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Wanaka is a small and beautiful town on New Zealand’s South Island. With mountains, rivers, glaciers, and vineyards, it’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with this little slice of paradise. It really showcases what New Zealand is all about, and I can definitely see myself moving here someday!
There are so many fun things to do in Wanaka, and some are best experienced on a tour. The Clutha River and Lake Wanaka offer many opportunities for cruises and jet boating. And with all of the fantastic vineyards nearby, it would be rude not to take a wine tour. There are also guided nature walks, skydiving, and mountain treks.
In short, there are a ton of amazing tours in Wanaka! I’ve taken several, and they’ve helped me see a side of Wanaka I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. Plus, not worrying about logistics or driving can really come in handy – especially after wine tastings!
I’ve had so much fun exploring this fantastic town over the years, and want you to enjoy it as well. This is why I’ve rounded up my top 10 tours in Wanaka. Read on to learn about each tour and find one that calls your name!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Our top choices for tours in Wanaka include:
Best Tours in Wanaka, NZ
1. Milford Sound Glacier Flight and Cruise from Wanaka
Milford Sound is one of my favorite places in the world. So, of course, I had to include this glacier flight and cruise! You’ll be able to see this gorgeous sound from high above and on the water. Plus, you’ll have stunning views of the South Island throughout your entire flight.
There are several ways to get to Milford Sound. It takes 4.5 hours to drive to Milford Sound from Wanaka, but a scenic flight can get you there in just 45 minutes. It’s incredibly convenient, but let’s be honest: the real draw here is the aerial views of one of the world’s most beautiful fiords.
On the way there, you’ll fly in a fixed-wing aircraft over glaciers, lakes, rivers, and snow-capped mountains. This is an amazing way to take in a lot of the South Island’s most spectacular scenery.
Then, once you land in Milford Sound, you get to enjoy a nature cruise, which is the quintessential way to experience the fiord. You’ll glide through the tranquil waters taking in the dramatic mountain peaks and waterfalls, and spotting tons of local wildlife as you go. When I went, I saw Fiordland-crested penguins, dolphins, NZ fur seals, and even some whales in Milford Sound!
I’ve been to Milford Sound over 10 times and done a lot of nature cruises. I can promise you that it’s always a fantastic experience.
Then, when you fly back to Wanaka, your pilot will take a different route so that you get to see even more amazing scenery on the way home.
This is a half-day tour, so you can choose to go at either 9 am or 2 pm. You get to see so much of New Zealand’s most incredible natural beauty in just 4 hours. I also love the fact that you get a total of 1.5 hours in the air!
This tour costs $645 NZD which includes your scenic flight, the nature cruise in Milford Sound, and complimentary hot drinks on board the boat. You also get free parking at Wanaka Airport, so there’s no need to worry about hidden costs. You just need to get yourself to and from the airport, and perhaps bring some snacks in case you get hungry.
This tour is popular and does sell out, so secure your spot online well in advance!
2. Lakeland Jet Boat Adventure
This jet boat adventure combines Wanaka’s beautiful scenery with one heck of an adrenaline rush!
Jet boating is one of the super popular things to do in New Zealand, so I highly recommend trying it out while you’re in Wanaka. When you go jet boating here, you get to race from Lake Wanaka and down the Clutha River at speeds of up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour.
Your captain will take you through rapids, narrow channels, and tunnels and perform tricks like 180-degree spins. Trust me, this experience is sure to get your heart racing.
And not only is jet boating in Wanaka super exciting, but you also get beautiful views along the way. You’ll see the Southland forests, with snow-capped mountains peeking over the treetops in the distance.
I loved this jet boating experience in Wanaka, although I must confess I did get a little scared at times! My highlight was probably the Hamilton Spin, which really sprayed water and had everyone smiling! Overall, I think it’s such an exciting way to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
This tour costs $135 NZD for adults and $75 NZD for children, which includes the jet boat ride, a lifejacket, and your guide (who shares loads of commentary along the way). Kids as young as 4 can join this adventure, so I think this would be a great family activity in Wanaka.
Tours leave from Lakeland Wanaka daily at 12 pm and 2 pm, but you should get there at least 15 minutes prior. In total, the tour lasts about 1.5 hours. You can expect a short briefing before departing on your 60-minute boating adventure!
For an adrenaline rush with stunning scenery, book this jet boating tour right here!
3. Wanaka Water Taxi Mou Waho Island Tour
Lake Wanaka is actually home to four different islands, and one of the larger two is Mou Waho, which means “Outer Island.”
What’s amazing about Mou Waho is that it contains a recursive lake: the Arethusa Pool. A recursive lake is a lake on an island, in a lake on an island. It’s a lake-ception!
However, this is definitely not the only reason to visit Mou Waho. It’s also a protected nature reserve where you can find many native New Zealand birds, including the Weka.
You can reach Mou Waho on this water taxi tour, which will give you a comprehensive overview of this amazing little island. As you cruise across Lake Wanaka, your skipper will teach you all about the mountains and glaciers that caused the lake to form. Then, once you arrive, you can walk to a viewpoint over the Arethusa Pool – aka the lake-ception lake. From here, you’ll also get beautiful views of the surrounding Alps.
You get 1.5 hours of free time on the island before heading back to Wanaka. The tour lasts for 3 hours in total with the boat ride. You can choose to go at either 10 am or 2 pm, departing from the Wanaka Marina. Overall, it’s a short and sweet activity that’s easy to fit into your Wanaka itinerary.
The water taxi tour costs $139 NZD which covers the boat ride with commentary from a knowledgeable guide. I think that this is such a cool way to explore one of Wanaka’s most unique natural features, and I really like that you can explore Mou Waho at your own pace.
If you love visiting novel (and beautiful!) places, Mou Waho fits the bill. Click here to reserve your water taxi today!
Related Read: Another cruise I loved was this overnight cruise of Milford Sound. Not only is there incredible scenery here, but you’ll get to see it when all the tourists have left!
4. Lake Wanaka 1-Hour Cruise Including Wine and Cheese Board
A lake cruise with wine and cheese? Sign me up!
Happy hour is all fine and good at a bar. However, you just can’t beat spending happy hour on a luxury catamaran as you sail across the sparkling waters of Lake Wanaka. And what’s even better is you’ll do it at the golden hour around sunset, making everything feel even more magical.
You’ll be welcomed on board with a glass of local wine or beer, and then you can purchase more drinks for $6 NZD a pop. That’s really pretty cheap for New Zealand – and great if you’re traveling to Wanaka on a budget! You also get a cheeseboard to go with your beer and wine, which is even more satisfying.
Don’t get me wrong, I love beer and wine just as much as the next person, but what really makes this cruise worth doing is the scenery. As you sail around the southern end of Lake Wanaka, you’ll pass Waterfall Creek, the lush green Ruby Island, and Stevensons Peninsula.
I also really loved seeing the famous Wanaka Tree, which is a lone willow tree emerging from the lake. It’s a pretty unique sight, and it has garnered a lot of attention on social media – so much so that it even has its own hashtag #ThatWanakaTree. As if a golden hour lake cruise wasn’t already going to be super Instagram-worthy!
This cruise costs $61 NZD including a welcome drink and a cheeseboard. It leaves at 5:30 pm, lasting approximately one hour. This is the perfect appetizer and sundowner before heading to dinner in Wanaka.
All in all, this cruise is an awesome way to do some sightseeing while relaxing with a drink in hand. If that sounds like your jam, check availability and book your tour online!
5. Wanaka 4×4 Explorer – The Ultimate Lake and Mountain Adventure
If you want to immerse yourself in the South Island wilderness, then you should definitely consider this 4×4 explorer tour. It starts with a cruise across Lake Wanaka and then takes you on a 4×4 vehicle through the Otago region, which is famous for the 1860s gold rush that occurred here.
I love this tour because you get to experience this region’s wilderness on both water and land. After sailing down the lake, you’ll hop on a 4×4 and head uphill for panoramic views of the lake below. Then, your group can really soak in the surrounding mountains while enjoying a gourmet picnic. As you feast, your guide will share all about Otago’s fascinating history – and being a small group, you can ask as many questions as you want.
This is such a fun and peaceful day out, and the views are beyond epic. There are only 5 people per group, so it’s a really close-knit experience. You’ll feel like you’re the only people in the world! Plus, Otago is super sparsely populated, so you’ll really feel as though you have this entire majestic landscape to yourself.
This tour also includes a visit to a historic farm station, on top off everything we already mentioned. You also get wine along with your picnic lunch, which is never a bad thing in my book. The tour costs $272 NZD and it departs daily at 9 am and 1 pm. It lasts around 4 hours, so you’ve got the rest of the day to fit in even more fun activities.
There’s a minimum of two people per booking. So grab your bestie or partner, and book this tour before it sells out!
6. Wine Tour with Wine Tasting from Wanaka
New Zealand is one of the top wine-producing countries in the world, and Central Otago is one of its very best wine regions! So if you’re keen to discover what makes Otago wines so great, join this wine tour, which includes tastings at four different boutique wineries. Sounds like my kind of afternoon!
As well as enjoying all of the wine, you’ll also get to admire the spectacular scenery of Central Otago. I found this area breathtaking, with beautiful vineyards and amazing views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding Southern Alps.
Plus, you get to chat with the winemakers themselves and learn a ton about the craft. So much effort goes into producing great wine, so it’s really interesting to hear about.
You’ll have a gourmet sampling platter at one of the wineries, which will include lots of local produce – and of course, it will pair perfectly with the wine!
I’m a huge fan of this wine tour because it eliminates the need for a designated driver. Plus, these guides know all of the best wineries to visit, which is a real bonus because there are over 120 of them in the Central Otago region.
This tour costs $269 NZD per person, including roundtrip transport from Wanaka hotels, snacks, and all of your tastings. Tours begin at 1 pm, and last for 4.5 hours. It’s a pretty idyllic way to spend an afternoon if you ask me!
To sample the region’s best whites and reds, book this wine tour before it sells out.
Related Read: To try even more delicious wine, check out my list of the best wine tours in Queenstown.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
7. Jet Boat and Wilderness Walk Tour from Wanaka
Are you craving an adrenaline-fuelled adventure with epic scenery? Then this adventure tour of Mount Aspiring National Park is absolutely perfect.
Mount Aspiring National Park is known for its glacier-fed rivers, lush forests, and snow-capped mountains – in fact, it’s so magical that filming for Lord of the Rings even took place here. And with this tour, you can really see it all.
You’ll get to take a jet boat ride through the clear blue waters of the Matukituki River, and you’ll no doubt be shrieking with glee as the board twists and turns around those sharp corners.
Then, you’ll explore the park on land as you hike past forests, waterfalls, and streams. Hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park is really amazing because the scenery is just so beautiful. And, of course, your guide will help you spot some LOTR filming locations along the way. You don’t need to be a pro hiker to participate, either – a decent fitness level is all that’s required!
It’s so much fun and an awesome way to explore one of New Zealand’s top national parks. And trust me, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to see Mount Aspiring because it’s just so gorgeous! You can click here to book this Mount Aspiring Jet Boat and Wilderness Walk Tour.
Related Read: If you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan, check out the best LOTR tours in Glenorchy! This small town was home to Isengard Lookout, Lothlorien Forest, Ithilien Camp, and more.
8. Stevensons Island Cruise and Nature Walk from Wanaka
New Zealand is known for its unique native birds, and since Stevensons Island is predator-free, it has become something of a sanctuary for our winged friends!
On this tour, you’ll take a catamaran cruise across Lake Wanaka toward Stevensons Island. Here, you’ll hop ashore and take a guided walk around the island to admire all of the birds. You can actually see birds here that can’t be found anywhere else in New Zealand, and your guide will teach you all about the ecology of the island. This is such a cool opportunity if you’re a bird lover like me!
Beyond the birdlife, Stevensons Island has a really interesting history that is linked to the Prohibition era. I definitely learned a lot on this guided walk, and our group also walked all the way to the island’s summit. Here you’ll get amazing views of the entire peninsula, Wanaka Lake, and the Southern Alps across the water.
This tour costs $81 NZD which includes all park fees and your cruise across Wanaka Lake, plus afternoon tea during your hike around the island. The walk isn’t too long so I’d say it’s suitable for all ages, as long as you’re able to manage about 30 minutes of walking.
Tours leave at 3 pm and the whole thing lasts 2 hours. It’s short and sweet, and the perfect way to experience both a cruise and an island walk in a limited amount of time. To spend an afternoon in a remote nature setting, book this tour online right here!
9. Wine Tour and Maori Culture Wanaka
This awesome half-day tour combines two of the best things about New Zealand: wine and Maori culture!
You’ll get to visit several local wineries in Central Otago and try lots of different types. My favorite was the Pinot Noir, which is the area’s specialty. You’ll also get to enjoy a delicious platter of local cheese and produce at one of the wine farms, which is always welcome on a wine tour!
As well as discovering the region’s wine, you’ll also learn about the culture of the tangata whenua people – aka the original inhabitants of New Zealand. You’ll learn about how Indigenous people live and their strong connection to the land, and you’ll also discover their famous hospitality, which is an incredibly important part of Maori culture.
What I love about this tour is you’ll get to watch a Haka, which is a ceremonial war dance. It’s famous all over the world and the All Blacks perform it at every New Zealand rugby game!
This tour costs $229 NZD per person and is only available on weekends. The price covers roundtrip transportation from select hotels, snacks, wine, and your local guide. It starts at 11 am, lasting approximately 5 hours.
I just love the fact that it showcases some amazing boutique wineries while also teaching people about Maori culture – that’s definitely a mission I can get on board with. So, for the best of Otago’s wine and culture, book this half-day tour right here!
10. Skydive Wanaka
New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world for skydiving thanks to its incredible scenery (and the rigorous safety standards don’t hurt, either). And Wanaka is one of the best places to take the plunge – literally – because it’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
My favorite choice for skydiving in Wanaka is this top-rated tandem skydive!
As you fall from a fixed-wing aircraft, you’ll be able to see the Southern Alps, the Clutha and Waiau Rivers, and the Twin Lakes. All of this will be made even more incredible by a MAJOR adrenaline high.
In terms of height, you’ve got three options to choose from: 9,000 ft, 12,000 ft, or 15,000 ft. If you’re on the metric system, that’s 2,740 m, 3,650 m, or 4,570 m. If you choose the latter option, you get a whole minute of freefall!
Prices start at $289 NZD for a 9,000 ft skydive and range up to $479 NZD for 15,000 ft. The price includes transport from Wanaka to the airport and you should allow about 3 hours in total for this activity. It’s available Friday through Tuesday, and it’s super easy to book since there are several times throughout the day (from 7:45 am to 4:30 pm).
You need to weigh at least 30 kg (66 lbs) to skydive in Wanaka, and if you weigh more than 95 kg (209 lbs) you may be subject to a surcharge of up to $100 NZD.
I know it’s scary but there’s really no feeling like freefalling, so if you’re considering booking a skydive in Wanaka, then I say go for it! You can secure your preferred date and time online here!
Related Read: Are you an adrenaline junkie like me? If so, you might also enjoy these awesome places to go ziplining in New Zealand.
Where to Stay in Wanaka
There are tons of places to stay in Wanaka. Seriously, you’ll have so many options that it can be overwhelming. Luckily, I’ve stayed in Wanaka countless times and can recommend the accommodation options below:
Hawea Hotel – $
The Hawea Hotel is the perfect budget option for anybody looking to save a few dollars. That said, the rooms are really comfortable, clean, and offer incredible lake views! It is likely the best value for money hotel in Wanaka, with all rooms including a flat-screen television, a private bathroom, and a balcony too.
A one-night stay here starts from around $180 NZD per night, with budget dorm rooms as well as double rooms and family rooms available. You can check your dates and reserve your room here on Booking.com.
Archway Motel & Chalets – $$
When I travel, I often like to stay in apartment-style hotels so that I can cook my own meals. The Archway Motels & Chalets offers studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments, as well as two and three bedroom apartments for really reasonable prices! These are great for families or people traveling in groups (I stayed here last time I traveled with friends).
The motel is located only a short drive from town in a peaceful area – talk about holiday bliss! Room rates start at around $200 NZD per night, averaging around $350 NZD in the high season. You can check availability and book your stay online on Booking.com here.
Club Wyndham Wanaka – $$$
If you’re visiting Wanaka to relax and spoil yourself, then there’s no question that you should stay at Club Wyndham! This hotel is located right in town only minutes from Lake Wanaka and features an outdoor heated pool, waterslide, hot tub, sauna, and an onsite bar and café.
All rooms here come with a kitchenette or full kitchen, and many also offer lake views. You’ll also have access to their fitness center too if you fancy working up a sweat before hitting the sauna! Rooms here at Club Wyndham start at around $300 NZD and can be booked here on Booking.com.
For more detailed information, check out my blog all about where to stay in Wanaka! It includes different areas to stay in and the best hotels for all budgets!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Wanaka is one of my favorite places in New Zealand because it has incredible outdoor adventures and wineries. However, these highlights are best explored on a tour. After all, you’ll need help to access remote lakes and islands, and you don’t want to worry about driving when sampling the area’s top wines! As such, I hope you’ve found a tour – or two – you love from my list!
If you found this guide useful, check out my other blogs about New Zealand. I’ve traveled all over this country and love sharing what I’ve learned with other travelers, which is why I’ve linked to a few articles below.