Wanaka, New Zealand travel guide and things to see and do: Nine highlights


Wanaka has plenty of stories to tell and the rugged Land Rovers of Ridgeline Adventures can take you on a spirited journey along farm tracks that wind high into the tussock-grass hills above Lake Wanaka. Along the way, you'll get the inside story on Wanaka's transformation from Maori settlement to pioneering sheep town to ski mecca, and what happened when Shania Twain came to town and snapped up one of New Zealand's iconic sheep stations. See ridgelinenz.com


From wild-shot venison carpaccio to lamb backstrap to the best French onion soup this side of the Champs Elysees, Bistro Gentil brings a gallic touch to the fresh seasonal produce of Central Otago. Alongside the French hit parade – aged beef with dauphine potatoes and café de Paris butter, duck confit and pommes frites, crème brulee, pongy cheeses – you'll also get to taste some of the lovely pinot noirs and chardonnays of the Central Otago wine region. See bistrogentil.co.nz


Dipping down to wet its feet in the waters of Lake Wanaka with the peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park on the far side, Rippon is one of the prettiest vineyards you'll ever see. The creation of Rolfe and Lois Mills, who pioneered the viticulture industry in Central Otago, the vineyard is now farmed by their son, Nick, according to biodynamic principles. Pinot noir, gamay, riesling and gewurztraminer are the standouts, and tastings are free. See rippon.co.nz


The Wanaka Tree is probably the most famous tree in all of New Zealand, a solitary willow that sits in shallow water in the cup of Roys Bay, on the walking track that circles the bay. The tree began life as a fence post in a line that once stretched across the water. The scene reaches its Instagram moment when the lake is smooth, allowing the tree to cast its mirror image across the water. Dawn and dusk are prime time for photographs, but you won't be alone.


Mou Waho Island Wanaka Southern Alps Air
Photo Geoff Marks
Image supplied by Lake Wanaka Tourism
No problem using the images to promote travel to Wanaka. Please ensure the images are labelled with the business where possible and

Largest of several islands in Lake Wanaka, Mou Wahi is an ecological sanctuary from which introduced species have been eliminated. As a result, native birds including the bellbird, fantail, New Zealand falcon, wood pigeon, tomtit, grey warbler, wax eye and weka have flourished. Since they've never experienced life with predators, close encounters with some of these birds are common, especially when the snacks provided on the Eco Wanaka Adventures half-day tour appear. The tour includes a tree-planting as part of an eco-initiative to increase wildlife habitat. See ecowanaka.co.nz


The drive from Wanaka to Queenstown via the Crown Range is one of the country's scenic highlights, following the Cardrona River to its source high in the mountains. At the heights of the Crown Range, just opposite the rustic Cardrona Hotel, the Bra Fence is a New Zealand icon. Since the first bras appeared on New Year's Day in 2000, thousands have contributed their bras to the barbed wire fence, where they cup the breeze and bring a smile to the lips of all who pass.


KNKJF4 Climbers on the Wildwire via ferrata route  at Twin Falls in Wanaka tra14-wanaka

Photo: Alamy

Want to play Spiderman and walk up a sheer cliff beside a waterfall? Local adventure operator Wildwire Wanaka operates a via ferrata, a set of steel ropes anchored to the base of a mountain just outside Wanaka. Helmet on, step into a waist harness, clip your carabiners onto the fixed ropes and you climb safely up the near-vertical face. It's a fail-safe system, with never less than two points of contact securing you to the rock wall, although your heart might flutter now and again. See wildwire.co.nz



North of Wanaka, a walking track winds through beech forest to a narrow gorge where the Makaroa River takes a breather at the Blue Pools, filled with water the colour of Windex. The colour comes from rock flour, superfine particles of rock crushed by the grinding movement of the glaciers in Mount Aspiring National Park. Fat trout often hover in the crystal-clear water below the swing bridge, teasing and untouchable. You can even scramble down to the shingle bank for a dip, but the water is glacial. See doc.govt.nz


Set in baize-green lawns that ramp down into Lake Wanaka, Edgewater Hotel has hotel rooms as well as cosy one and two-bedroom apartments with a kitchenette and a washer/dryer, perfect for a family on the move. It's practical rather than plush, and popular with tour groups, but prices are keen. There's an Element Edgewater Day Spa on the premises and a hearty menu at the hotel's Wineglass Cafe but town, two kilometres away, has better dining options. See edgewater.co.nz


Wanaka makes a fine alternative to Queenstown if you're looking for calm, smaller crowds and reasonable prices.

Michael Gebicki visited Wanaka as a guest of Tourism New Zealand. See tourismnewzealand.com; lakewanaka.co.nz