Wanaka typically looks outdoors, not indoors, but you can keep surprisingly busy on a rest day among a smattering of eclectic museums, a couple of intriguing wineries, a craft brewer with a highly unusual cellar door, and a distillery right on the town's doorstep.
Wanaka might not have bridges to leap off, but you could still bottle the adrenaline here. For powder monkeys it's the gateway to the Treble Cone, Cardrona, Snow Farm and Harris Mountains ski areas, and it's the last stop before Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park for those in hiking boots.
For walks close to town, including various lakeside wanders, download DOC's Wanaka Outdoor Pursuits brochure from its website (www.doc.govt.nz). Roys Peak is usually Wanaka's tramp du jour, though you can get lofty views with far less effort atop Mt Iron (527m, 1½ hours return) – it's a rather grandiose name for what's really just a hill.
For something low-level, the Glendhu Bay Track bobbles along the western shore of Lake Wanaka, passing That Wanaka Tree and Rippon before rolling into Glendhu Bay after three to four hours on foot. It's also a good track for a gentle mountain-bike ride.
Mt Aspiring National Park
Verdant valleys, alpine meadows, braided glacial rivers, craggy mountains and more than 100 glaciers make Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Protected as a national park in 1964, and later included in the Te Wāhipounamu (Southwest New Zealand) World Heritage Area, the park now blankets 3555 sq km along the Southern Alps, from the Haast River in the north to its border with Fiordland National Park in the south. Lording it over all is colossal Tititea/Mt Aspiring (3033m), the highest peak outside the Aoraki/Mt Cook area.
While the southern end of the national park near Glenorchy includes famed tramps such as the Routeburn and Greenstone & Caples Tracks, there are plenty of blissful short walks and more demanding multiday tramps in the Matukituki Valley, close to Wanaka; see DOC's Matukituki Valley Tracks brochure, which can be downloaded from its website (www.doc.govt.nz).
The dramatic Rob Roy Track (10km, three to four hours return) takes in glaciers, waterfalls and lush rainforest, and is among the most scenic and spectacular of all New Zealand's day tramps. It’s a moderate walk, but some parts are quite steep. The West Matukituki Valley Track goes on to the Aspiring Hut (four to five hours return; peak/off-peak $30/25 per night), a scenic walk over mostly grassy flats. For overnight or multiday tramps offering great views of Mt Aspiring, continue up the valley to the Liverpool Hut (three to four hours from Aspiring Hut; $15 per night) and French Ridge Hut (four to five hours from Aspiring Hut; $25 per night).
Many of these tramps are prone to snow and avalanche risk and can be treacherous. It is extremely important to consult with the DOC staff at the Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park Visitors Centre in Wanaka and to purchase hut tickets before heading off. You should also register your intentions on www.adventuresmart.org.nz.
The Matukituki Valley tracks begin from Raspberry Creek at the end of Mt Aspiring Rd, 50km from Wanaka. The road is unsealed for 30km and involves nine creek fords. It’s usually fine in a 2WD, except in very wet conditions (check at the visitor centre).
Rock Climbing & Mountaineering
Excellent rock climbing can be found at Hospital Flat, around 20km from Wanaka towards Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park, and the adjoining Diamond Lake Conservation Area.
Hundreds of kilometres of tracks and trails in the region are open to mountain bikers. Download DOC's Wanaka Outdoor Pursuits brochure, which describes a range of mountain-bike rides, including the popular Deans Bank Track (12km).
One particularly scenic route is the Newcastle Track (12km), which follows the raging blue waters of the Clutha River from Albert Town to the Red Bridge on Kane Rd. You can make it a 30km loop by joining the Upper Clutha River Track at Luggate.
The Glendhu Bay Track provides easy riding along the shore of Lake Wanaka, while a local favourite is Sticky Forest, with around 30km of purpose-built trails through pine forest.
Pure lakefront accommodation is at a premium in Wanaka, but the range of accommodation options in and around town is impressive and varied, be it quiet lodges or rowdy hostels. There are twin high seasons here – summer and ski season.
Exercise and adventure breed appetite, so it's no surprise that Wanaka's list of restaurants is about as long as its list of adventure-tour operators. Find food with a view along Ardmore St, and some high-quality dining in the blocks just behind.