If you’re thinking of visiting Wanaka in winter and are looking for the best places to eat, must-do experiences or just seeking inspiration on what to do while you’re there, we’ve put together this guide to help you! Here are 30 Things to do in Wanaka in winter. Warning: may induce serious wanderlust.
1. Plan your next trip to Wanaka
Sorry, but this has to be number one. As soon as you get to Wanaka you’re going to fall in love with it, like I and everybody else who goes there has, and want to come back again. If you’re visiting in winter you’re going to see how beautiful it is and desperately want to come back in summer so you can swim in Lake Wanaka!
2. Take a helicopter ride and land on a glacier
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will never, ever forget, take a scenic flight with Aspiring Helicopters over some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. Then, land on top of the Isobel Glacier and marvel at the feeling of being on top of the world, with not a single footprint in the perfect white powder all around you. Find Aspiring Helicopters here.
3. See an incredible collection of cool cars
Take a trip to Warbirds and Wheels and explore the amazing, beautiful collection of vintage cars on display. I’m not usually a car enthusiast, but even I couldn’t help but get totally excited by how cool these vintage beauties are. There’s just something about them! The museum boasts a great collection of cars from 1913 to 1969, including the only Model J Duesenberg in the Southern Hemisphere, a car owned by old-Hollywood icon Carol Lombard who was able to afford the car at a time when the President of the United State could not! So cool! Find Warbirds and Wheels here.
Update: Warbirds & Wheels display of classic & vintage cars and military aircraft closed in September of 2021. The Diner & Retail Shop however are still operating and Cars Over Coffee will continue each month.
4. Eat breakfast at Relishes Cafe
My favourite breakfast spot in Wanaka has to be Relishes Cafe. They serve great coffee and really delicious food that’s well-priced. My tip, try the 4-minute boiled eggs with toast soldiers and the awesome scrambled eggs with a side of spring onion potato cakes. It’s the ideal spot to fuel up on good food before heading out for a big day of exploring and adventures. Find Relishes Cafe here.
5. Go cross-country skiing and stay overnight in a backcountry hut
Don’t worry if you haven’t gone skiing before, cross-country is easy and pretty fast to learn. Take a trip up to Snow Farm NZ where you can hire all your gear, get a lesson then spend the day cross-country skiing through a range of different courses. It’s significantly less terrifying than actual skiing and the gear is a lot lighter too, making it great for beginners. Once you’ve got the hang of it, ski-out to the middle of nowhere and sleep overnight in a backcountry hut. It’s like going into the wild and is one of the most unique, memorable places you’re likely to stay. Find Snow Farm NZ here.
6. Visit the Wanaka tree
There’s a good chance you’ve already seen a photo of it, but you really need to make sure you get down to visit the lone willow in Lake Wanaka. There’s just something about it, it has an ethereal, earthy feel to it that’s humbling and awe-inspiring. Maybe it’s because it’s set in such a picture-perfect spot, framed by the Southern Alps… or maybe it’s just one of those things you can’t explain. Find the Wanaka Tree here.
7. Eat a burger at Red Star
You can’t get much better than a food recommendation from a local and Red Star Burger Bar is the local’s tip for delicious burgers. The burgers here are seriously good and go perfectly with a side of fresh chips and an ice-cold beer. I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny lunchtime. Find Red Star Burger Bar here.
8. Have lunch and a beer at the Cardrona Hotel
The historic Cardrona Hotel has been around since 1863 and the facade you see on the street is the original one from way back then! This place is ridiculously cool, with a great restaurant inside, complete with cosy spots by the fire, and a beer garden outdoors. You should definitely have a pint of Cardrona Ale and enjoy lunch or dinner here, because the food really is awesome, as is the service. Find the Cardrona Hotel here.
9. Hike up to Roys Peak
Get back to nature by taking the hike up to Roys Peak and be rewarded with some of the best views you’re likely to find anywhere in the world! The track is 11km and should take between 5-6 hours round trip, passing through private land littered with sheep. Once you reach the top, you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views of Mount Aspiring and Lake Wanaka, it’s no wonder this spot is a favourite among travel and landscape photographers. Find Roys Peak Track here.
10. Do a guided winery tour
The Central Otago region is famous for its exceptional wines. Therefore it would be rude, if not a crime, not to do a wine tour. Rather than counting drinks and worrying about who has to drive, get yourself on a guided winery tour with Wanaka Wine Tours, pronto! The tour is run by locals who know and love the region, you’ll get to see the land, learn about the region and the people who live here and experience a number of great wineries in the process. It’s definitely a must-do experience in Wanaka. Find Wanaka Wine Tours here.
11. Catch a movie and eat cookies at Cinema Paradiso
Don’t even think about going to Wanaka without planning to see a movie at Cinema Paradiso! I mean it. The cinema is small, with two screens, both kitted out with an assortment of lounge chairs and recliners, making watching your movie that much more enjoyable. There’s an intermission halfway through the movie and the on-site chef bakes fresh homemade cookies in preparation! Run out, stock up on cookies, grab a pizza or burger and head back in to finish watching the movie. In short, Gold Class is for chumps. Cinema Paradiso is where it’s at! Find Cinema Paradiso here.
12. Walk around Lake Wanaka and take a million great photographs
The best things in life don’t have to cost a single thing. Drive yourself down to Lake Wanaka and watch the sunrise or sunset on the shore. The colours of the sky are out of this world and the reflections on the lake are stunning, especially with the Southern Alps as the backdrop to it all. Just be sure your camera battery is full and your memory card is empty. Find Lake Wanaka here.
13. Eat amazing Italian food at Francesca’s Kitchen
For an out-of-this-world dinner, head directly to Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. The food here is seriously delicious. Everything is fresh, simple and prepared using local produce. If you love Italian food, you’re going to love eating at this place. Be sure to try the arancini balls and also, be sure to book a spot in advance because it gets booked up pretty quick. Find Francesca’s Italian Kitchen here.
14. Spend a day snowboarding and skiing at Treble Cone Ski Field
Wake up early and get yourself up to Treble Cone Ski Field for a fun day on the slopes. Don’t worry about bringing gear with you if you’re coming from overseas, you can hire some great gear on-site and, if you’re a newbie like me, you can join a group lesson or get a private one. Spend the day going up and down the ski field then take a break indoors, and fuel up with a really great burger before heading back out again. The views up at Treble Cone are stunning, when you’re up there it’s hard to believe it’s real! Find Treble Cone Ski Field here.
15. Take a hike to the Blue Pools
The Blue Pool Track takes around 20-30 minutes one way, leading you to a swing bridge that crosses the Makarora River. Keep your eyes peeled once you get there as it’s not uncommon to spot trout in the water. As the name would suggest, the water is crystal blue and clear, making it an ideal spot for getting great photographs and enjoying a beautiful slice of nature. Find the Blue Pools Track here.
16. Add your bra to Bradrona!
There’s quite a story that goes along with the aptly named wall of bra’s located in Cardrona. I suggest you make friends with a local at the Cardona Hotel and ask them about it. In any case, you should definitely donate your bra to Bradrona and put a few coins into the donation box to help raise funds for breast cancer. It’s located close to the Cardrona Hotel, you can’t miss it. Read about Bradrona here.
17. Go heli-skiing or just take a scenic helicopter flight
New Zealand is just one of those places that look staggeringly gorgeous from any angle, but especially from above where you can really begin to fathom how big everything is. For an adrenaline rush of the best kind or just a chance to see this place from a new angle, take a scenic helicopter flight or arrange to go heli-skiing. Find Harris Mountains Heli-Ski here.
18. Get to know the incredible locals
One of the best things about Wanaka is the people who live there. You’ll find a lot of the people who live in Wanaka were once visitors themselves, possibly Kiwi holidaymakers who came to Wanaka every summer and fell in love with the place. This means the people who live there are even more appreciative and proud of how special it is. Make the effort to talk to a few locals and find out where they came from and why they moved to Wanaka. You’ll be blown away by how open, warm, welcoming and friendly they are. Learn more about Wanaka’s history here.
19. Just walk around town
Park your car, jump out and just start walking. Wanaka is a very safe place and you’re not going to get lost, so get out and about and explore! Walk into shops, down and around corners, stroll around the lake, find a favourite coffee shop and stuff yourself with food. There’s so much to discover in Wanaka town and the best way to do it is on foot. Find maps of Wanaka here.
20. Stuff yourself with pizza at The Cow
There’s a pizza party in your mouth and all your taste buds are invited. Get your bad self down to The Cow, find a cosy spot (near a fire, preferably) and order yourself a few of The Cow’s famous pizzas. The building has a rich and interesting history, the food is delicious and the wine is fantastic! Find The Cow here.
21. Spot a Kea and think “WTF is that thing?”
This happened to me up at Treble Cone. I saw the strangest looking bird I’ve ever seen in my life and spent 10 minutes staring at 3 of them while they ripped the rubber off people’s cars, like some sort of thug-life bird gang. As a local explained, they’re notoriously cheeky, intelligent and curious birds known for ripping things off cars and coming right up to tourists to check them out. If you see one, you’ll know it. They’re large brownish-green parrots, you can’t miss them. Find out more about Kea here.
22. Take a drive and stop for photos every time you feel like it
Just drive! Get in your car, put on a mixtape and just start driving. You’ll find that everywhere you go, around every corner, there’s somewhere beautiful you’ll want to stop and photograph. Give yourself a half-day or full-day to do this, just get lost and explore. Pullover when you see something gorgeous and take the time to photograph and appreciate it. Bonus points if you pack your own picnic, complete with coffee or tea in a thermos. Find Liz, of Young Adventuress, 15 favourite views in Wanaka here for inspiration.
23. DIY polar bear plunge
If you’re particularly mad, strip off down to your swimmers and do your own polar bear plunge into Lake Wanaka. The locals won’t stop you, they’ll just think you’re mad. Don’t worry, there’s no sharks, sea snakes or anything else nasty hiding in Lake Wanaka. Your biggest concern will be hypothermia.
24. Take charge of your own dogsled team
For an experience you will never forget, take charge of your own dogsled team and race through the snow out to the middle of nowhere. UnderDog New Zealand offers the only dog sledding in the area and is run by Fleur and Curt who are not only passionate about dog sledding, they’ve done it full-time and raced in Alaska’s famed Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Just seeing the dogs is a memorable experience, taking charge of your own team and staying overnight in a backcountry hut is truly unforgettable. Find UnderDog New Zealand here.
25. Drink lots of mulled wine
Kiwi’s know what’s up… and in the cold months, they know dang well that there’s nothing better than mulled wine after a day out in the cold. Seek refuge inside pubs, taverns, restaurants and cafes. Curl up next to the fire with a mulled wine and let it warm you up.
26. Go to Queenstown and realise Wanaka is way better
There’s a distinct difference between Queenstown and Wanaka. Queenstown is bustling, busy, full of visitors from all over the world and has a bit of a party vibe going on. Wanaka is chilled out, relaxed and has an other-worldly vibe happening. Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting Queenstown, it’s just that Wanaka really captured my heart. It’s something about the place… it’s just… magical. Find out more about Wanaka here.
27. Eat Indian food at Ashraf’s
There are some days when a curry just hits the spot, this is particularly true if you’ve spent the whole day skiing, snowboarding or on a wine tour. Amiright?! To get your Indian food fix, head directly to Ashraf’s. The people who run the restaurant are really lovely, the food is delicious and it’s a really comfy, cool space to have a relaxed meal after a big day. Find Ashraf’s here.
28. Visit Rippon Vineyard
There are a number of vineyards you can visit in Wanaka, but if you can only choose one make it Rippon. The wine here is exceptional and the views of Lake Wanaka are unbeatable. It’s the perfect place to buy a bottle of one, or five, get your hands on a cheese platter and sit in the sun just looking out over the vineyards, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. This is a very special place. Find Rippon Vineyard here.
29. Consume numerous bottles of Pinot Noir
The Central Otago region is famous for its Pinot Noir. This is important because Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow and there are only a very select few regions in the world that produce excellent Pinot Noir and Central Otago is one of them. I guess what I’m saying here is that it’d be very rude of you not to enjoy a lot of Pinot Noir while you’re in Wanaka and, hey, you don’t want to offend the locals so… drink up! Find out more about Central Otago Pinot Noir here.
30. Call your boss, quit your job and plan to move to Wanaka
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there’s a really good chance you’re going to fall in love with Wanaka. I’ve been to a lot of places on my travels and while I always enjoy discovering somewhere new or re-visiting a place I’ve been before, it’s rare that I fall totally in love with a place like I did with Wanaka. I can easily say it is now firmly in my top four favourite destinations I’ve ever visited, along with Tokyo, Iceland and Morocco.
I’d also like to take a moment to say an incredibly huge thank you to each and every single person we met on our trip and the businesses who opened their doors for us to experience what they do. Our trip was one of the best we’ve ever taken and it was made so enjoyable by the generosity and kindness of locals. Thank you
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