Wanaka. A piece of paradise

January 1, 1970

by Ricky Tunbridge

Somewhat an icon of the town now, the <strong><a href='https://travelista.club/best-places-for-backpackers/new+zealand/wanaka/'>Wanaka</a></strong> tree sits solitary in the lake.

Somewhat an icon of the town now, the Wanaka tree sits solitary in the lake.


Wanaka. A small town in the heart of New Zealand’s south island. Located in the Otago Region, 1 hours drive from Queenstown. It is a piece of paradise in an otherwise dry and arid region. Glaciers sculpted the area thousands of years ago and what they left behind is simply incredible. The town of Wanaka sits on Roy’s Bay, in the south east of New Zealand’s 4th largest lake. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, you get a real feel of isolation.

Why I live here

I came to Wanaka just over a year ago to work at Cardrona, one of the 3 ski fields in the area, for a season. What I didn’t bank on was how much I would fall in love with the place. Having a great job has helped for sure, but when your hardest decision in life is which awesome views you want to look at that day, you know your on to a winner. There are many places to hike and explore. You have Mt Iron, an hours walk return. Roy’s peak, which is a moderate 6 hour return journey. If you take a drive out towards west Wanaka, this is where the secret gems are. Follow the road to the end of the line and you will end up at the entrance to Mt Aspiring National Park. A 3 hour return hike to the Rob Roy glacier will not leave you disappointed. Beautiful hike through gorgeous alpine forests lead you to the terminal face of the glacier where you get breathtaking views. Another place to visit which is often overlooked is the Motatapu Gorge. A short walk down to the river which in turn leads you to pools and the gorge itself. A great place to cool of on a hot summers day. And we can forget the famous Wanaka tree, the most photographed tree in New Zealand. A solitary tree that stands alone in the lake. A tourist favorite and a must do in town.

20 minutes from Wanaka town, is the Motatapu Gorge. A great place to cool of in the summer time.

20 minutes from Wanaka town, is the Motatapu Gorge. A great place to cool of in the summer time.

An outdoor life

Life in Wanaka very much revolves around the great outdoors. Its not just tramping to be had here. Winter time, people flock into town to enjoy the superb ski fields in the area

  • Cardrona- excellent pistes for beginners and substantial terrain parks for the freestyler
  • Treble Cone – The biggest field on the south island offering some great off piste
  • Snow Farm – if cross-country skiing or snowshoeing is more your thing then this is the ski field for you.

And if that’s not enough you have The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, an hours drive from Wanaka in Queenstown.

But its not all skiing and snowboarding. Summer time comes around and the whole vibe of the town changes. Mountain biking is a huge pastime. Nothing better than racing through pine forests on a hot summers day. People spend all day at the lake front in there boats. But don’t panic if you didn’t pack your boat in your backpack. There are numerous places that hire kayaks at reasonable prices on the lakefront. I can recommend kayaking to Ruby Island, a 40 minute paddle from the lake front, to see the remains of Wanaka’s old cabaret club. Not into kayaking, you can always try Stand Up Paddle boarding. Equally as fun, and if your feeling brave sign up for a SUP yoga class. There is also a number of free public BBQ’s on the lakefront to so take advantage, but remember to clean up once your done!

From the lake front we head into town a bit. Base rock climbing is a great place to practice or learn from scratch the skills to climbing. The staff are always on hand to help you improve, and when your ready, take a trip to Hospital Flat towards west Wanaka and experience the thrill of climbing huge rock faces. Disc golf is a popular pastime in town. Pick up a disc and scorecard from one of the outdoor shops in town and have a throw yourself. Its good fun, good exercise and addictive. Fancy something more chilled try mini golf next to new world or at Have a Shot, about 10 minutes out of town, which also has archery, a driving range and clay bird shooting on offer. There is a well kept bowls green which can whittle away a few hours in the evening, croquet and numerous tennis courts also line town. And if its a rainy day head to Paradiso or Ruby’s cinemas. Both quirky little cinemas that showcase the latest films.

We took a 2 man kayak to Ruby Island. Takes around 40 minutes from the lake front.

We took a 2 man kayak to Ruby Island. Takes around 40 minutes from the lake front.

Grab your bike and hit up some laps through Sticky Forrest mountain bike trials.

Grab your bike and hit up some laps through Sticky Forrest mountain bike trials.


Where to eat

You’ve had an adventure packed day, and now your hungry. Where to eat? Wanaka is home to many great spots to eat, with restaurants covering most cuisines.

  • Patagonia – Hot summers day. You want an ice cream. Go to Patagonia. Opposite the skate park, it serves fantastic coffee and flavors of ice cream that will make your mouth water.
  • Bombay Palace – Serves very good Indian curry at good prices. Normally my go to for special occasions.
  • Yohei – Small sushi restaurant tucked away in the mall. Great food and selection. I always grab sushi on a hot day and take it to the lake front and people watch
  • The Dough-bin – Pies are a big deal in New Zealand and the dough-bin is up there with the best. Grab a pie or sandwich and head to the lake front and chill. If your lucky around 4.30 you can buy one, get one free as they don’t want to throw out any stock.
  • Schnitzel Food Trailer – There is a few food trailers in town. Whilst this one is new on the scene, it is fast becoming a town favorite. Great German food served at the cheapest prices.
  • Red Star – Wanaka’s rival to Fergburger in Queenstown.┬áIn my eyes the better of the 2. Has a great menu and affordable prices. A great place to have a quick dinner with your friends.
  • Lake Bar – Small bar on the lake front with stunning views of the lake. Good beer and good food. Excellent for nights out with friends.

So as you can see Wanaka has something for everyone. Take a walk, try an adventure sport and catch the ‘Wanaka bug’ and you’ll soon see why a lot of people never leave this little slice of paradise. I caught the bug and haven’t been happier.

Ricky Tunbridge

By Ricky Tunbridge

28 yr old who got sick of the 9-5 rat race. Left my job, packed my bags and traveled south east Asia for 4.5 months with my girlfriend before moving to New Zealand to start a new life.

Read more at terranovar.com

Leave a Comment...