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Just over an hour’s drive from the tourist haven that is Queenstown is the smaller quirkier lakeside town of Wanaka. I guess you could say that Wanaka is Queenstown’s less flashy, but equally beautiful younger sister! It has the ‘cool factor’ with lots of trendy coffee shops, boutiques, and brunch spots. And if you’re the outdoorsy type, then there are numerous stunning hikes on your doorstep.
There are tons of fun things to do in Wanaka, and some of the best things to do here are indeed free! My personal favorites are hiking Roy’s Peak and the Blue Pools Track. So if you’re traveling on a budget, you can still have an amazing time without breaking the bank.
So, without further ado, here is my detailed list of the 25 best free and cheap things to do in Wanaka!
- Free Things to do in Wanaka
- 1. Hike Roy's Peak
- 2. Swim at the beach
- 3. Visit the Wanaka Tree
- 4. Drive the Crown Range
- 5. Visit the Cardrona Bras
- 6. Drink at the historic Cardrona Hotel
- 7. Walk the Blue Pools Track
- 8. Check out Thunder Creek Falls
- 9. Go mountain biking
- 10. Play disc golf
- 11. Wander the Wanaka Artisan Market
- 12. Diamond Lake Walk
- Cheap Things to do in Wanaka
- 13. Happy hour lake cruise
- 14. Visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm
- 15. Jet boating
- 16. Test your skills at Puzzling World
- 17. Visit Ruby Island
- 18. Drink local craft beer at Rhyme and Reason Brewery
- 19. Drink coffee at a local café
- 20. Tour a local winery
- 21. Explore the National Transport and Toy Museum
- 22. Visit Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island
- 23. Day Trip to Lake Hawea
- 24. Try archery at Crossfire Wanaka
- 25. Day trip to Queenstown
- Other Activities to do While You're in Wanaka
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Where to Stay in Wanaka
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Free Things to do in Wanaka
1. Hike Roy’s Peak
Easily the most photogenic place on the South Island, you might just be familiar with the amazing view from Roy’s Peak from your Instagram feed! It’s an 8 km (5 mi) hike each way, which should take you approximately 7 hours total.
I completed the hike in about 6 hours, but only because I was in such a rush to get to the top for that all-important photo. From the lookout point, you will have a 180-degree view of Lake Wanaka, the snowy Southern Alps, and even Mount Aspiring National Park.
The hike itself is pretty steep with not a whole lot to see en-route, but the track is wide and well-worn, so it’s not too difficult. Be sure to bring some snacks and water with you, and clothing-wise be certain to layer up. You will be chilly in the beginning, but after an hour or so, you’ll be pretty toasty from all that walking (I certainly was!).
In the busy summer months, expect to queue for ‘the photo’ at the lookout point. Nope, I’m not joking! Equally, be sure to get to the parking lot either early in the morning or early evening to get a spot as this too can get very busy. Since Roy’s Peak is considered one of the best hikes in the Queenstown area, people often travel from Queenstown on a day trip just to tackle this trail!
A good tip to beat the crowds is to continue on from the lookout point for another 30 minutes uphill for an equally awesome view from the summit.
If you plan to hike Roy’s Peak in the winter months, be sure to bring crampons and even an ice ax. Also worth noting is that this hike is closed every year from October 1st to November 10th for lambing season.
Roy’s Peak Track starts from the car park on Mount Aspiring Road, under a 5-minute drive from Wanaka town center.
2. Swim at the beach
There’s nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in Lake Wanaka, especially on a hot summer’s day. With average water temperatures of 12.7 °C (55 °F,) it sure feels cold, so if you’re planning on going for a longer swim, I’d definitely recommend a wetsuit. I’ve been told by the locals to never use the dreaded ‘cold’ word when swimming here. You’ve been warned.
Why not swim out to the pontoon, a short swim from the shore, and join the locals in taking the plunge?
Some other great swimming spots along the lake include Glendhu Bay – a 10-minute drive from Wanaka, or slightly further afield to Lake Hawea, a 15-minute drive away (more on that later on in this blog).
In my opinion, no matter the weather – a swim in Lake Wanaka is good for the soul! Definitely worth ticking off the list of amazing free things to do here.
But if jumping in doesn’t sound quite up your street, then how about a budget-friendly cruise across the lake, complete with complimentary wine and snacks? This 1-hour Lake Wanaka Cruise is easy on the wallet but is chock-full of fantastic views. Lasting about an hour in total, it’s also the perfect cheap activity to fit into any busy schedule.
Of course, there is also a bar onboard, but if you fancy just sticking to your free drink, that’s totally fine too. Tickets for this experience cost $61 NZD per person and can be booked online here.
3. Visit the Wanaka Tree
Easily the most famous tree in New Zealand, if not, the Southern Hemisphere. The Wanaka Tree tells a story of resilience, it has stood the test of time despite flooding and storms in the area. The ‘Tree’ as it is known locally, is extremely photogenic – with the Southern Alps standing proudly in the background.
Aim to get to the Tree for sunrise or sunset for the best photo opp. The Wanaka Tree is a short walk from the town center, it is located along the Lakefront at Roy’s Bay – look for the crowds gathered at the far end of the lake, and you’ve found it.
This tree even has its own hashtag #thatwanakatree.
4. Drive the Crown Range
Surely one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Crown Range is stunning and located just outside of Wanaka. This road is iconic and connects Queenstown with Wanaka.
Drivers beware, this road is full of narrow twists and turns, so it’s best to be an experienced driver if you’re planning to give this a go. In the winter months, be sure to check out the road conditions before departing, and always carry snow chains from May through to September as a precaution.
Did you know that the Crown Range is actually the highest main road in all of New Zealand?! This makes the views from the road amazing!
One of the best viewpoints on the Crown Range is a little after you turn off the main road from Queenstown. You will notice the road zigzag uphill, and halfway up this hill, you will find an awesome lookout point over Arrowtown and The Remarkables.
Continue along the road for a few minutes and stop next at the summit. If you fancy it, you can leave your car in the car park here and walk the narrow track for another impressive view of Frankton.
A little over halfway on the Crown Range is the world-famous Cardrona Hotel and Cardrona Bras, well worth a stop (more on those below).
Related Read: Another scenic drive nearby is Glenorchy-Queenstown Road! There are tons of amazing stops on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy which makes for a fun little road trip.
5. Visit the Cardrona Bras
Yup, you heard that correctly – the Cardrona Bra Fence is a very popular stop-off along the Crown Range, about halfway between Queenstown and Wanaka. Basically, it’s exactly what you imagine – a fence covered in thousands of bras. Definitely an odd but interesting free attraction! The bras are located a short drive from the Cardrona Hotel, next to the Cardrona Distillery.
The story as to why the bras first appeared here is unknown, but the first few bras were placed here at the end of 1998, and Cardrona’s bra population has grown steadily since to the thousands that are there today.
Fun fact – this fence was renamed ‘Bradrona’ in 2005 after a donation box left at the site raised over $30,000 for Breast Cancer Awareness! The donation box is still there today and if you have some change to spare, be sure to leave it.
6. Drink at the historic Cardrona Hotel
The Cardrona Hotel is the most photographed pub in New Zealand, and it’s also the oldest! Established in 1863, this hotel is a must-stop on the Crown Range route connecting Queenstown to Wanaka.
Be sure to get a photo for yourself out front while you’re here. I’d suggest standing at the entrance to the parking lot with the hotel in the background for the best photo. Even if you don’t have time to grab some food from their yummy menu, be sure to stop in for a quick coffee as it’s well worth a look around.
The inside of the Cardrona Hotel is cozy and well-spaced out, but, wait until you see their beer garden – easily one of the best in New Zealand! From their award-winning food menu, I recommend the Brisket Beef Burger or the Cardrona Ale Battered Blue Cod.
Their restaurant opens for breakfast from 8 am, and continues to serve food throughout the day until late. If you’re looking to grab dinner, you can stop on by from 6 pm.
There is also a selection of boutique rooms on-site if you fancy spending the night!
7. Walk the Blue Pools Track
The Blue Pools Track is an easy hour walk from the parking lot, through native forest, and across two swing bridges. The second swing bridge offers the best vantage point to admire the Gatorade-blue waters of the Blue Pools!
One thing to keep an eye out for are the sandflies. Within the short two hours I was here I received more than a few bites all over my legs and arms (bad idea wearing shorts and a tee on my part). Definitely make sure you spray insect repellent before walking to the pools.
If you’re feeling brave, why not take a dip in the bright blue waters here, it’s sure to have you feeling refreshed! For the more adventurous among you, you might even chance jumping from the second swing bridge into the freezing water below. Just make sure it’s safe to do so!
To get to the Blue Pools follow the SH6 North towards Makarora. After Makarora, continue for about 12 km (7.5 mi) until you see signs for the Blue Pools. This road goes all the way to Franz Josef and there are lots of other epic stops on this road trip. If there are no parking spaces available in the parking lot at the Blue Pools, you can park along the side of the road (just do so carefully!).
8. Check out Thunder Creek Falls
Standing tall at just over 96 feet (28 meters), and with the very blue Haast River running into it, Thunder Creek Falls is one of New Zealand’s must-visit waterfalls. It’s easily accessible from the parking lot – just a short 10-minute walk in and out.
The viewpoint of the falls is located at the end of the track and there are a few steps down to the river if you fancy a closer look. Just be aware that there aren’t any toilet facilities here, with the closest being at the Pleasant Flat Campsite, 5 km north along SH6.
Thunder Creek Falls is a 90-minute drive from Wanaka, along the Haast Pass. It’s a popular stop-off on any road trip from Wanaka to Franz Josef!
9. Go mountain biking
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert mountain biker, in Wanaka there’s a heap of trails to get those legs working.
I brought my bikes with me from my home in Queenstown and tackled Dean’s Bank a few times. This is an 11 km (6.8 mi) loop track beginning at the Albert Town Campground, and it took me about an hour to complete. The track has plenty of beams and tight corners, so I’d recommend it more for intermediate or advanced bikers. Most of the track has lovely views of the Southern Alps and Clutha River.
Some other popular mountain biking trails in Wanaka include Minaret Burn and Lindis Peak among others. If you fancy stopping off for a swim on your bike ride then Minaret Burn is for you – this track is home to lots of beautiful beaches along the western shore of Lake Wanaka.
A popular route on this track is to go as far as Colquhons Beach, this took me about 2.5 hours. To access the start of Minaret Burn, head to West Wanaka Road.
Another great choice is the Lindis Peak Track, the scenery from the top of the 1,226-meter (4,022 foot) high summit is truly gorgeous. You can pretty easily spot St Bathans Range and Mount Aspiring from the summit!
This track is nearly all uphill, so your legs will certainly be sore the next day, but that’s all part of the fun – right? The track took me about 3 hours to complete all-in-all. You can access the trail by following the signposts from the start of Old Faithful Road.
If you haven’t brought your bike with you, then there are lots of great bike rental spots in town like Outside Sports, where bike rental starts at around $35 NZD. There’s also the option to rent a bike and explore as part of a self-guided tour like this 4-hour Wanaka trail experience, which can work out to be fantastic value for money when you consider everything that’s included!
Of course, if you rent out the bike yourself, you’ll need to get the bikes there and hire out other equipment like a helmet, locks, and more. This tour includes all the equipment you need, plus round-trip transport! You can check availability and book your spot online here.
Downhill Moutain Biking: If you’re more into the thrill of downhill mountain biking, then you can visit Cardrona in the summer months, where they use ski lifts to transport you up the mountain with your bike to ride back down. You can book your lift pass and mountain biking gear in a package online here.
Related Read: If you like mountain biking, and you’re heading to Queenstown, be sure to check out some of the best bike trails in the Queenstown area!
10. Play disc golf
One popular sport in New Zealand (apart from Rugby) is disc golf! This is basically a flying disc sport in which players throw a disc (Frisbee) at a target. It’s usually played on a course with 9 or 18 holes, similar to golf. It’s also one of the best free things to do in Queenstown.
There are two disc golf courses in Wanaka – Lismore Park and Eely Point. Lismore Park has 18 baskets and has lovely views of Roy’s Peak, Mount Aspiring, and the lake. It’s a short 5-minute walk from the town center, accessible from Lismore Street. The best part? It’s completely free!
Disc Golf Wanaka runs club days at 12.30 pm every Sunday, meeting at Hole 8.
Another option you have is Eely Point, which is just a few minutes drive away from Lismore Park. This is a wooded course, meaning it’s a little more difficult than the open fields of Lismore. Eely is all about accuracy so if you’re just starting out, perhaps try Lismore first. If you’ve played disc golf at the popular Queenstown Garden’s course, Eely Point is very similar to this.
11. Wander the Wanaka Artisan Market
Held every Thursday from 3 pm until 6 pm, the Wanaka Artisan Market runs year-round, although the location changes depending on the season. In summer, you’ll find the Wanaka Artisan Market along the Lakefront (next to the children’s playground there). In winter, the market is held between the Wanaka Speights Ale House and Bullock Creek.
You will find the best of Wanaka food and craft scenes here, from yummy pastries to unique handmade gifts like scented candles and knitted clothes. The market is also a great spot to mingle with the locals!
12. Diamond Lake Walk
Truly a diamond of a lake (excuse the pun), but seriously, Diamond Lake is stunning! Depending on how long you want to walk, there are a variety of trails you can walk here. The shortest is the Diamond Lake Circuit track at 45 minutes in total, to the 3-hour Rocky Mountain Summit Track. The other two walking tracks include Lake Wanaka Lookout and Diamond Lake Lookout.
My personal favorite (for the views alone) is the Lake Wanaka lookout track. This track is sometimes steep and can be very slippery even during the summer months. It’s worth it for the views of Lake Wanaka, though. I wouldn’t recommend walking this track during the winter months because it gets very icy on the trail.
Diamond Lake is about an 18 km (11.2 mi) drive west of Wanaka on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road.
Cheap Things to do in Wanaka
13. Happy hour lake cruise
If you want to get out on the water but don’t have a huge budget, then you can’t miss this happy hour cruise!
Keep an eye out for #thatwanakatree and snap a unique photo of it from the water! From your starting point, your captain will transport you up to Waterfall Creek and then to Ruby Island. There are some pretty impressive views of Stevensons Peninsula, Beacon Point, and Eely Point along the way – it’s really cool to see them from a whole new perspective!
Remember, your ticket also includes a complimentary cheeseboard as well as a wine or beer, but further drinks can be purchased onboard at the bar. Tickets cost just $61 NZD, which I think is pretty great value considering the entire experience! You can check availability and reserve your spot online here.
14. Visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm
The lavender is in full bloom at Wanaka Lavender Farm during the summer months, and boy is it beautiful! From late October, you can see the beginning of the lavender starting to bloom, and most of the fields here will continue to be in bloom until March.
Set on 20 acres about a 6-minute drive from Wanaka, Wanaka Lavender Farm was set up by brothers Stef and Tim Zeestraten. There’s even an animal experience here, perfect to occupy the kids. The animal experience costs from $7.50 NZD per child over 5 and $15 NZD per adult during the winter months, and in the summer, you can expect to pay a little more. Children under 5 go free.
For those with a sweet tooth, the lavender ice cream is to die for! You can also purchase Lakes Honey and lots of other Lavender products on-site too.
Wanaka Lavender Farm is open from September – May from 9 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week (closed Christmas Day). From June to August, they’re open from 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
Related Read: The Wanaka Lavender Farm is the first stop I recommend on the scenic drive from Wanaka to Mount Cook as well as the drive to Christchurch from Queenstown or Wanaka. Read my blog to find out about other stops along this popular route.
15. Jet boating
Jet boating is one way to get the adrenaline going while still enjoying those epic views from out on the water. Jet boat rides are also some of the cheapest tours available in Wanaka and all of New Zealand for thrill-seekers (they are typically less than half of the price of other adventure tours like canyoning or quad biking).
This Wanaka Jet boat experience departs directly from Wanaka lakefront and brings you across the lake taking in the scenery there and into the Clutha River (the longest river in New Zealand). It’s here on the Clutha River that your driver will really push the boat to its limits with 180-degree and 360-degree turns – talk about a thrill!
As you speed down the narrow braided sections of the river you may feel as if you’ll crash or even hit the banks on the side, but be assured your jet boat driver is very experienced and is just trying to scare you! Prices for this start at just $135 NZD per adult and at $75 NZD per child (4-15). You can book your spot online here!
Top Tip – if you don’t want to get wet, sit on the driver’s side, the driver never wants to get him/herself wet!
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!
16. Test your skills at Puzzling World
For little kids and big kids alike, Puzzling World is known as Wanaka’s own little world of weirdness. With a mix of bizarre buildings, illusion rooms, and the very hard-to-get-out-of Great Maze (trust me on this), Puzzling World is the perfect place to spend a rainy day in Wanaka. And I will admit, this is one of my favorite cheap things to do in Wanaka.
With over 40 years in business, with the much-photographed Leaning & Tumbling Towers standing proudly out front, Puzzling World is also home to the world’s first 3D maze! The surprisingly difficult Great Maze features 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of passages and should take you 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
The Ames Room is another mind-bender, on one side of the room you appear tall, but, when you move to the other side of the room you appear teeny-tiny. This is known as forced-perspective and this technique was used in the Lord of the Rings movies!
The Tilted House is another favorite room of mine at Puzzling World. And before you leave, be certain to visit the Roman-style public toilets.
Puzzling World is open every day from 9 am to 4:30 pm (open until 5:30 from December 26 to January 31 & closed on Christmas Day). You can expect to pay around $27.50 NZD for the Adult Combo Deal (Great Maze & all Illusion Rooms) and $20 NZD for the same for children over aged 5. Note that children under 5 are free.
Related Read: If you’re looking for more family-friendly activities, and you’re heading to Queenstown, check out our blog about the best things to do in Queenstown with kids!
17. Visit Ruby Island
Ruby Island is one of the beautiful tiny islands located in the middle of Lake Wanaka. To get there, you’ll need a boat – it is an island, after all!
So, this boat cruise and nature walk tour is easily the best option. Jump onboard a luxury catamaran that’ll take you out to Ruby Island. Once there, enjoy a nice leisurely walk, taking in the beautiful views and unique plant life.
The best part about this cruise? It is definitely one of the cheaper activities available in Wanaka at only $50 NZD per person. Although it is just a short, 1-hour tour, it can easily fit into your busy schedule!
18. Drink local craft beer at Rhyme and Reason Brewery
Opening its doors in June of 2017, Rhyme and Reason is the brainchild of beer lovers Jess Wolfgang and Simon Ross. They offer ten taps of their own beers, and sometimes a guest beer may appear behind the bar. If you’re not a beer fan, they also have a wonderful wine list as well as some tasty snacks on offer.
Happy hour is from 4 to 6 pm daily with $1 NZD off all beers. Rhyme and Reason sometimes hosts local food trucks and perhaps best of all, it’s dog-friendly! Their beer garden is pretty awesome too, and you can even book a brewery tour in advance if you want. These tours cost $25 NZD per person and also include plenty of beer samplings!
Rhyme and Reason Brewery is conveniently located at 17 Gordon Road in Wanaka. Of course, there are a few other breweries in Wanaka to check out too, and having a pint makes for a cheap activity (as long as you limit yourself to just one or two!)
They’re open from 12 pm until 8:30 pm (although their closing time can vary a little bit).
Fun Fact: Wanaka has the most breweries per capita of anywhere in New Zealand. Besides Rhyme and Reason, you can check out Ground Up Brewing, b.effect Brewing, and Wanaka Beerworks. Also, there are some great breweries in Queenstown if you’re headed that way – find out where you can drink craft beer in Queenstown!
19. Drink coffee at a local café
There’s not much New Zealand does better than a good coffee, in fact, the flat white (my favorite) was invented in Wellington! I mean, you can even grab an excellent barista-made coffee at most gas stations across New Zealand. Kiwis are indeed very fussy about their coffee.
The Coffee Shack’s focus is on the various different roasts and brews, all prepared expertly by their friendly staff. I seem to visit Ritual Espresso most frequently whilst in Wanaka – it has a lovely outdoor seating area, perfect for people-watching. And lastly, Fedeli Cafe focuses on seasonal and local food, and they use Emporio coffee beans from Wellington.
If you’re a big foodie, then don’t just stop at a coffee, check out the best restaurants in Wanaka too! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
20. Tour a local winery
Rippon is a winery near Wanaka that has a stunning vantage point to enjoy the views with a glass of their famed Pinot Noir. Personally, I love their Gewurztraminer!
Rippon has also been in the same family for generations and was originally a simple farm. But in 1975, Rolfe Mills began experimenting with vines and together with his wife Lois, has grown Rippon into the wonderfully successful winery it is today.
Tastings at the winery remain complimentary and are limited to 4 guests per tasting. At the tasting, you will hear the history of Rippon and their commitment to biodynamic wine growing and sample 4-6 of their wines. You must book your visit on their website in advance.
Rippon is located at 246 Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Rd and is open daily from 1 pm to 5 pm (by appointment only).
Alternatively, you could book this guided Wine and Maori Culture tour. I always love a good wine tour! On this tour, you’ll visit 2-3 wineries near Wanaka and learn all about Maori culture on the way from your friendly guide.
The tour is perfect for those who want to try quite a few wines and not have to worry about driving. And, since it combines Maori culture, it’s like two tours in one!
Although not super “cheap” per se, it is one of the more affordable tours in Wanaka. The tour costs $150 NZD per person, but does include quite a few wine tastings, so you really can’t go wrong! You can book your spot online here.
21. Explore the National Transport and Toy Museum
The National Transport and Toy Museum in Wanaka boasts one of the biggest collections of aircraft, vehicles, and toys in the world. Over 50 years’ worth of collecting means the National Transport and Toy Museum is home to over 600 vehicles, 20 civilian and military aircraft, and a whopping 60,000 toys!
Gerald Rhodes is the proud owner of this very impressive personal collection. He passed away in 2015, but his family continues to run the museum in his memory. Almost all of the toys here were purchased in New Zealand.
A little-known fact is that Gerald Rhodes lived in Christchurch but specifically chose Wanaka as the home for his impressive collection due to the favorable weather there. Low humidity and no sea salt air means his machinery is kept in mint condition in Wanaka.
You can find this impressive museum at 891 Wanaka – Luggate Highway (next to the airport.) It’s open from 8:30 am to 5 pm daily (closed Christmas Day). Adult tickets are priced at $22 NZD, Seniors at $19 NZD, Children (5-18) $6 NZD, and under 5’s are free.
22. Visit Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island
Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island is an uninhabited gem in Lake Wanaka, home to native birds like the endangered Buff Weka! The 11-acre (4.5-hectare) island has been a nature reserve since the 1920s when its last residents left, now attracting outdoor lovers seeking scenic views and serenity.
The only trouble is, since it is an island, you’ll need a boat to get out there!
On this 2-hour tour to Stevensons Island, you’ll explore Lake Wanaka on a luxury catamaran and before stopping at Stevensons Island for a nature walk. Along the way, your friendly guide will tell you stories of the interesting history of the island, including its previous inhabitants.
Also, be sure to get a photo of the lake from the unique vantage point at the summit of the island – it’s so peaceful up there.
Tickets for this experience cost $81 NZD per person, with afternoon tea included in your ticket price! You can check availability for this experience and book your spot online here.
23. Day Trip to Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea is New Zealand’s ninth-largest lake, popular for both fishing and swimming amongst locals. Better yet, it’s only a short 15-minute drive from Wanaka town center!
From the residential area here, you can walk along Timaru River Road to Timaru Creek. Pack a picnic or some beers and enjoy at the picnic area at the end of the trail.
If you want to swim in Lake Hawea, I recommend doing so from The Camp (formerly Lake Hawea Holiday Park). And if you’ve forgotten to bring a picnic, why not sample the yummy food at The Camp Food Truck (open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner)?
For the fisherman (or woman) out there, Lake Hawea is an ideal fishing spot with both salmon and trout to be caught. You can rent a fishing rod from The Camp, although if you don’t have a license, you’ll need to get one of these too. This can be arranged online, with the cheapest option being to get a 1-day license for $37 NZD.
The guys at The Camp can give you all the insider info on where to fish, and if you require a fishing guide, you can hire one here too!
24. Try archery at Crossfire Wanaka
Have you ever tried archery before? Neither had I before visiting Crossfire Wanaka! They run a whole host of fun activities, from archery to rifling and even golf. I had a such blast giving archery a go, and the staff did a great job of showing me how to hold, draw, and shoot with the bow!
Archery is by far one of the best cheap things to do in Wanaka as it costs around $25 NZD per adult. But because of this, Crossfire Wanaka is often busy, and they only have limited lanes for archery. So be sure to book your spot in advance to avoid missing out!
Crossfire Wanaka is located near the airport, about an 8-minute drive from the town center.
25. Day trip to Queenstown
If you’re visiting Wanaka and not taking the time to spend at least a couple of nights in Queenstown, then it’s worth it to visit on a day trip! Sure, Queenstown might be pretty touristic, somewhat expensive, and a busy little town, but there are actually lots of free things to do in Queenstown too!
But besides hiking, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown and back again is a fun road trip in itself. You can stop and try wines in the Gibbston Valley if you take Highway 6, or if you drive the Crown Range, be sure to enjoy the views and visit the Cardrona Hotel (mentioned above.) Then in Queenstown, you can enjoy some cheap activities too!
Related Read: Heading to Glenorchy? Check out all of the free things you can do in Glenorchy!
Other Activities to do While You’re in Wanaka
Keeping an eye on your budget when you travel is a fantastic way to save for those extra special activities that you just can’t miss. As they say, it’s all about balance, and so I’ve included a few unforgettable tours below which aren’t super cheap but are still such fantastic value for money!
- Cardrona Valley Mountain Quad – This tour takes sightseeing to a whole new level as you follow your local guide through winding dirt tracks past lush farmland. You’ll stop to take in the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains of the Cardrona Valley. It’s also only a 2-hour tour, so you will still have a lot of time for other activities.
- Wine and Maori Culture Tour – Wine culture goes a lot deeper than you might think here in Wanaka! On this tour, you’ll get to taste wine right from the land of the indigenous Maori people in Wanaka. This tour is a half-day experience that includes round-trip transport, so you don’t have to worry about driving and can simply enjoy the entire experience as it unfolds.
- Horse Riding Trek – This is the perfect leisurely sightseeing activity that takes you up into the countryside and past historical gold-mining spots! Alongside your friendly local guide, you’ll navigate through cattle farms and across a river and end the day with a free beer from the Cardrona Pub on the way back to base.
- Jet Boat, Hike, and Raft Adventure – This tour is another one for the thrill seekers! It’s a full day of activities including a jet boat and rafting ride on the Matukituki River and a nature trek to take in the beautiful landscapes of Mount Aspiring National Park where you’ll stop for lunch at the base of a glacier! It costs $379 NZD, but it is much more cost-effective than booking these activities separately.
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 below accommodation options:
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 – $$
When I travel, I often like to stay in apartment-style hotels so that I can cook my own meals. The Archway Motels & Chalets offers studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments, as well as two and threebedroom apartments for really reasonable prices! These are great for families or people traveling in groups (I stayed here last time I traveled with friends).
The motel is located only a short drive from town in a peaceful area – talk about holiday bliss! Room rates start at around $200 NZD per night, averaging around $350 NZD in the high season. You can check availability and book your stay online on Booking.com here, on Expedia here, or on Hotels.com here!
Club Wyndham Wanaka – $$$
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, on Hotels.com here, and on Expedia here!
You can also choose from a huge selection of Airbnbs and holiday home rentals in Wanaka. These are typically better for groups or a family traveling together. Or, simply anybody who wants to have their own kitchen!
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!
Related Read: Looking for more ideas? Check out my massive blog about the best things to do in Wanaka!
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
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!
I hope this blog has shown you that you can actually enjoy Wanaka without breaking the bank! With so many free and cheap things to do in Wanaka, I’m sure you’ll be able to keep busy and keep spending down too.
If you liked this blog, then I have many more like it! Browse around to check out all of my other blogs about Wanaka, Queenstown, or even some of the best things to do in the entire area! I’ve also added some other helpful guides below for your convenience.