Pronounced evenly as Wa-Na-Ka, WANAKA, only 55km northeast of Queenstown (but over an hour by road), is kind of like its laidback cousin. There is a similar combination of beautiful lakeshore surroundings and robust adventure activities, but Wanaka remains an eminently manageable place, with the tenor of a village and a feeling of light and spaciousness – an excellent place in which to chill out for a few days.
There’s no beating the setting, draped around the southern shores of Lake Wanaka at the point where the hummocky, poplar-studded hills of Central Otago rub up against the dramatic peaks of the Mount Aspiring National Park.
Although central Wanaka is a pleasant place to café cruise or relax on the foreshore, there are no sights as such. For attractions you’ll either need to head 2km east to Puzzling World or a further 7km to the museums, a micro-brewery and airborne adventure activities around the airport. Alternatively, head 3km west to the delightful Rippon Vineyard. A half-day around the sights will leave plenty of time to go kayaking, jetboating, rock climbing or, best of all, canyoning.
With the jagged summits of the Southern Alps mirrored in Lake Wanaka’s waters, the lure of Mount Aspiring National Park is strong and Wanaka makes a perfect base for easy walks and hard tramps.
During the winter months, Wanaka’s relative calm is shattered by the arrival of skiers and snowboarders eager to explore the downhill ski-fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona, and the Nordic terrain at the Snow Farm.
Founded in the 1860s as a service centre for the local run-holders and itinerant gold miners, the town didn’t really take off until the prosperous middle years of the twentieth century, when camping and caravanning Kiwis discovered its warm, dry summer climate. Though still only home to around 7000 people, it is now one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing towns, with extensive developments and new housing subdivisions popping up everywhere.