Hotels in Wanaka, New Zealand
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Wanaka, New Zealand: outdoor adventures in the Southern Alps
Sheltered by a series of snowy mountains and surrounded by glittering alpine lakes, Wanaka is a sunny, laid-back resort town that offers a seemingly infinite array of outdoor adventures. Skiing and snowboarding are the greatest draws in winter, yet Wanaka’s mild climate allows travellers to enjoy walking, climbing, boating, and mountain biking most of the year. The landscape, which once served as the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, also remains exceptionally photogenic in each of the region’s four distinct seasons. Accommodations in Wanaka range from luxe, lakeside hotels to buzzing backpackers’ hostels, family friendly holiday parks, and cribs.
Some of the best skiing in Middle Earth…
A more relaxed, family friendly alternative to nearby Queenstown’s adrenalin-charged ski scene, Wanaka is known for uncrowded slopes with superb natural snowfall, awe-inspiring scenery, and plenty of gentle terrain; yet its resorts are powerful magnets for adventure-seekers as well. The largest ski area on the South Island, Treble Cone features “legendary” off-piste terrain, and its extensive network of groomed trails includes a heart-pumping four-kilometre run with 700 metres of vertical drop. Cardrona is a snowboarder’s paradise, home to the most extensive terrain parks and pipes in the Southern Hemisphere. Truly fearless alpine skiers know and love Wanaka as a base for heli-skiing in the Harris Mountains, while cross-country aficionados come for the Snow Farm, New Zealand’s only Nordic skiing resort. Set amid the Pisa mountain range’s gentle hills and valleys, the Snow Farm offers gear, guides, and over 50 kilometres of trail. Here, committed skiers can forego a hotel room in favour of a backcountry hut, and watch the sun come up over the trail.
Hike, bike, or paddle around Lake Wanaka…
Tranquil, crystal clear Lake Wanaka is another of the town’s greatest attractions, and there are many ways to experience it beyond a pleasant swim. Sightseers of all fitness levels will find many lakefront trails suited to meandering, camera in hand, while more serious hikers can enjoy an incredible view of the lake (and much more) from the summit of Mount Iron, a glacier-carved rocky knoll that rises to an impressive 240 metres. Wanaka’s 750-kilometre trail network offers something for every walker—and rider. Mountain biking is also very popular in Wanaka, and the options range from guided trips suited to novices to hair-raising heli-bike rides which begin 6500 feet up. Another unforgettable way to experience beautiful Lake Wanaka is by boat; paddle across in a kayak, or hop on a cruise bound for Mou Waho Island Reserve. Once there, amble over to one of Wanaka’s most serene settings – the “lake on the island on the lake.”
Set your sights on Mount Aspiring National Park
Only an hour’s drive from Wanaka town centre, Mount Aspiring National Park is famous for its incredibly diverse landscape, which ranges from spectacular mountains to podocarp rain forests, glaciers, and peaceful river valleys. It is New Zealand’s third largest national park, and also its least developed. Guided hunting, canoeing, rafting, fishing, and skiing expeditions into the park are widely available, though walking remains the park’s most popular activity. The Blue Pools track is well travelled by young families and sightseers at a leisurely pace: The 1.5-kilometre path winds through a silver beech forest, over a swing bridge, and up to a platform with incredible views. One of the most beloved half-day treks in the park, the 10-kilometre Rob Roy Glacier track takes sightseers over the West Matukituki River and into a subalpine field with terrific views of the famous glacier. Intrepid hikers can even walk from one valley to another, via awe-inspiring mountain passes and with support, if need be, from the wardens in over 20 backcountry huts.
And now for something completely different…
However varied and enduringly popular, activities such as walking, biking, and skiing are just the tip of the iceberg (er, make that glacier!) in Wanaka. Nearby Hospital Flats is a hotspot for avid canyoners, and just about every type of aerial adventure is on offer here as well, from skydiving to scenic helicopter tours and vintage bi-plane flights. Healthy travellers can climb alongside the Twin Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, via ferrata; that’s Italian for Iron Road, though it more closely resembles a ladder. Foodies can explore the region’s award-winning wineries and historic pubs on the back of a trike or in a funny French car. And no family vacation to Wanaka is quite complete without a day at Puzzling World. Also known as “Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness,” Puzzling World has amazed and befuddled kids of all ages for over 40 years with its tricky tilted house, bizarre illusion rooms, and famous Great Maze.