Treble Cone. Photography: Jackson Lana

WHILE WRITING THIS PIECE goes against maintaining some semblance of secrecy when it comes to this sparkling slice of New Zealand’s South Island, reality is, Wanaka’s lid has been unscrewing, slowly, over the past decade. 

Speak to the locals – those rightly sporting smiles – and they’ll often refer to their appealing home as “Queenstown twenty years ago.” Indeed, the neighbouring towns (Wanaka is an hour north of its better-known cousin) share alluring geographic entanglements – both stunning in their individual lakeside settings; both surrounded by craggy mountains cradling some of the southern hemisphere’s finest snowy playgrounds.

Wanaka town. Photography Chris Searl

But contemporary Queenstown (particularly come ski season) means adrenaline-junkies, bustle and international billionaires, where Wanaka cuts a calmer figure. It’s a place that ticks to its own, slower beat – where cranes and silly money have not yet landed (that’s not to suggest it hasn’t been discovered, the likes of US tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel is among those to have secured large parcels of land). Its energy and allure are powered by impossible beauty and a tangible sense of community.

All this comes wrapped by a heady and lauded international food scene, lakeside distilleries, local wineries and what is easy access to the white stuff. Keep reading for our ultimate guide to doing Wanaka right. 

Where to ski near Wanaka

If you’re in this part of the world at this time of year then you’re no doubt looking to hit some runs. Treble Cone (TC to the locals) sits 30 minutes outside Wanaka – a meandering drive along the lake and past the famed Wanaka Tree (the country’s most photographed tree by virtue of too many international influencers). Best for intermediates and more advanced over beginners, TC proves the South Island’s largest ski area at 550ha – a series of engaging chutes, bowls and off-piste wonder, with Raffles Run offering incredible views that spill down and across Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring on bluebird days. NB: it opens June 29, so half off a couple of weeks if you’re looking to travel there. 

Treble Cone, Wanaka. Photography: Jackson Lana

Cardrona (20 minutes’ drive to the base) is a broad play that covers all skill levels across 40 kilometres of trails – from a brilliant beginners’ area and lengthy green runs (Skyline worth it for the views alone) to some memorable blue groomers and sharp blacks to test the legs (and heart). Cardrona also has the island’s only gondola (granted, a ‘chondola’) and an attractive base village of multiple food offerings and various bars (grab a break and mulled wine and watch the slopeside action at The Lounge). Also don’t miss the warming après at historic Cardrona Hotel at the mountain’s base. 

For a boastful snow experience – and one devoid of crowds – head for Soho Basin. A private ski area with numbers capped at just 10, it means days navigating and experiencing untouched backcountry with guides and snowcats, with a three-course lunch crafted and served by the award-winning Amisfield Winery chefs. 

Soho Basin, Wanaka. Photography: Marcus Skin

Where to stay in Wanaka

Whare Kea Lodge sits just outside of town and offers further proof the Kiwis own the southern hemisphere luxury lodge experience. Able to accommodate 12 guests, the spacious and private property spills to the lake, with water views framed by the southern ranges, outdoor spa, billiards room and a lodge manager to facilitate all needs. 

Elsewhere, Release Wanaka holds a standout collection of striking exclusive-use luxury properties (grab a group and split the spend), while Mahu Whenua is a sumptuous five-bedroom, stone and timber affair and the former home of US singer Shania Twain. In town, Te Wanaka Lodge is a boutique alpine property that delivers on warmth and accessible charm (aim for the Garden Cottage). 

Release Accommodation , Wanaka.

Where to eat and drink in Wanaka

Wanaka is a rightfully acclaimed foodie hub known for menus that indulge the brilliance of Central Otago produce. The ultimate night out remains Kika, from chef James Stapley, who worked Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe. Shareable plates come licked by Stapley’s flair – his beef tartare a must, so too the scallop ceviche and roasted duck. Elsewhere, Bistro Gentil offers a modern French menu built on seasonal wares while Muttonbird – a self-proclaimed ‘eatery and drinkery’ – does very good things in a casual lakeside setting. Kamino is a slick outfit with great coffee and steer for Scroggin for lunch. 

Kika, Wanaka.

Treehouse Wine Bar neatly navigates wines from the local Pemberton region – think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – with the tasting room at Penbroke Wines & Spirits another in which to sit and indulge. Among Rhyme x Reason’s 14 local taps, the Joy Rider pale ale lives up to its name, while Cardona Distillery (read: award-winning whiskies) is a worthy trip on a rest day from the slopes. 

More local recommendations 

Wanaka is actively pushing to find balance and futureproof its beauty via a range of sustainability programs, regenerative tourism and a firm commitment to be carbon zero by 2030. The ‘Love Wanaka’ initiative is a community fund set up so that visitors can give back and support grass roots environmental action. Beyond such considerations, know the locals flock to Curbside Coffee & Bagels (which informs the food truck market of Brownston St) while the wood-fired Secret Sauna on the edge of Lake Hawea is an aptly named hidden gem and the perfect place to sit and further contemplate the wonder of Wanaka.

Snow Farm, Wanaka. Photography: Marcus Skin.

Cardona opens June 15 with Treble Cone launching June 29, 2024.;


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