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Lake Wanaka


Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka – in the heart of New Zealand’s southern lakes region – is the gateway to Mount Aspiring national park and Te Wahipounamu world heritage area. This region of soaring mountains and deep alpine lakes is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes, and a popular year-round holiday destination.


View Lake Wanaka region maps   

Maps and local travel information for Lake Wanaka.

Resort town

The resort town of Wanaka, on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka, offers outdoor adventures and indoor luxury.

During the long, hot summers, the braided rivers and lakes are alive with people enjoying water-based leisure sports including boating and fishing. The mountains offer extensive hiking tracks, mountaineering and rock climbing for outdoor enthusiasts.

Autumn is a spectacular time as the lake shore and hills take on a flamboyant mix of gold, red and orange. Against this backdrop, the biennial Southern Lakes Festival of Colour celebrates the arts with six days of performances and exhibitions. On alternate years, the spectacle turns to the skies as Lake Wanaka takes centre stage for the international Warbirds over Wanaka air show.

In winter, the mountains surrounding the lake provide top ski and heli-ski facilities, attracting snow lovers from around the world.


Wanaka - family picnic
Wanaka - family picnic


Wanaka is an altered form of Oanaka - meaning 'place of Anaka' in Māori. Anaka was an early Māori chief.

Until the early 19th century, Wanaka was a summertime settlement for local Māori. However, a northern Māori war party attacked and mostly destroyed the settlement in 1836.

In 1853, Nathaniel Chalmers became the first known European to see the lake but it was gold - found in the 1870s - that brought the first population wave. At one time there were 187 gold dredges working the high yield Clutha river.

The original settlement, founded in 1863 and known as ‘Pembroke’ - after a British colonial secretary - was renamed Wanaka in 1940. Tourism began in 1881 with the launch of a paddle steamer taking sightseers to the head of Lake Wanaka, and it has been a popular holiday destination ever since.

Wanaka - Lake Wanaka
Wanaka - Lake Wanaka


A long-time luxury destination, Wanaka has prestigious accommodation, dining and recreation options such as private helicopter tours, vintage plane rides and back-country 4WD touring.

Whare Kea lodge has luxury accommodation on the edge of Lake Wanaka, and an alpine chalet on a mountainside near Mt Aspiring national park. The chalet, accessed by scenic helicopter flight from Whare Kea, is a base for heli-skiing, ski touring and picnics on the mountainside.

Minaret Station Luxury Tented Lodge, in a secluded alpine valley west of the lake, offers an exclusive glamping experience. The lodge is open year-round for pure relaxation and stylish dining, or mountain adventures that include hiking, hunting, fishing and skiing.

Wanaka's many high-end small lodges and hosted B&B accommodations offer the ambience of a private home with top hotel-style luxury.

Wanaka - spa indulgence
Wanaka - spa indulgence

Nature / Wildlife

Wanaka’s natural environment is a haven for rare native birds and plant life, including endangered buff weka on Mou Waho island - a nature reserve in the middle of Lake Wanaka.

Buff weka, a large brown flightless bird, was a food source for Māori and early European. Rescued from near extinction by a Department of Conservation (DOC) relocation programme, buff weka now thrive - along with native falcon, wood pigeon, bellbird, gecko and rainbow trout - in the sanctuary of Mou Waho’s native forest.

The top point of Mou Waho has 360 degree views of Lake Wanaka, the mountains and river valleys, and Arethusa pool - a little crystal clear lake just below the island's summit.

Siberia Experience is a wilderness experience - scenic flight, bush and valley walk, and a jet-boat safari - that takes visitors from a birds’ eye view of Mt Aspiring to birdsong in the bush, and high-speed boating thrills on the Makaroa river.

Wanaka - mountain hiking
Wanaka - mountain hiking

Adventure / Outdoors

Wanaka has some of New Zealand’s best canyoning opportunities. Guided tours in Matukituki valley take visitors into deep canyons to explore clear pools and native forest, to plunge down polished water chutes and abseil waterfalls.

New Zealand’s rock climbing capital, Wanaka has hundreds of rock routes - ranging from grade nine to 30 - on the edge of Mt Aspiring national park.

Award-winning skydiving experiences give another perspective on the Wanaka landscape. From a 15,000ft drop, skydivers experience up to 60 seconds of freefall over an alpine wilderness that includes New Zealand’s highest mountains, isolated glaciers, and lakes.

Lake Wanaka region also offers impressive fishing opportunities for salmon, brown and rainbow trout in the clear waters of three major lakes, streams and rivers, including the Clutha which is New Zealand’s largest river.

Wanaka - kayak in Mt Aspiring National Park
Wanaka - kayak in Mt Aspiring National Park

Seasonal Highlights

Winter is a busy season as large numbers of skiers and snowboarders descend on Wanaka’s snow-covered mountains. Four alpine resorts are easily accessed from town.

Treble Cone, the South Island’s largest ski and snowboard area, is famous for its amazing views, and vast uncrowded slopes.

Cardrona Alpine Resort is a relaxed ski and snowboard resort between Wanaka and Queenstown. Cardrona has specialist slopes for beginners and intermediate slopes, advanced chutes and an extensive freestyler park.

Snow Park NZ, New Zealand's largest terrain park, caters for beginners through to advanced freestylers. With its perfectly designed and maintained features, the park is a freestyle mecca for snowboarders and skiers.

Wanaka - Treble Cone ski-field
Wanaka - Treble Cone ski-field


  • Lake Wanaka is the source of the Clutha - New Zealand’s largest river by volume.
  • The route over the Crown Range, with a high point of 1121m, is New Zealand’s highest main road.
  • Haast Pass road is only 160km but it took more than 30 years to carve it through the solid rock.
  • Lake Wanaka gets frequent mentions in the Mission Impossible III movie, as a location that the lead couple had visited.