So far, Wanaka has been spared the great flood of tourists that descend on Queenstown, the region’s principal tourist resort further south. Situated directly on the shores of Lake Wanaka, the town serves as a relaxed base for a whole range of outdoor activities in the midst of splendid scenery. Kayaking, rafting, paragliding, horse trekking and tramping are just a few of the sports that can be enjoyed here.
In winter the town really comes alive as there is excellent downhill skiing at the Cardrona and Treble Cone fields. More experienced skiers have the chance to try some heli-skiing high up in the Harris Mountains, whereas the Waiorau ski area has been developed for cross-country skiing.
Gentler pursuits around Wanaka might include a round of golf at the Wanaka Golf Club, an aerial tour, a hovercraft trip on the lake or an attempt to solve the outdoor maze at the Maze and Puzzle Centre, a few kilometres out of town in the direction of Cromwell. But it might also be enough to simply go picnicking on the lake shore and to enjoy at leisure the unobstructed view of mountains and lake.
Like Lake Wanaka, nearby Lake Hawea is a popular place for trout and salmon fishing. However, this lake lacks Wanaka’s beaches and gently sloping shoreline as they were drowned when the water level was raised in 1958 as part of a hydro-electric scheme. The lake is nevertheless still very picturesque and Lake Hawea township provides an even better place to get away from the tourist crowds than does Wanaka. But for those who want real solitude, the only solution is to pull on the hiking boots and to bid farewell to civilisation for two or three days among the mountains and valleys of Mount Aspiring National Park.