Wanaka is an excellent base for skiers thanks to two great ski resorts within a short drive, a beautifully serene setting on the shores of Lake Wanaka and a little town with a lot going for it.
- A peaceful and beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Wanaka.
- Don’t be fooled – the sleepy-looking town can be quite a party town at night.
- The choice of two of the South Island’s best ski resorts – Treble Cone, which advanced skiers will love, or Cardrona which is popular with families and beginners.
- The accommodation options are fairly limited – while there are some fantastic boutique lodges, it’s screaming out for a great hotel.
- If you are staying for a week and want to dine out every night you may find the restaurant and bar options a bit limited.
- Be careful driving to Treble Cone resort.
When most people think of skiing in New Zealand they almost always default to Queenstown. Yet, less than an hour away, with equally good ski resorts (if not better), Wanaka is an excellent alternative. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wanaka with spectacular views of snowy Mount Aspiring and several big mountain ranges, it is incredibly picturesque.
The small town is simpler and much quieter than busy, bustling Queenstown. Yet it has some excellent choices for dining (don’t miss Francesca’s – probably the best Italian in the South Island) and some great bars that provide a lively apres scene. Not surprisingly Wanaka has grown in popularity over the past few years and you’ll find everything you need for a great ski holiday. There’s a good range of stores for a bit of retail therapy (for supplies, Mediterranean Market has wonderful fresh produce and imported goods) and for those with a higher budget there are several heli-skiing operations.
For skiers who want a bit of flexibility a great option is OnePassNZ. Once loaded with cash, it can be used for day tickets at Treble Cone or Cardrona (plus several other South Island resorts) as well as lessons, rentals, food and a ton of other off-mountain activities. The pass also covers Snow Farm which boasts more than 40kms of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, sledding and dog-sled tours. It’s a fun day out and alternative to the main resorts.
When to go
The ski resorts are open from late June until early October. The most reliable snow is in late July and August. The first few weeks of July are busy with New Zealand and Australian school holidays.
While there are quite a few options in the Wanaka area, quality accommodation is pretty limited. Beyond the dated motels there are several small boutique lodges, a few apartments and a good hotel option in Edgewater. See Wanaka Hotels.Search Hotels and Deals Get your
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Wanaka offers plenty of skis-off activities; not quite the jam-packed list of its action-packed neighbor, Queenstown, but still great. There’s sky diving, scenic flights, jetboating and Puzzling World which, as its name suggests, has puzzles and optical illusions as well as a big maze.
There are several heli-skiing operations that use Wanaka as a base. Read our profile on Southern Lakes Heliski to get a taste of a day out.
Although it has a small airport, the best way to get to Wanaka is via flights into Queenstown. Air New Zealand, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly into Queenstown directly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. There are many daily regional flights from main NZ cities Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. Wanaka is about a 60-minute drive from Queenstown Airport.
If you are staying in Wanaka town you won’t need a car as pretty much everything is accessible by foot. Look at your hotel profile carefully as some are a short drive out of town.
There are several options for getting to the ski resorts from Wanaka:
To Cardrona and Treble Cone Yello! has scheduled and chartered options. A round trip from Wanaka is $35 adult/$28 child.
For Cardrona these operators also offer shuttles:
Alpine ConneXions Snow Shuttle has daily transfers.
Ridgeline Adventures offer private transfers.
For Treble Cone these operators also offer shuttles:
Kiwi Discovery (one pick-up at 8.45am).
Treble Cone mountain resort also offers two shuttle services (8.45am and 9.30am) from the base of the mountain road, meaning you have to get your own way to the turn off, but let someone else do the tricky, winding dirt road 7km up to the resort base area ($12pp return, $35 family).
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