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Between the soaring, snow-tipped peaks of the Southern Alps, the rugged glacial valleys of the Mount Aspiring National Park, the world-class ski fields of Treble Cone and the stunning Lake Wanaka that the town overlooks, it’s easy to see why Wanaka continues to figure as one of New Zealand’s premier outdoor destinations
To help you get the best out the region, we've put together our pick of the top five things to do.
1. Eco Wanaka Lake Cruise & Island Walk
Transport yourself to the wondrous environment of the Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, where it’s still possible to spot some of New Zealand’s rarest endemic bird species living undisturbed by the predators of the mainland. Enjoying dramatic panoramas of Roy's Bay and the Southern Alps along the way, visitors on the tour begin with a cruise across Lake Wanaka. Then, it’s off-track to explore the Island’s rugged terrain of hidden lakes, picturesque coves and craggy cliffs - culminating in a ‘high tea’ between the looming precipices of the mountains and the deep blue of the surrounding water.
Tours are run by Eco Wanaka Adventures, depart mornings and afternoons, and cost $195 for an adult or $125 for under 16s.
2. Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World
Bewilder, befuddle and stupefy the senses with a trip to Stuart Landsborough’s mind-bending Puzzling World, where mazes, illusion rooms, discombobulating art installations and impossible architectural feats have been sprouting up audaciously since the 1970s. Highlights include the Forced Perspective Room, with its Alice-in-Wonderland style oddities, the Kafkaesque Hall of Following Faces, and the infamous Great Maze, with its endless twists, turns and hidden tunnels. Unquestionably one of the most immersive activities on offer in Wanaka, Puzzling World is a weird and wonderful choice that’s perfect for families and groups with kids in tow.
Puzzling World can be found at 188 Wanaka Luggate Hwy. Admission to both the Great Maze and Illusion Rooms costs $17.50 for adults and $12 for children.
3. Wanaka River Journeys
Intrepid types and lovers of the great outdoors listen up, because this high-speed boat tour along the Matukituki Wanaka River has surely got to be one of the best ways to see the looming peaks, wild valleys and grand majesty of the Mount Aspiring National Park. And it’s not all about the views either, because the package also includes a walk through a section of the region’s primeval beach forest and plenty in the way of local history from knowledgeable and dedicated guides. Afterwards, visitors can also opt for a heli-tour excursion, soaring high into the mountains, between the jagged tips of the Southern Alps.
Tours are run by Wanaka River Journeys and depart from 99 Ardmore Street. Prices are from $229 for adults and $119 for children. Heli-tours cost extra.
4. Wanaka Flightseeing
The pièce de résistance of Wanaka’s sightseeing offering comes in the form of these breath-taking excursions with Wanaka Flightseeing. The various trips on offer transport passengers over the icy peaks of Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook, through the pristine valleys and to some of the most dramatic fjords on the South Island’s west coast, bringing them face-to-face with the terrain of Lord of the Rings and the raw beauty of New Zealand’s legendary backcountry. On some trips there’s even the possibility for a short stop-off on the edge of a glacier, or a boat cruise through the rivers of the Southern Alps.
Tours are run by Wanaka Flightseeing, departing from Wanaka Airport, Lloyd Dunn Avenue. Prices start from $99 for adults and $60 for children.
5. Skydive Lake Wanaka
Boasting some of the best views of the Southern Alps going, travellers can experience the ultimate adrenaline rush. Under the tutelage of one of Skydive Lake Wanaka’s parachuting professionals, leap out of a plane at 15,000 feet above the glacial peaks of the Central Otago region. Full safety briefings and equipment are included, and jumpers can even opt to record the whole nail-biting experience with a personal DVD.
Tours are run by Skydive Lake Wanaka (Wanaka Airport, Mustang Lane, Wanaka) and prices start at $329.
For more information on Wanaka, read our Wanaka travel guide.