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Like many lakes in the lower South Island, Lake Wanaka is long, skinny, and wedged between high mountains. Lake Wanaka and its namesake town are much less crowded than nearby Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu but offer equally impressive mountain and lake views, as well as many of the same outdoor adventures.
Travelers visit Wanaka either independently or on guided tours of the South Island. Active travelers like to hike, mountain bike, or kayak around the lake, or even parasail above it. More relaxed options include taking a boat cruise, strolling the paths around the lake’s edge, or visiting the bird sanctuaries of Mou Tapu and Mou Waho, islands in the middle of Lake Wanaka.
Dunedin is the closest city to Wanaka, about 3.5 hours southwest by car. The nearest international airport is at Queenstown, about an hour drive away. Many travelers like to rent a car when traveling around the South Island, as this gives them easy access to smaller towns like Wanaka. It’s also possible to get a long-distance bus or take a guided tour from Queenstown or Dunedin.
Lake Wanaka is a year-round destination, although what you can comfortably enjoy doing depends on the season. Winters are cold but summers are pleasantly warm.
While visiting Lake Wanaka, make time to visit Lake Hawea, just a 15-minute drive from Wanaka. The two lakes are only separated by a very narrow strip of land. There’s a small town here with great hiking tracks that connect Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.