plenty of runs for avid skier or snowboarder to explore, as well as activities for any non-skiers visiting during winter.
Where to stay in Wanaka
While smaller than neighbouring Queenstown, Wanaka offers a range of accommodation option to suit a variety of budgets and different holiday styles. If you love to save your money for activities and dining out or are travelling on a budget, Wanaka’s budget accommodation, hostels and lodges are clean and comfortable. There are a range of 2-3 star options from dormitory style backpacker’s through to economical B&B or motel style accommodation.
Travelling with family or in a group? There are a variety of self-contained apartments in Wanaka or holiday homes that give you that little bit more space. If cooking on holiday isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hotel style properties that cater to families and have larger rooms to accommodate groups, but still have access to dining.
For those skiers and snowboarders that enjoy the finer things in life, Wanaka has a selection of luxury resort hotel or luxury houses available. There are also so stunning alpine lodges on the outskirts of Wanaka, perfect for a tranquil escape.
If you are looking for the cheapest deal, we recommend visiting Wanaka at the start or end of the ski season, which runs from approximately June to October each year. While travelling in June or late-September to October may be cheaper, keep in mind that can mean snow may not be as consistent. As Cardrona is a very popular family ski resort, if possible, avoiding both Australian and New Zealand school holidays can mean you have a more enjoyable time. Also, school holidays tend to be slightly more expensive due to the demand. The most popular time to visit Wanaka for consistent, good quality snow is in July and August. If you are travelling over peak periods and school holidays, make sure to lock in accommodation nice and early to ensure you get the best option and best price.
Skiing & Snowboarding Wanaka
Wanaka is a stunning place to ski or snowboard, with panoramic lake views from the top of Cardrona and Treble Cone, there are photo opportunities at every turn. With several world-class ski resorts within close proximity, Wanaka is a skier or snowboarders ultimate snow holiday destination! Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular winter activity in the region and has access to some of the premium options for New Zealand Skiing. Cardrona Alpine Resort is 20 minutes from the centre of Wanaka with 2 pipes, multiple terrain parks, 400 hectares of terrain and impeccable family facilities, it’s no surprise that Cardrona is one of New Zealand’s favourite ski resorts. In 2020 Cardrona also purchased neighbouring Treble Cone ski resort, so visitors can now ski both peaks on one lift pass.
Treble Cone is the perfect addition to a Wanaka ski holiday, with the largest skiable area and longest vertical rise in New Zealand, Treble Cone ski field is also well-known for its off-piste terrain and uncrowded runs. While Treble Cone may be paradise for intermediate to advanced skiers and boarders, beginners are looked after, with a designated learner area.
For those that don’t mind a slightly longer commute, Coronet Peak Ski Resort is located about 1 hour 20 minutes from central Wanaka & The Remarkables Ski Resort is about 1 hour 30 minutes from town. One thing is certain, Wanaka in an unforgettable snow holiday destination.
Getting Around Wanaka
Most visitors to Wanaka hire a car from either Queenstown Airport or Christchurch Airport. This is also a convenient option to commute to Wanaka’s ski resorts. For anyone who does plan to self-drive, it is essential to carry If you don’t feel comfortable driving up the steep mountain roads, both Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resort offer transport options from Wanaka or the bottom of the mountain.
How to get to Wanaka
The closest airport to Wanaka is Queenstown Airport, flight time into Queenstown is roughly 3 hours from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney. These flights can be expensive over peak winter travel dates or school holidays, so we recommend considering flying into Christchurch or Dunedin if you are budget conscious. Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Wanaka is a 55 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, just over 3 hours’ drive from Dunedin, and about 5 hours’ drive from Christchurch.
Things to do in Wanaka in Winter
Wanaka is a premium alpine skiing and snowboarding destination, but there are plenty of other winter activities to enjoy while holidaying in this beautiful part of New Zealand. Visitors can try snowshoeing and dog sledding at Snow Farm, over have a snowball fight at the Snow Fun Zone. For adrenaline seekers, try ice-driving or take a scenic flight around Wanaka and finish on a glacier. For wine lovers and beer connoisseurs, the Otago region also has a variety of Wineries & Breweries to explore. Another great activity to add to any Wanaka holiday is a visit to the Cardrona Distillery, take a tour and learn about the distilling process and finish with a tasting of their in-house liquors, vodka, gin and delicious Cardrona single malt whisky.
Dining & Après in Wanaka
Best Après in Wanaka:
Après ski in Wanaka can be tailored to any budget or vibe, from upmarket wine tasting rooms to well-established pubs and breweries!
On-mountain après can be enjoyed at the top of McDougall’s Chondola at the Vista Bar, sit on a beanbag with a glass of Mumm champagne or cold craft beer and people watch from the top of Cardrona. If beanbags aren’t your seat of choice, The Lounge is another slope side après option, located at the base area of the mountain.
If you head back into Wanaka, The Bullock Bar in town is a local favourite and great if you are after a casual pub atmosphere. If you are chasing a cocktail, Lalaland Lounge Bar Wanaka or Bar Number 8 both have a great view of the lake and delicious selection of cocktails to choose from. Finally, no visit to ’Cardies’ would be complete without a visit to the Cardrona Hotel. This iconic hotel is on the road out of town and it’s almost essential to stop for a drink and a cheeky photo for the gram.
Best Restaurants in Wanaka:
For a small town, Wanaka has a delightful selection of dining options! We asked our team of ski specialist their opinions to collate our list of the best restaurants in Wanaka.
The Mezz in an awesome alpine restaurant located on Cardrona, offering full-service breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a bar for those seeking the full après ski experience. If you love tapas-style dining then you will love Wanaka’s Kika, a restaurant with great food, excellent service and even better wine! Another must-try Wanaka restaurant is Big Fig, they do amazing slow-cooked meats and Lebanese inspired veges. A great budget-friendly dining option in Wanaka is Brownston Street Food Trucks, specifically the tacos at Burrito Crafts truck should not be missed. Food trucks are great for families too, as you can all get something different. These are only a few of the delish dining options in Wanaka.
If you have a favourite restaurant in Wanaka that you want added to our list, let us know!