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Ohhhhh Wanaka, you absolute gem!

Prepare to be dazzled and delighted. Surrounded by majestic mountains, alpine peaks, crystal clear rivers, and tussock clad hillsides, it’s quite hard to believe that Wanaka is real. Its natural beauty is a mecca for photo-takers and adventure seekers. It’s a foodie’s delight and a haven for those seeking a little more solitude or backcountry experiences.

So, where do you even start?

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First up – let’s talk cheese scones. I know, weird place to start… But it’s a little-known fact that Wanaka cheese scones – found at nearly all the cafes – are amongst the so-called best in the country. Some good picks for your scone fix would be either Federal Diner or Urban Grind. For something a bit different you can’t go past Wineglass Café at Edgewater where you can choose from a selection of scones which they bake right there on the spot (allow 15 mins).

Wanaka Wastebusters is a very well-known local gem. I honestly have to go at least once every time I visit Wanaka. Here you can browse amongst an ever-changing selection of bric-a-brac and totally random, interesting “stuff’. It has become something of an institution over the years. Who doesn’t love sustainability!?

Then there is the ‘lake on an island in the lake’. Lake Mou Waho – accessible only by boat (Lake Wanaka Cruises or Wanaka Water Taxis) but well worth the visit. After a scenic cruise, it is a short uphill walk before you are rewarded with great views over the lake on the lake.

For another magical spot, take the Mt Aspiring Road out of Wanaka to Glendhu Bay. A gorgeous sheltered bay on the Western shores of the lake. Great views up to Mt Aspiring and mirror reflections of the surrounding mountains (hello insta-worthy pics).

And last but no means least – Pembroke Pâtisserie – tucked away in Albert Town next to the Tavern (who do great Fish & Chips by the way) you’ll discover this authentic patisserie with a kiwi twist that offers  mouth-watering delicacies. Be sure to get in early as the food flies out the door super-fast!

So what’s next in Wanaka? Here’s some pretty good options!

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For something different

  • Puzzling World. A must do for every visitor. It appeals to all ages and contains an extremely fun outdoor maze and a huge housed selection of optical illusions, puzzles and mind-bending challenges. Make sure to have a toilet stop! I know that sounds weird… But just trust me here.
  • Hook Wanaka. Just off the main road leading to Albert Town you’ll find this oasis amongst a series of ponds with expansive views up to the mountains. Here you can catch your own salmon, have it filleted and cooked or smoked ready to eat right away (or take home). Kick back with pizza, wine or beer as you take in the scenery and watch the fishing activities.
  • Wanaka Lavender Farm (RHS heading out to the airport). This is a family run lavender farm with farm animals, honey, homemade ice creams, beautiful gardens and lots of enticing lavender products. Best blooming time is summer.
  • Transport & Toy Museum. (located at Wanaka airport). This incredible museum houses one of the world’s largest private collections of toys, aircraft, classic cars, equipment and so on. Too much to describe – you really need to visit. Allow at least a couple of hours, plus time to enjoy a coffee break in the adjoining cafe.
  • U-Fly. Also based out at the airport. Here’s your chance to take control of a small aircraft as you fly over the many sights. No acrobatics first up though – at least, not intentionally! Albeit, it’s hard to keep your eye on the stick when there is so much splendour to take in.
  • Claybird Shooting at Crossfire (opposite the airport). Try your hand at this indoor activity. It’s a load of fun for all ages. Also on offer is target shooting, a driving range and mini golf.
  • Paradiso Cinema – a true Wanaka institute. It has morphed from its original humble abode to a purpose-built facility (located in Brownstone Street) housing cinemas and a cafe. Delightfully, it has retained its original charm (including the iconic ‘Morris Minor’) And there is still an interval – which is just as well because you can purchase one of their freshly baked, infamous cookies (the smell wafting down the hallways is enough to make anyone want to bite into one). Irresistible!  Also, good to note – they offer a gluten free cookie. There’s nothing like coming out of your movie half-way through to a fresh, hot, melt-in-your-mouth cookie!

Walking, Cycling & Hiking.

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I suggest you call into the info centre on Ardmore Street to the DOC facility on Ballantyne Road to grab some maps and get the low down on what’s what.  There is SO much on offer there, it’s best to grab a map, and see what suits you.

Let’s get fed and watered…

Wanaka is a true foodies delight!  It caters to all budgets, dietary preferences and gastronomy experiences.
These are some of my favourites:

  • Relishes Cafe – a cosy wee spot on the main drag opposite the Lake front. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great food and lots of variety!
  • Ode – For something truly special and different, you have to try Ode (upstairs off Postmans Lane). An ever evolving, experimental menu with dishes created, served and explained by the dedicated chefs. You can go ‘a la carte’ or ‘trust the chef’ with 3, 5 or 8 course options. It’s all superb! All the food, wine and beer are sourced locally and whilst the meat dishes are absolutely divine, there are equally delicious vegetarian options available (and of course it caters for all dietary preferences). Open for lunch and dinner – a good idea to book your table!
  • Francesca’s Italian Kitchen – you’ll find this very popular restaurant tucked in behind Speight’s Ale House. Great pizzas and pasta dishes. Make sure to try the polenta fries and potato skins! Open for lunch and dinner – make sure to book! They have gluten free pizzas and pastas too, which is good to know!
  • Amigos – another very popular spot serving Mexican food. From its lofty position (corner of Ardmore and Lakeside Streets), you can take in the views as you sip your margarita. On the menu you’ll find an expansive selection of ever-changing tacos (look out for Taco Tuesday) and their signature dishes (quesadilla, ensalada, burritos, nachos to name a few). Be sure to test the homemade sauces! You’ll find great vibes here. Open for lunch and dinner and bookings highly recommended. One more thing… Try the chilli ginger beer. That is all.
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  • Bistro Gentil – Soak in the views from this quaint restaurant (on Golf Road) serving modern French fare and great wines. A la carte or ‘Trust the Chef’ – you decide. Watch the sun go down as you indulge. (Open for dinner and closed on Sunday and Monday). You can also sample the local Maude Wines in the adjacent tasting room. A great way to spend the afternoon. (open Friday – Sundays 12-5pm).
  • Red Star Burger Bar – Homemade. Gourmet. Burgers. Eat-in or takeout. It pays to call ahead to place your order. A great tip – take your burger to the lakefront and watch the world go by. You really can’t beat watching that view whilst eating a burger the size of your face. You’ll find them at the top end of Ardmore Street (opposite Caltex). Vegan and gluten free options too!
  • Erik’s Fish & Chips – A must do treat for the not so humble take on this kiwi classic. Aside from the traditional fare, they serve freshly caught blue cod (my favourite) either battered or crumbed. Everything can be made Gluten Free and is certified Halal. And it’s all locally sourced. For something really different you need to try their famous deep fried kiwifruit! You’ll find the Erik’s caravan halfway up Ardmore Street on the LHS.
  • Brownstone St – look out for the ‘Street Food’ caravans offering a variety of ethnic and more traditional food options for takeout (or feel free to sit in the wee outside area). Options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Thirsty? Let’s get Crafty. – and I’m talking beer. There are three places that are well worth a visit:

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  • Rhyme & Reason Brewery – Gordon Street (off Ballantyne Road). A good selection of ever-changing ‘on tap’ beers and ciders. A cosy, quirky spot to enjoy a tasting in the afternoon sun. Growlers or riggers available or BYO bottle to fill. Plus, a selection of local wines. And a few tasty snacks are on offer.
  • Wanaka Beerworks (Wanaka Luggate Highway by the airport). Home of Brewski, Jabberwocky and epic range of craft beers. They have a tasting room and offer tours.
  • effect brewing co. – corner Anderson & Reece. A great range of craft beers and ciders. Sit in the roomy interior or brave it outside as you lap up the sun, take in the brewery workings and sip on your brew of choice. They also make pretty darn good burger and other tasty treats to help soak up all that liquid. A great laidback spot to meet.

Stay & Play in Wanaka.

If you have the time Wanaka is far more worthy of just a flying visit – it is a multiday destination with plenty of accommodations to suit all prices and preferences, such as:

  • Lakeside Apartments – located in the heart of Wanaka so you can stroll to the shops, cafes and restaurants. Heated pool and spa for your convenience. Spacious 1, 2 and 3 bedroom self-contained apartments with balconies for you to enjoy stunning views over the lake. Sunsets a plenty!
  • Edgewater – on the opposite side of the lake, this hotel and apartment complex also offers great views, expansive grounds and an onsite restaurant to name a few.
  • Wanaka Bakpaka – just across the road from the marina, this is a great option for those on a more modest budget while still offering a great location!
  • Albert Town Camping Ground – just over the bridge, situated on the banks of the Clutha River, this is a delightful spot to base yourself. Only 5-10 min drive from Wanaka township.
  • Glendhu Bay Motor Camp – right on the shores of sunny, calm Glendhu Bay! It also has a few cabins available. Stunning views over the lake. 15 mins drive to the township.

Well, there you have it. That’s Wanaka done and dusted from my perspective. I’m bound to have forgotten something as there is just so much Wanaka has to offer – you’ll just have to go and explore yourself! And trust me, you will just want to keep going back! I certainly can’t speak highly enough of this wonderful part of NZ which holds very special place in my heart.

Thanks lakewanaka.co.nz for the images.