Playing outdoors

When it comes to outdoor adventure, Wanaka is where it's at.

If you were going to design the perfect outdoor adventure playground, there are probably a few key features you’d look to include. You’d want a lake – a big one with crystal clear water, lots of interesting bays and a sprinkling of islands. You might throw in some meandering emerald green rivers lined with golden poplars. You’d surround it with rippling mountains and enhance them with a dusting of snow and perhaps one standout 3000m peak. You might even add some glaciers for extra wow factor. If you did all of that you would basically come up with Wanaka.

Tucked away at the south-eastern edge of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Wanaka has become a magnet for lovers of the outdoors, and not just the hardcore. Even those more gentle activities become enlivening in the fresh mountain air. Here are some ways to make the most of this South Island playground.

On two feet

With more than 750km of tracks to explore in the Wanaka region, there is no shortage of places to stretch your legs, and even easy walks will reward you with stunning scenery. Mt Aspiring National Park is the big draw, bursting with beech forest, frothing rivers, waterfalls and its crowning glory, the 3033m high Mt Aspiring. An easy valley walk leads to Aspiring Hut or tackle the three to four-hour Rob Roy Valley trail to see a glacier. One of Wanaka’s most popular hikes is up Roys Peak with its endless views from 1578m, or head out on a half hour walk off the Haast Highway to a swing bridge that hovers over the aptly-named Blue Pools.

Two wheels

Rent a bike, pack a picnic and explore on two wheels. For water views head out on either the Glendhu Bay track, a well-formed route undulating around Lake Wanaka, or the Upper Clutha River Track with 18km of picturesque riverbank riding. In Sticky Forest you’ll find mountain bike trails through pine forest graded from beginner to advanced. For an easy roll, the Hawea River Track links Wanaka to the nearby township of Lake Hawea, with plenty of opportunities to pause for a coffee and cake.

Saddle up

There’s something about mountains, high tussock plains and sheep farms that goes so well with horse riding. Beginners can enjoy easy rides beneath the willows alongside Cardrona River before climbing into majestic mountains. Tie your steed to the hitching rail outside the iconic Cardrona Hotel, built in 1863, and you’ll really feel the part. Even saddling up just three kilometres from the city centre will give you those mountain views along with the bonus of a wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard at the end.

Cardrona Alpine resort

Cast out

New Zealand has some of the best fly fishing in the world and the rivers and lakes around Wanaka are renowned. Brown and rainbow trout love the crystal clear waters of the Clutha, Matukituki, Wilkin and Makaroa Rivers. Lake Wanaka and nearby Lake Hawea are also great for dropping a line. You will need a licence to cast your hook here. Obtain one online from Fish & Game, or head out with a professional guide who can show you a good spot while offering a few tips to help with your casting skills.

Take to the water

Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake at 45km long and up to 12km wide, making it an ideal backdrop for a multitude of water-based activities. Explore its many bays and islands by kayak or stand-up paddleboard, either on your own or with a guide. If you fancy a little more excitement, the Clutha River is New Zealand’s largest by volume and offers guided trips on gentle grade one to two rapids. Alternatively, take a back seat and let someone else pilot a boat or yacht for a dreamy scenic ride.

Story by Laura Waters. Photos by Lake Wanaka Tourism, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Geoff Marks.

On the rocks

Via ferrata means ‘iron path’ in Italian, and Wanaka has a route that explores the steep terrain on the fringes of Mt Aspiring National Park. You’ll be safely harnessed as you climb a series of metal ladders, wire bridges and rungs bolted into the rock alongside Twin Falls, giving you maximum thrills without the risk. Three options cater to all levels of fitness and bravery. Do the full day climb and you’ll be labelled Lord of the Rungs (say it with a Kiwi accent) and rewarded with a helicopter ride back to Wanaka.

Experience Warbirds Over Wanaka, the world’s most unique international airshow in April 2020. Grand Pacific Tours is offering RACQ members the chance to see the Warbirds Over Wanaka from 10-12 April and experience the best of New Zealand with a range of coach holidays including eight, 11 (sold out), 13 and 15-day tours.

Prices start from $4084 per person twin share and include a three-day Gold Pass to the event with unobstructed seating in front of the runway, a GPT tour jacket, return airfares, modern coach travel, 4-4 ½ star accommodation, a four-night stay in Queenstown, most meals, sightseeing, attractions and more.

For more information visit Grand Pacific Tours or contact Grand Pacific Tours on 1800 622 768.

Can’t wait to wake up in Wanaka? Talk to the RACQ Travel specialists to save on your New Zealand holiday. Call us on 1300 188 713.