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- 25 Oct 2021, 3 nights
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Snow-topped mountains, big blue lakes and a reputation as a New Zealand hotspot for adrenaline-fuelled activities make Wanaka a destination that rises to the top of bucket lists. Despite its action-packed nature, this place has a relaxed atmosphere. It's the perfect spot to chill out after days rock climbing on local routes (there are nearly 1000 to choose from), canyoning through waterfall-filled ravines or skydiving over the scenic Southern Alps.
If you like the bustle of being in town, go for a Wanaka hostel in the centre, a short walk from cool coffee shops specialising in flat whites. You'll also find Wanaka hostels with a ski/snowboarding service area for winter stays, or views overlooking the lush lake landscape. Unwind next to a log fire in a cosy communal lounge, or grill fresh vegetables on an outdoor terrace with a shared barbecue area when the Kiwi sun shines. You can stay in a traditional hostel dorm to meet other travellers, or snuggle down in a lodge with friends.
The town hugs the Roys Bay section of Lake Wanaka, and you'll find plenty of pubs, small shops and cafés here. If you prefer a more rural vibe, head over to the equally scenic Lake Hawea – it's about a 15-minute drive away from Wanaka. For more of a village feel, spend an afternoon in the peaceful suburb of Albert Town on the Clutha River, less than 10 minutes' drive from the heart of Wanaka.
Wanaka is all about outdoor activities. The most popular trek in the area takes you to the top of Mount Roy, but there are plenty of gentler walks in this hikers' hotspot too. Try a leisurely stroll around Lake Wanaka, or a 5km trip through the forest to Rob Roy Glacier. Mountain biking is a great way to explore, too – rent a bike from a local specialist shop and then brave a dip in the glacier-fed river once you've worked up a sweat. You can also kayak out to the small islands on the lake for a relaxed way to enjoy the scenery.
Queenstown International Airport is a 60-minute drive away. Pick from rental cars, private transfers, shuttles and the regular bus services when making your way to the lake. Daily buses run from Christchurch, Te Anau, Dunedin and the West Coast to Wanaka. You'll find car hire companies in Wanaka for getting around the region, as well as shuttle services and organised tours to the main sights.