Wanaka means ‘Renewal of the Soul’ in Maori, which says it all.
This alpine resort has a stunning location that borders on pristine perfection, with reflections of snow-capped alps often mirrored in Lake Wanaka, framed by lakeside poplar trees.
Wanaka is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, as well as the ski fields at Treble Cone, Cardrona and the Waiorau Nordic Ski Area. Mt Aspiring has been compared with the Swiss Matterhorn because of its pyramidal shape. The Park has all the classic glacial features of hanging valleys, cirque basins and U-shaped river canyons.
The resort has experienced a huge makeover in recent years, rivalling its brasher sister, Queenstown, as a culturally refined place with a similar range of robust adventures on offer. Its smaller size gives Wanaka the ambience and feeling of light and freedom and spaciousness, which is extremely appealing. Soaring real estate values attest to this.
There are many ways to enjoy the wonderful environment here. Start with the local attractions, like picturesque Glendhu Bay with its many picnic spots under glorious trees. Local scenic walks are Mt Iron, Mt Roy, Diamond Lake and Waterfall Creek. ‘Puzzling World’ and ‘The Great Maze’ are star attractions, which include the ‘Tilted House,’ ‘Hologram Hall’ and the ‘Hall of Following Faces’ – all pure full-on fun and games.
The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum honours Kiwi airmen. Warbirds Over Wanaka, a wonderful air show, draws 70,000 visitors during Easter, on each even-numbered year. The Toy and Transport Museum delights car, truck and motorbike enthusiasts and Wanaka Beerworks offers the allure of free sampling of microbrewery products. A Wine Trail of vineyards on the dry, stony, sun-soaked hill slopes offer tastings. Try the Pinot Noir. Other outdoor activities read like the endless book – if you can conceive of it, the loopy Kiwis will do it.
Shopping for natural fibre products is worthwhile here, with garments made of fine merino wool, mohair, cashmere, lambs wool and new combinations like merino and opossum fur. There is a sports centre and a craft shop. The Paradiso Cinema is a novel form of entertainment with an offbeat ambience, beat-up old sofas and a Morris Minor car to sit in.
Dining caters for all tastes, from sophisticated to takeaway and several restaurants and cafes have superb lake views. Wanaka has splendid places to stay over the full range from luxury lodges to backpackers, but booking is essential in the peak months of January and August.