Wanaka is an absolutely incredible destination to visit during any season with a more Kiwi like feel than Queenstown. I highly recommend stopping in here even if it is just for a walk along the waterfront or a photo with #thatwanakatree! While you can splash some cash here and go heli-skiing, glacier flights and expensive wine and dines there are also some epic free things to do in Wanaka that won’t break the bank!
Below you will find some of the best free things to do in Wanaka, Otago, in no particular order.
Free things to do in Wanaka, Otago
1. That Wanaka Tree
Perhaps you have heard of #thatwanakatree. It is the most photographed tree in New Zealand and maybe one of the most popular Wanaka attractions!
It is a solitary tree along the shore of Lake Wanaka and is usually surrounded by water. It’s a perfect photo spot because it is on its own and the mountains and lake make the perfect backdrop. In Autumn the leaves on the tree are beautiful colours so if you had to pick one time to go and see it do so then! But it still makes for a good photo any time of the year.
Wanaka tree location: When you arrive in Wanaka you may be unsure where the tree is located. It is on the waterfront but it is at the furthest away end from the town. You can access the tree by walking from the town along the waterfront walk or, park your car at one of the many parking spots along the way.
You will most likely see a few people gathered around the tree!
2. Roys Peak
If you are looking for walks in Wanaka look no further!
The Roys Peak walk is on most hikers lists to do in New Zealand and perhaps one of the best free things to do in Wanaka! It is freaking amazing for the panoramic views and gutbuster climb. If you love to suffer for a good view this is for you! It is located only 5 minutes drive from the Wanaka town centre.
Lot’s of people are unsure if they can make it to the top but it is not a technically difficult walk. There are no major obstacles except for snow in the winter. But like anywhere in New Zealand the weather can change dramatically really quickly so I recommend coming prepared with gear for all weather!
The sign says that it takes 6 hours return and is 16km. If you are somewhat hiking fit then it is likely you will do it a lot quicker than this! I’m a keen hiker and it took me 3.5 hours. But, if you are into taking lots of photos and do not have a lot of hiking experience the walk could take you more like 8 hours. Regardless, I would spare an entire day for the hike! And because you will want to have lunch at the top and enjoy the view!
The most instafamous photo is taken near the top. When you are nearly there you will see a sign that says 30 minutes to the summit. When you reach this sign have a look to your right and you will see the track that leads out to a point where all the photos are taken. It is likely you will see a group of people taking photos too!
Take a look at the DOC website here to learn more and plan your trip to one of the best Wanaka activities!
3. Hike Mount Iron
Mount Iron, Wanaka is an awesome short walk located right above the town. You will get to enjoy 360-degree panoramic views over the region including seeing the Southern Alps! When you are driving into Wanaka keep your eyes peeled for the rocky mountain knob.
The walk is a loop and is a popular walking (dog friendly) and running spot. The hike is 4.5km and takes around 1 hour 30 minutes. It starts from a carpark off the main highway- SH84. On your way into Wanaka look right when you are driving past the hill and you will see a carpark! It is just 2km from the town centre meaning you can connect it to a walk into town if you like!
Take a look at the DOC website here to learn more about one of the best hikes in Wanaka!
4. Deans Bank Track
A beautiful walk next to the emerald green waters of the Clutha River. Highly recommended to see incredible views over the region! It is also a mountain biking trail (one way).
It starts from the Albert Town Campground, follows the upper banks of the beautiful Clutha River and has absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains and plains. The walk takes 1- 2 hours, is an 11.5km loop and grade 3 mountain bike.
Take a look at the DOC website here to learn more and see the map. When you get to Albert Town campground drive towards the right and straight down to the gravel carpark (you should see the green DOC sign).
5. Glendhu Bay
If you are stuck and wondering what to do in Wanaka look no further than Glendhu Bay. It is about a 10-minute drive from Wanaka heading towards the Mount Aspiring National Park. It is a picture-perfect place to stop and have a swim, picnic and laze on the beach! And enjoy the view of Mount Aspiring on a good day!
I absolutely love it here for camping and to admire the freaking huge mountains around.
If you are not camping park up near the boat ramp and enjoy the area.
You can also walk/bike to Glendhu Bay. The track goes from Wanaka – Waterfall Creek – Glendhu Bay and is roughly 12.5km one way.
Try the Rocky Mountain Track for great views looking down on the bay.
6. Drive the Crown Range
The most remarkable scenic driving route from Queenstown to Wanaka.
It is a beautiful drive along the highest main road in New Zealand. It has incredible vistas of tussock valley and the surrounding mountains. Beware as it is quite a tricky drive with lots of corners! There are not a heap of lookout points so make sure you grab every opportunity. And if driving in winter carry chains.
If you are thinking of heading into Cardrona to stop at the hotel then this is the road you would want to take!
The drive from Wanaka to Queenstown via this route is 1 hour or you can just go up to the lookout then turn around.
7. Explore the waterfront
Easily one of the best free things to do in Wanaka! Just hanging out on the waterfront is an awesome thing to do. It is so spacious and there are heaps of parking spots available. I saw a lot of people having their lunch, going for a stroll along the Waterfall Creek track to #thatwanakatree, reading, swimming, kayaking and just lazing around!
If you have a campervan there are heaps of parking opportunities to just stop and enjoy the view and the area (no overnight staying allowed).
8. Hang out in Albert Town
I highly suggest popping into the Albert Town campground for a swim in the freezing cold Clutha River in summer or to do the Deans Bank Track (one of the most beautiful and best free things to do in Wanaka). If you want to go for a swim just head towards the Deans Bank sign to the right of the camping ground and you will see little tracks leading to the water. There is also another hole just down from a picnic bench.
Otherwise, it is a good spot to have a picnic. But I also suggest heading into the pub at Albert town for a delicious bite to eat and beverage.
The pub is called Prince Albert, check out their Facebook Page here for more details!
9. Play Disc Golf
If you have no idea what I’m talking about go and watch this video. It is a game of golf but played with discs. It is highly addictive even if you suck at sports!
Wanaka has a stunning mountain view 18 hole course at Lismore Park. To learn about the course and where to go be sure to download the UDisc app on your phone.
If you do not have your own discs then, unfortunately, this isn’t a free thing to do but it is one of the best cheap things to do in Wanaka! You can hire discs from Outside Sports and Racer’s Edge sports shops for around $5.
10. Wanaka Artisan Market
Held year-round from 12-4 pm. Wander around and enjoy fresh produce and crafts, delicious treats and breads, beauty products, art and more!
They change spots depending on the season. As per the website:
“During the summer (Labour Weekend through to Easter) the market is perfectly located beside Lake Wanaka and the popular playground, the Dinosaur Park, and during the cooler months (After Easter to late October) the market is held between the Wanaka Speights Ale House and Bullock Creek. “ (Wanaka Artisan Market Website)
Cheap Accommodation in Wanaka
While accommodation always has a price tag attached to it I thought I would include some of the cheapest accommodation on offer in Wanaka. If you have a campervan, self-contained or not then you are in for the cheapest deals, otherwise your next best bet is hostels!
My favourite way of finding places to stay is Bachcare, Bookabach, Holiday Houses, or Airbnb. Use these in conjunction with the recommendations and find the best accommodation for you!
Albert Town Campground- A wide-open basic campsite just outside of Wanaka. The cost is $10 per person per night and you have to pay before you set up upon arrival at the little booth (there is Eftpos available). It is such a beautiful campsite if you head to the pine trees right next to the Clutha river. There are swimming spots just down the cliff!
Run by the Department of Conservation, a few flushed toilets and a few long drops.
Glendhu Bay Motor Camp- As mentioned in this post this campsite is super scenic and just over 10 minutes out of Wanaka towards Mount Aspiring National Park. It is a MASSIVE campsite with lots of different blocks. If you can, try and park along the waterfront to get the best experience.
The campsite has everything you need including a kitchen, toilets, showers etc. The cost of camping is $19 per adult and $9 per child (unpowered & powered sites available too).
Base Backpackers- A budget-friendly backpacker option. Private or shared room options. Located right in the town centre!
Mt Aspiring Holiday Park- They have a swimming pool and a hot tub! They also have a range of accommodation options including camping for powered and unpowered sites, studio units, cabins and self-contained units.
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