It's one of the long-running debates of New Zealand travel ... do you prefer big Queenstown or little Wanaka? Like its larger neighbour, Wanaka is both a lake town and a mountain town. It's personal to Queenstown's brash, and just as rich in adventure options without screaming about it. Come for a condensed Queenstown-type experience, but also for Wanaka's own brand of natural beauty.
You don't come to Wanaka to sit still. For something active but gentle, hire a stand-up paddleboard from Paddle Wanaka and glide across the lake to Ruby Island, once the site of a prohibition-era, law-defying cabaret hall. Outside of ski season, there's pure adrenaline fun in mountain biking the "peak to pub", a ride from the top of the Cardrona ski-fields to New Zealand's most photographed pub, the Cardrona Hotel, 1270 metres below. Gravity does all the work; you just hang on. Bike hire and shuttles are available at Cardrona. paddlewanaka.co.nz; cardrona.com/summer/plan/mountain-biking
Casual Kai Whakapai is as Wanaka as the lake, and on a sunny evening is typically the busiest place in town. The menu is a mix of pizzas and salads (think Japanese beef noodle salad, or pea and coriander falafel salad) with beautifully fresh flavours. It's the sort of place where you're likely to end up on the next table to your adventure guide from the day. More formal is The Landing, which has an inventive menu that changes with the seasons – the view from this first-floor perch always remains the same, however – the lake and mountains. thelandinglakewanaka.co.nz
Before Wanaka there was Wanaka Station, a vast sheep property that covered what is now the town area and beyond. Little-known Wanaka Station Park is the remnant. The grounds are like a botanical garden built by history, with rusted farm machinery strewn among giant redwoods and Himalayan cedars. Just beyond these trees is the station's former orchard, where pears and apples still hang for anyone to pick. qldc.govt.nz
The photogenic tree that's as famous as Wanaka is known simply as "that Wanaka Tree", and sits at the lake edge at the town's western end. Once used as a fence post, it now arches over the lake as if admiring its own reflection. Dawn is the time to be here if you want that made-for-Instagram shot of the tree rising out of perfect reflections.
Edgewater is Wanaka's only accommodation on the lakeshore, with eight blocks of units set in grassy grounds trimmed as neatly as a golf green. Many rooms peep through the poplars to the lake. Lime Tree Lodge, 10 minutes' drive from town, is personal, homely and intimate, with rooms framed around a fire-warmed living area with library, leather couches and an open kitchen where the chef prepares meals. There are pre-dinner drinks each night with the lodge owners, who are former Central Otago sheep-station owners, and the grounds feature a pool, spa, tennis court, pitch-and-putt golf and free-roaming chickens that supply the breakfast eggs. edgewater.co.nz; limetreelodge.co.nz
If you need a stiff drink after a fearful adventure, Wanaka does a fine line in cellar-door experiences. Head to Rippon for one of the world's great winery views, to Wanaka Beerworks for the so-wrong-it's-right experience of a craft beer tasting room inside a toy museum, and to the Cardrona Distillery for the purity of gin and single-malt vodka made using water sourced from the surrounding snowmelt. rippon.co.nz; wanakabeerworks.co.nz; cardronadistillery.com