Wanaka, nestled within the southern alps of New Zealand, is regarded by many to be New Zealand’s premier skiing and snowboarding winter holiday destination.
The extensive terrain with reliable snow and powder days means skiers of all levels can have a ball thanks to well groomed beginner slopes and thrilling off piste chutes and powder bowls.
The best ski conditions are during springtime, with a warm and sunny climate, great travel deals and uncrowded slopes.
One of the many benefits of Wanaka is its lack of crowds. Rarely are visitors met by frustrating queues for lifts and you can ski or snowboard choosing your own route down the mountain without watching your back.
Wanaka also has some of the best instruction schools and guides in New Zealand.
Wanaka is the resort centre for the three ski fields of Cardrona, Treble Cone and Waiorau Nordic snowfield. The ski fields of Cardrona and Treble Cone are superbly equipped and offer a mix of terrain for skiers and snowboards at all skill levels.
- Treble Cone has a reputation for the best lift-accessed snow terrain in New Zealand. It also enjoys some of the better snow in the district because its orientation collects more snow from north-west storms.
- Treble Cone is renowned as New Zealand’s largest ski field, covering approximately 550 hectares. This field, some 35 minutes from Wanaka, is better suited to intermediate and advanced skiers.
- Cardrona offers some of the best and driest snow in New Zealand. This location is recognised as a premium snowboard field, with its four half pipes and a terrain park all in a specialised snowboarding area.
- Cardrona is a great family resort, caters for children from three months old and offers a very comprehensive children’s facility.
- On the western side of the Cardrona Valley is Cardrona Ski Area, a world-class resort with trails also open for mountain biking in the summer months.
Between them, the Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields provide more than 870 hectares of terrain, including gentle beginner slopes, broad and well-groomed runs for a comfortable ski, challenging half-pipes, awesome off-trail skiing and boarding, steep chutes and long powder runs.
The Southern Alps surrounding Wanaka are renowned for heliskiing and heliboarding. The annual International World Heli-Challenge sees the world’s best snowboarders and skiers tackle the demanding alpine slopes.
Waiorau Snow Farm
- On the eastern side of the valley is Waiorau Snow Farm, New Zealand’s only Nordic ski area with high rolling terrain on the Pisa Plateau. Horse treks can also be enjoyed in the valley.
The Wanaka district
Wanaka is framed by mountains on all sides and has two perfect lakes at its centre.
Numerous outdoor activities include fishing the river valleys, canyoning, sailing, mountain climbing, river surfing, sky diving, snow skiing, wind surfing, kayaking, water skiing, swimming or simply cafe cruising.
Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake and the landscape is pristine within Mt Aspiring National Park.
An elevated golf course overlooks Lake Wanaka and the town has several quality restaurants.
Local landmarks include Mt Iron, so named because it resembles an iron. The mountain, which rises sharply from the slopes leading away from Lake Wanaka, is a remnant of past glaciation. Mt Iron provides a spectacular vantage point to view the surrounding rivers, lakes, valleys and mountain peaks. Mt Roy, which rises above a kilometre, is within a short driving distance of Wanaka and provides an inspiring full-day walk along a zigzag track.
How to get to Wanaka?
Most people fly into Queenstown, Christchurch or Dunedin airports and rent a car or take a bus to get to Wanaka.
Airlines and international flights to Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin include Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Pacific Blue, Virgin Blue, Origin Air, Freedom Air and Emirates.
You can also fly into Wanaka direct from Christchurch through a once-daily Air New Zealand return flight.
Queenstown hosts international flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and domestic flights from Auckland and Christchurch. A daily bus service then takes passengers along a scenic one-hour journey over the Crown Range Rd to Lake Wanaka.
A domestic Air New Zealand flight from Christchurch arrives daily at Wanaka Airport. Lake Wanaka has its own airport for local flights.
Wanaka can be accessed easily by road along national highways dissecting the town either from the west or east coast. Road entrance is along a 25 kilometre scenic drive up the Cardrona Valley, which winds through historic gold mining territory. The Cardrona Hotel, built in 1868, is now a restaurant.
By car, Wanaka is about five and a half hours from Christchurch, three and a half hours from Dunedin, and one hour from Queenstown.
Wanaka is linked through daily coach services with neighbouring Queenstown and Christchurch. The town is also serviced regularly with coach services from all other major centres in New Zealand.
The village itself is compact and most accommodation is a stroll from shops and restaurants. A shuttle bus provides a daily link around the town, which also has a taxi service, car and bike hiring facilities.
Depending upon your budget, there is a generous selection of accommodation for visitors, with around 2700 beds available ranging from bed and breakfast, backpackers, motels, international hotels and lodges. Seven motor camps also offer tent and motor home site.
- Wanaka is one of the few areas in New Zealand to enjoy a continental climate. The weather is fairly dry with spring (September-December) bringing the wettest months. Annual rainfall is 682mm, which is half the national average.
- Wanaka has four distinct seasons. The spring months see the landscape blossom while summer days are usually sunny, cloudless, low humidity and often fairly hot. Autumn is marked by a vivid red and gold hue to the landscape while winter days are crisp, with the snow fields ideal for skiers from July to September.
- Wanaka has hot, dry summers when the mercury can reach the high 30s but the average is 24 degrees Celsius.
- Summer evenings are comfortably warm with long twilights. Winter tends to have cloudless, calm days with highs around 10 degrees Celsius.
- It’s always worth bringing some warm clothing as nights can be cool in Lake Wanaka at any time of the year.
When you’re not out on your skis, golfing, skydiving or soaking up a winery tour, you can stay in the village of Wanaka and enjoy its great culture of excellent bars, cafes and restaurants, a unique cinema, local music and theatre.
Wanaka hosts several world-class festivals and events every year including Warbirds Over Wanaka, the biggest three-day air show in the southern hemisphere.
Cardrona Valley is a great place for horse trekking, hiking and skiing. The Cardrona Alpine Resort is renowned for its dry snow, wide slopes and steep chutes.
The Wanaka district boasts a selection of award-winning vineyards within easy reach of the townsite. Wanaka Beerworks near the airport is an international award-winning brewery that produces a refreshing and stimulating local ale.
The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum in Wanaka has a collection of flyable World War II fighter aircraft. Wanaka Transport Museum has an eclectic mix of cars, fire engines, bicycles, army tanks, model cars and aircraft. Lake Wanaka also hosts over 60 Warbird aircraft each Easter for the Warbirds over Wanaka Airshow.
- Wanaka eateries vary from traditional fish’n’chips to dining by candlelight. The town has a broad selection of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
- Various New Zealand banks, insurance and travel companies are represented in the town.
- Visitor information and activity bookings are available seven days a week, as are petrol and gas stations.
- The township has a permanent population around 5000, swelling to around 7000 during the peak winter and summer tourist seasons.
- Supermarket and shop prices compare favourably with mainstream New Zealand. Major credit cards are accepted and several banks can assist with changing travellers cheques or foreign currency.