On the world stage, Queenstown in the South island is known as something of a tourist mecca- with superb snow sports, natural scenery and dazzling nightlife. But less well trod is Queenstown’s little known neighbour – Wanaka, a picturesque lakeside town – less than 2 hours drive away. A springing point to the glorious Southern Alps, glaciers and Treble Cone for snow bunnies, Wanaka too has much to offer backpackers and has decidedly cheaper options for dining and accommodation. Read on and discover some top local attractions that make postcard perfect Wanaka worth a stop over.
1. Southern Lakes Festival of Colour
What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of New Zealand’s deep south than by diving into the Southern Lakes Festival of Colour. Featuring everything from art and film to music and street theatre, this Autumnal festival caters for all tastes set against the spectacular autumnal backdrop of the Southern Lakes. The next festival will take place 16 – 21 April 2013.
2. Warbirds Over Wanaka
The next breathtaking instalment of the celebrated Warbirds Over Wanaka air show is held Friday 18th April, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th April 2014 but its worth the wait. As always, it will feature daring airborne stunts, larger than life personalities and a bevy of vintage aircraft that are bound to impress.
3. Snow Park
Start counting down to June when powder begins to dust the slopes and the newly upgraded Snow Park opens in its stunning Southern Alps location. Snow Park offers visitors a unique playground of jumps, rails, boxes, pipes and wall rides for everyone from beginners to pros with coaching available too.
4. The Siberia Experience
Since 1975 hordes of outdoor lovers have trod the remote Siberia Valley located in the heart of the Southern Alps. Departing from Wanaka airport, you can enjoy one of New Zealand’s top wilderness adventures and take in a postcard picture landscape of glaciers, mountain lakes, hanging valleys and vast rainforests. The package includes an extended length flight in a Cessna airplane, a bush walk and a dip in the lake if you’re brave. When it’s time to go home, simply hop in a jet boat to take the scenic 30 minute ride back to Makarora.
5. Ardmore Street and Post Office Lane
If you’re after a big night out in Wanaka, do as the locals do and step off the beaten track. Ardmore street has for many years been a popular haunt of bar hoppers but its reputation is fast becoming eclipsed by a small enclave by the name of Post Office Lane. Enjoy a wood fired pizza at The Cow restaurant before heading to Barluga or Woody’s for a night cap… or three. Head back to Ardmore St later in the evening to sample the eponymous Southern brewing icon at the Speights Ale House, and get your dancing shoes on to head to the notorious Shooters in the wee hours.
6. Willowridge Wanakafest Food & Wine Festival
As the saying goes: “you are what you eat” – so what better way to get to know Wanaka’s friendly locals than by getting amongst the Willowridge Food & Wine Festival. Held on Labour Day Sunday in October, the event is free and is a great opportunity for tourists to sample Kiwi cuisine and world famous wines.
7. 100 % Pure New Zealand Winter Games
Cardrona’s annual winter snow games are a must for visitors with a competitive streak: “Sixteen days, 38 events, 22 sports, 1,000 athletes, over 30 nations and an audience of millions – welcome to 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games”. If you’re not keen to compete, it’s worth a watch as chances are the next time you lay eyes on the Cardrona talent will be at the 2014 Olympic Games.
8. Cinema Paradiso
This classic cinema captures a quintessential movie going experience that one critic describes as “straight out of Alice in Wonderland”. Snuggle in for a show during the crisp Wanaka Winter and enjoy a range of great meal options at one of the last cinemas in New Zealand to maintain an intermission (an interval).
9. Mountain Film Festival
And for a movie going experience with a local flavour, head to Wanaka in July for the 5th annual Mountain Film Festival. The five day event features screenings of NZ made film competition entries, an art exhibition, gear trade shows and plenty of opportunity for socialising too.
10. Wanaka Beerworks
Sample an award winning fusion of Belgian and Kiwi beer crafting styles at the boutique Wanaka Beerworks when you take one of their daily brewery tours. Rugby World Cup 2011 tourists can look forward to trying the Beerworks’ ‘Tall Black 16th Man’ creation, to be released in September in support of the All Blacks.
11. Skydive Lake Wanaka
New Zealand has something of a reputation for extreme sports tourism- so aside from its natural green beauty, the sexy locals and exquisite food, you gotta have something to write home about, right? There’s only one way to truly experience the famous Aotearoa landscape… Since 1995 Skydive Lake Wanaka has helped over 60,000 people fling themselves from planes in tandem over a sumptuous Southern view. Fly with Skydive Lake Wanaka to take in awe inspiring views of Mt. Cook and Aspiring, rivers and valleys from up to 15,000ft!
12. Puzzling World
Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World is a mind-boggling playground of mazex, labyrinths, tumbling towers, holograms and illusions. All ages will be entertained by a visit to Landsborough’s colourful world and the gift shop is worth a stop to find some tidbits to send home.