There are only a couple main highways in the South Island of New Zealand (like 2 or 3) and they all showcase ‘computer wallpaper-worthy’ views. If you stay on one of the highways long enough, you will most certainly run into the next major town. Driving from the Milford Sound to the Franz Josef Glacier, we saw the signs for Wanaka and decided to check it out on a whim. A spur of the moment decision that really paid off!
The small town of Wanaka is built around Lake Wanaka, the 4th largest lake in New Zealand. The landscape views are incredible from the lake’s shores as you gaze across the water to the snow-capped mountains. Wanaka is also home to the ‘most photographed tree in all of New Zealand’: The Wanaka Tree. There are no signs guiding tourists to the Wanaka Tree; you have to be told by locals or have done research to know about it. The tree is actually growing out of Lake Wanaka’s waters by itself. Apparently, there used to be 20 other trees just like this one, but they have fallen throughout the years. This sole tree has somehow survived and become famous.
Our favorite restaurant/bar in Wanaka was Kai Whaka Pai Cafe, which translates to ‘food made good’ in the original Maori language. Teenagers in Wanaka find this name funny as it is correctly pronounced as ‘Kai Fucka-pie’. Easy excuse to get away with cursing. Complete with a lake front view and plenty of outside seating, Kai Whaka Pai serves up delicious ‘foodie’ food such as Falafel Salad with Avacado Salsa or Wood-Fired Pumpkin Pizza with fresh Goat Cheese and Basil. Beer and wine selection was solid as well. Highly recommend for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We ate there twice in 24 hours!
A couple other recommendations:
- Check out Rippon Vineyard for a spectacular elevated view of Wanaka (pictured below). The wine tastes very mineral and harsh, so can’t recommend that. But the view… The view is one of the most incredible I saw in New Zealand. They have a room in the winery they rent out for upwards of $15,000 for weddings. Pretty crazy!
- The Millennial Time Path by the lake front was a local high school project. This red bricked path runs next to the side walk along the lake and chronologically highlights important dates in world history, such as the when the Coliseum was built or when New Zealand was founded. It was really interesting to walk and remember all these significant historical moments you’ve forgotten about since 11th grade history class.
- A five minute drive from Wanaka, the Pisa Conservation Area is home to hundreds of variations of wild mountain flowers. Quick, beautiful roadside stop with incredible scenery.
- Chain Bay 4. Sounds intimidating, but it is actually an amazing view of the from the top of the mountain range between Wanaka and Queenstown. Another great stop.
- Do a wine tour! We went with Wanaka wine tours and went to 6 vineyards in one day. See reviews of the vineyards below!
Wanaka is an amazing stop on your travels in NZ. Easy to get to, great people, and some of the best vineyards I have ever visited!
Check out these articles on the local vineyards near Wanaka: