Wānaka is a place that will always have my heart and I find myself coming back for just one more visit.
There’s something about the lake and mountain views, the hustle and bustle of the bustling little town center and that sense of calm when you look out at the amazing nature, letting the stress melt away thinking it’s… the heaven.
Even though I could lounge around and watch the view all day, kids need activity and fun. What you will love is that Wānaka offers family activities all year round.
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A lake on an island On a lake on an island
Are you confused? Well, this family boat trip is unforgettable. Board the Wānaka Water Taxi and head to Mou Waho Island, deep in Lake Wānaka. Accessible only by boat, this island has an incredible lake, perfect for swimming in the middle of summer.
Kids will enjoy the 20-30 minute uphill walk to the most incredible view of Lake Wānaka and Mou Waho Lake. Distract the children during the walk by counting as many weka buff as possible. The island is home to around 200 of these cheeky native birds.
What are scenic road trips made of?
Have you ever wanted to take a scenic drive into the backcountry like our parents did in the 70s and 80s? A road trip in the Matukituki Valley is a route that seems unfamiliar and somewhat Jurassic. Follow the gravel road by the river into the mountains, past the cows that use this road as a pen in the verdant paradise of Mount Aspiring National Park.
Once there, choose between a short 10-minute walk to Wishbone Falls or choose to take a half-day hike. The Rob Roy Track is a popular trail that winds up the incredible glacier wall. After a good rain there are waterfalls cascading around the edges of the walls which is just amazing to see. Families should plan around 4-5 hours with lunch stops for this one.
Or head to the popular stone hut, Aspiring Hut. The track is relatively flat with a few decent hills in between and will take 2-3 hours to reach. It is a popular cabin for families and it is possible to cycle to the cabin. There are a few sections where you will have to dismount as it is quite rocky, but it is a doable bike for strong kids. The cabin is currently closed for upgrades.
Marvel in the maze
Have you even been to Wānaka if you haven’t visited Puzzling World? A classic Wānaka attraction filled with illusion rooms that will confuse your babies, perfect for a rainy day.
The fun really begins when they head into the life-size outdoor maze that was a favorite of my elementary school kids. I may have jumped a fence or two after walking in circles trying to run them around the corners. But did I cheat if there was no proof?
Winter in Wānaka is the wonderland you’ve always dreamed of. Snowy mountains, silky hot chocolate from Patagonia Chocolates to warm your hands and bellies, but also snow games.
For something different, why not try a trip to Snow Farm? Home to New Zealand’s only purpose-built cross-country skiing facility, the whole family can try something new together. Strap on the thin cross-country skis and hit the trails, or book a mountain cabin to ski for an overnight experience. Capable parents can even hook up a small sled for young children and tow them.
The little ones will appreciate the dedicated tube sliding area and the snow zone. If you’re just looking for the kids to experience their first real snow, this is an easy place to do. However, do not expect thrills.
For a more traditional skiing experience, you also have Cardrona Alpine Resort, a large all-purpose terrain for the whole family, or Treble Cone which caters to more experienced skiers.
Tackle a great hike
I’m a big proponent of doing tough things with kids and you’ll be surprised what they can do with a little encouragement. So if you are a family that likes to push the limits or have older children who need to let off steam, then Wānaka offers some great full day hikes with some of the most incredible views.
There is of course the iconic Roy’s Peak, a 4-6 hour hike to this incredible Instagram lookout point, but there are others if you don’t feel like hiking with the masses.
Isthmus Peak at nearby Lake Hāwea offers views of the twin lake and is a similar 4×4 style track. The summit offers 360 degree views of Lake Hāwea and Lake Wānaka and is a much calmer trail than Roy’s Peak. This is a good walk for fit beginners, no expert tramping skills required.
But if you’re looking for a more challenging walk and have older kids who are experienced walkers (you can trust them not to fall off the mountain), check out the local gem of Breast Hill.
“Hill” is a light word as this hike follows the ridge trail to the summit at 1300m elevation. It is a relentless 4km uphill walk which signs suggest allow 5 hours one way. What makes this trail more exciting than Isthmus Peak or Roy’s Peak is that it’s scruffy, sometimes you need your hands and you have to choose your own trail between the markers. It’s not a boring 4×4 track and you have to negotiate some tough terrain.
The views are some of the best I’ve seen though and Breast Hill is now my favorite hike in the Wānaka area.
You can’t leave Wānaka without a great dining experience, so what’s better than grabbing your own? At Hooked Wānaka, you can catch your own salmon and let the experts cook it for you, eat it on the spot or take it home.
My advice is not to buy a fishing rod for everyone, otherwise you could come home with several kilograms of large salmon.
Hooked is a great place to relax and soak up the sun. With a huge sandpit, lawn games and a mini putt, the kids will be entertained while you relax with a glass of local wine.
Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.