After a long day of driving through the Haast Pass, we finally ended up at the lake-side town of Wanaka. Words simply cannot describe this beautiful and idyllic setting, but I will try. Wanaka is located on the edge an alpine lake bearing the same name, and is surrounded by the spectacular Southern Alps. It is considered to be one of the hidden gems of New Zealand since it is not as well known as Queenstown. With a population of less than 10,000, Wanaka feels noticeably less touristy than its sister city. Here, you can walk down to the lakeshore on a sunny day and not be overwhelmed by visitors.
Wanaka is located right at the doorstep of Mt Aspiring National Park with its glaciers, snow-capped mountains, alpine rivers, and forested valleys all combining to create the most jaw dropping scenery. The town’s proximity to this World Heritage Area, makes it a popular overnight stop for backpackers. In the winter, Wanaka also serves as a popular hot spot for snow enthusiasts, offering the perfect base to tear up Treble Cone Ski Area and Cardrona Ski Field.
Accommodation – In Wanaka, we opted to stay at the highly rated Hawea Lake campervan park. This campground has stunning lake and mountain views with both powered and non-powered campsites. It also has the standard facilities – kitchen, shower, laundry, and dump site. The cost is quite reasonable at $17 NZD per person for a non-powered camp site.
Even though it’s a 15 minute drive from the town center, it was one of our best decisions. The grounds were massive and not too crowded, so we were able to find a spot right on the edge of Lake Hawea. Even though there were a few people around, the trees and water kept us isolated. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, and we were able to eat our Thai takeout on a picnic table by the water. It was a good day.
At night, I decided to go outside to take some night photography shots but it was too cloudy to get a great view of the stars.
The next morning we woke up at sunrise and had our tea by the water, while basking in the warm sun.
Wanaka Tree – What is the Wanaka tree you ask? It is the most famous tree in Wanaka, possibly the world, with its own hashtag – #ThatWanakaTree. It is certainly one of the most photographed trees in all of New Zealand. The unique thing about this photogenic tree is that instead of growing on dry land, it seems to be thriving in the water.
The exact location of the tree can be easily found on Google Maps. It’s located on the Southern end of Lake Wanaka, on the Outlet Track. As you clear the tall poplar trees, you’ll see the solitary willow tree framed by the stunning Southern Alps in the background. The most popular time to take a photo of the tree is at sunrise, if you show up at any other time of the day, you’ll most likely have the place to yourself.
Waterfront Park – Right in the middle of the town is a nice park on the Wanaka lakefront at the corner of Ardmore Street and Lakeside Road. This spot is popular with both local families and visitors alike. There is a large lot with plenty of temporary parking spots where you can leave your car or campervan and go for a short walk. Along the shore, you’ll find a fragrant flower garden, picnic tables, and barbeques. You’ll also find the iconic Hand, a sculpture by a local artist.
Other Things To Do – We spent the majority of our time in Wanaka trying out the various hiking trails found around town. Our two favorite day treks are Roy’s Peak, which is located about 15 minutes outside of town, and Rob Roy Glacier, which is an hour away. Click on the links to see more pictures and read about our experience hiking these iconic trails.
- Distance: 200 km from Fox Glacier to Wanaka
- #Nights: 2
- Accommodation: Hawea Lake campervan park – $34 NZD and airBnB– $173 NZD per night