Wanaka is home to some of the best hikes on the South Island of New Zealand. I myself visit from my hometown of Queenstown to go on tramping (what the Kiwis call hiking) adventures all the time. Seriously, sometimes I think I should just move to Wanaka!
The best part is though, hiking is one of the best free things to do in Wanaka so there are plenty of trails to choose from. In fact, there are too many to do them all. From trails that take you high above the clouds to those along lakes, you’re truly spoilt for choice.
With so many to choose from it’s easier to get to know the best hiking trails. So, in this blog, I’ve managed to narrow it down to the 15 best hikes in Wanaka, and I have to admit, it’s a pretty awesome list! There are plenty of hikes to choose from with everything from short and sweet lakeside strolls to a whopping 4-day hike that follows an old gold miners walking track.
So, get your hiking boots ready and let’s explore Wanaka’s best hikes!
Related read: After all this hiking you’re going to be hungry. Be sure to check out a couple of the best restaurants in Wanaka!
15 Best Hikes in Wanaka
1. Isthmus Peak
- Distance: 16 km return (10 miles)
- Time Needed: 5-7 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Important Information: Trail is closed from 20th November to 20th December for fawning
Isthmus Peak is often compared to the nearby Roys Peak because it has equally impressive 360-degree views of Lake Wanaka as well as Lake Hāwea and the Southern Alps. Like Roy’s Peak, this 16 km track with an over 1000 meter elevation gain is rated as difficult and requires quite the effort and fitness level to complete.
The track starts north of Hawea town and is a 30-minute drive from Wanaka town center and is a popular hike to do on a road trip between Wanaka and Franz Josef. The parking lot which is off the SH6 is your starting point. From here, follow the poles that line the track. T
his first part is one of the most difficult sections. Then, comes the cow and sheep pastures which are relatively flat and easy – just watch out for the cow dung. Finally comes THE most difficult section, the switchbacks, which are ultimately a series of steep inclines to the summit.
After this is what are known as the “false peaks”. A lot of locals will mention the “false peaks” on this hike are a killer – because it looks like you’re at the end but alas you’re not! After these, you’re almost at the end and you must climb over rocks to the skyline ridge. This climb to the ridge is quite steep.
At the ridge, you will spot a sign for the Isthmus Peak Track. Be aware that the descent down can be hard on your knees due to the steep nature of the track. I always take hiking poles for this trail!
Worth noting – you can mountain bike these tracks but on many sections you will have to dismount and push your bike.
2. Roy’s Peak
- Distance: 16 km return (10 miles)
- Time Needed: 5-6 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Important Information: the track is closed for lambing from 1 October – 10 November each year.
Roys Peak Track is one of the most popular things to do in Wanaka thanks to the power of social media – the views from the top of Roy’s Peak are pretty much picture perfect! In fact, many consider it to be one of the best places to visit on the entire South Island.
This 16-kilometer track has a 1,300-meter elevation gain and is considered hard. The trailhead is located just 6 kilometers from Wanaka township and starts from the Roy’s Peak parking lot on Mount Aspiring Road.
The first section of the track is steep and winding and leads through a farmer’s paddock. From here you’ll need to climb over a fence (there is a ladder) into the national park and continue again uphill via switchbacks through wild tussock until you reach the famous Roys Peak photo spot. The views from this false peak of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring are so spectacular that you can expect to queue for a photograph – seriously!
Afterwards, its another 30 minute walk to the real summit which is often uncrowded due to the amount of people at the famous viewpoint. I love having a bite to eat here as you are so high above Lake Wanaka.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks with you, as there’s no shop or cafe at the summit or on the way up. This is a day hike in Wanaka so, there are no overnight huts or camping on Roys Peak. If you are doing this hike in winter make sure to take crampons with you as it can get very icy.
3. Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track
- Distance: Diamond Lake Circut 2.5 km (1.6 miles) / Diamond Lake Lookout 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) / Lake Wanaka Lookout 5 km (3.1 miles) / Rocky Mountain Summit Track 7 km (4.3 miles)
- Time Needed: Between 2 to 3 hours
- Difficulty: Easy/moderate
A 20-minute drive out of Wanaka will take you to the beautiful Diamond Lake. There are actually a few hiking trails at Diamond Lake that start from here including a short walk around Diamond Lake, to Diamond Lake Lookout, Lake Wanaka Lookout, and the Rocky Mountain Summit Track. All of the trails begin from the parking lot and can be hiked on the same trip as they all link up.
From the parking lot, walk down the trail where you’ll be met with Diamond Lake. Here you can choose to walk around the lake or continue on to the other trails. The other three hikes start from the set of stairs and once on this trail, head to your right and follow the signage. The first 15 minutes is up a steep winding track to the Diamond Lake Lookout which offers stunning views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and of course Diamond Lake just below.
Next, you can continue on to Lake Wanaka Lookout via a short detour. Here you can look over Lake Wanaka (pictured above.) Finally, you can head for the summit on the Rocky Mountain Summit Track. This trail is the hardest and has a hefty elevation gain to the top. After heavy rain, it can get quite slippery and muddy so don’t wear your nicest shoes.
The distances of each trail labeled above are totals so you can actually visit all the viewpoints on the larger 7-kilometer walk (don’t add the distances together.) You can see all the viewpoints in around 3 hours at a slow pace.
Related read: Heading to Queenstown? Check out all the best road trip stops between Wanaka and Queenstown!
4. Grandview Mountain Track
- Distance: 18km return (11.2 miles)
- Time Needed: 5-7 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Important Information: The track is closed for lambing from 26 September – 21 November
The Grandview Mountain Track has spectacular views over the vast Grandview Range. The track starts 6 km east of Hawea township, approximately 30 minutes from Wanaka. It’s considered a hard hiking trail due to its steep nature – you will be hiking up and down over 1,000 meters!
The track itself is mostly on a farm road so it’s a nice gravel surface to walk along. You can also mountain bike this track. You will pass by a couple of beech forests on your way to the station at 1260 meters, then, it’s the final slog to the Grandview Mountain summit. From here take in your awe-inspiring surroundings including Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka, and Mount Aspiring.
Continue on the Grandview Ridge Track for a much longer hike. This track drops into Grandview Creek and into the conservation area. There’s a hut 13 km along this track.
From the summit, it’s a further 13km to the Pakituhi Hut on the Grandview Ridge Track. Situated at 1260m, staying in the hut is the best way to adapt to the steep altitude gain. After spending the night here it’s a steep descent to Lake Hawea via the Breast Hill Track. The hut costs $5 per adult and $2.50 for youths aged 11-17, children under 10 are free. Make sure to book in advance as there are only 8 bunks within. You can book via the Mt Aspiring National Park Office.
5. Brewster Hut
- Distance: 10 km return (6.2 miles)
- Time Needed: 3-4 hours up and 2-3 hours down
- Difficulty: Hard/technical
- Important Information: This trail involves a river crossing and bookings are required at the hut
This famous track begins at Fantail Falls, which is over an hour from Wanaka and is located within Mount Aspiring National Park. It’s one of my favorite stops between Queenstown and Franz Josef.
The trail to the Brewster Hut is somewhat technical and involves crossing over the stunning Haast River, so be aware that if the water levels are too high you may have to turn back (they rarely are in summer!) After the river crossing at the start, it’s a steep climb to the hut that involves some scrambling. This trail is short, but it’s considered hard and technical because of the terrain so come prepared.
The walk to Brewster Hut can be done on a day hike, however, it’s more popular to book a night at the Brewster Hut. The 12-bunk Brewster Hut off the ridge to the right is one of the most beautiful mountain huts in New Zealand. Bookings are required and the price is $20 NZD per adult and $10 per youth (11-17 years). You can book Brewster Hut online on the DOC website.
If you plan on doing this overnight track then plan ahead as it’s very popular. If you do complete it then you’ll be rewarded with one of the most epic experiences in New Zealand.
6. Rob Roy Glacier Track
- Distance: 10 km (6.2 miles)
- Time Needed: 4 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
Rob Roy Glacier Track is a relatively easy hike a 2-hour drive from Wanaka. The popularity of this hike lies in the chance to see active glaciers. The track starts at Raspberry Creek parking lot 54 km from Wanaka on Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road. Be sure to check weather conditions before you leave as the last section of the road into the parking lot can be prone to flooding.
The track, as one of the best things to do in Mount Aspiring National Park, is truly stunning with highlights including glaciers, waterfalls, and the surrounding mountain peaks. A picture-perfect scene! From the viewpoint at the end, you can listen for avalanches and other signs of movement within the Rob Roy Glacier.
This is a relatively easy hike, with a gradual incline towards the glacier viewpoint. Worth noting is that, unlike the Roy’s Peak Track, this hike has lots to see along the hike itself – so, be prepared to stop and take photos constantly.
For the first 2 km or so you are walking along the river valley which is mostly flat. Then you will reach a signpost for the Rob Roy Glacier Track, cross the swing bridge, and after about an hour you will reach the Lower Lookout viewpoint. You may choose to continue uphill to the Upper Lookout. however, be sure to check for any avalanche warning signs at the bottom before you ascend.
This is easily one of the best short hikes in Wanaka that’s often missed due to its location outside of Wanaka.
7. The Motatapu Track
- Distance: 34 km one way
- Time Needed: 3 – 4 days
- Difficulty: Hard
The Motatapu Track is a historic track that once linked Wanaka with Arrowtown. It’s a testing track with challenging terrain and several steep slides. The track starts from the Fern Burn parking lot which is past Glendhu Bay and at the end of Motatapu Road (a 20-minute drive from Wanaka.) It’s best to divide this hike into 4 days, see my detailed breakdown below:
(Day 1) Fern Burn car park to Fern Burn Hut (7 KM) – a gently winding track at the beginning that follows through grassy flatlands and then climbs into the trees. From here you will notice the track starts to narrow and waterfalls feature heavily in this section. Towards the end, the track enters the Stack Conservation Area briefly. Follow the bush edge to the tussocks uphill and here is where you will find the 12-bunk Fern Burn Hut. A fee of $5 per adult and $2.50 for youths aged 11-17 is payable into the honesty box here (or get backcountry passes before you go.) Children under 10 are free. Worth noting this hut operates on first-come-first-serve but it’s rarely busy.
(Day 2) Fern Burn Hut to Highland Creek Hut (6 KM) – this day will be a lot tougher on the legs. The track leads through tussock country to Jack Hall’s Saddle at 1,275-meters. From here it’s a steep downhill hike to the creek bed, cross two ridges leading to Highland Creek Hut. This is a 12-bunk hut and operates on a first-come-first-served basis also. A fee of $5 per adult and $2.50 for youths aged 11-17 is payable into the honesty box here. Children under 10 are free.
(Day 3) Highland Creek Hut to Roses Hut (11 KM) – the longest day in terms of the distance you will cover. First things first cross Highland Creek to the marked track which climbs over a creek to a spur. The track continues uphill along this spur where you will witness gorgeous views across the Motatapu Valley. From here, the track quickly descends into a small gully and across a creek by following a narrow section of forest. It then climbs to a ridge off Knuckle Peak, which you will follow to the Motatapu River. Cross the wide flats to the 12-bunk Roses Hut. Same as the other huts in this track and adult costs $5 and it is first-come-first-served.
(Day 4) Roses Hut to Arrowtown (25 KM) – the track crosses a small creek and onto the old pack track that climbs the main ridge above Roses Saddle. In between the Motatapu and Arrow catchments, the ridge descends down to the Arrow River. If the river level allows you can follow the river into Macetown – this is quicker and passes historic gold mining-era buildings. If the river is too high you will need to take the track above the river which joins an old water race into Macetown.
*NOTE you may choose to break this down into two days and spend the night at Macetown Campsite, which has 36 non-powered tent sites.
From Macetown, a 15 km 4WD road winds its way to Arrowtown. In good conditions, the numerous river crossings can be crossed carefully by hikers. If the river is too high then unfortunately you can’t cross and will need to turn around to take the Big Hill Track (one of the best things to do in Arrowtown) which begins 20 minutes from Macetown. It’s a steep track climbing above 1000 m but it has gorgeous views across the Wakatipu Basin.
Its an adventure to say the least!
8. Lakeshore walk to #thatwanakatree
- Distance: 2 km (1.2 miles)
- Time Needed: 40 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
#thatwanakatree a tree so famous it has its own hashtag. It is located a short walk from Wanaka town center, simply follow the lakefront track to the left towards Roy’s Bay. It’s a short 20 minutes from the town center to reach the famous tree. Just look out for the crowds gathered on the edge of the lake and you’ve likely found it.
It’s a flat and easy walk so is suitable for all ages.
9. Sawyer Burn Track
- Distance: 2.5 km (1.6 miles)
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Difficulty: Modorate
This hike boasts excellent views of Lake Hawea and the surrounding mountains. To get on the Sawyer Burn Track you must first walk the Kidds Bush Nature Walk which starts from the parking lot to the right of ‘The Neck’. To get to this car park, turn off the SH6 onto Meads Road after Hawea township, the car park is 6 km along this road. It’s just over a 30-minute drive from Wanaka.
The first part of the Sawyer Burn Track is wide and easy and then the track zigzags uphill up through the forest to the bushline and across to the Sawyer Burn Hut. As you ascent, you will notice the views become better and better. Expect to spot Isthmus Peak, Mt Burke, and Wanaka basin on your climb.
The basic Sawyer Burn Hut has only 2 bunks (no mattresses) and is first-come-first-served. It is free to stay here. Since the trail is so short, you don’t have to stay the night in the hut and instead tackle this as a day hike from Wanaka.
10. Liverpool Track
- Distance: 15 km one way (9.3 miles)
- Time Needed: about 6 hours each way
- Difficulty: Hard
Without a doubt, one of my favourite huts near Wanaka is Liverpool Hut. To reach the hut, walk the Liverpool Track which begins at Raspberry Creek parking lot just under a 2-hour drive from Wanaka township (same place as Rob Roy Glacier Track.) Follow the Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road West for 54 km to reach the parking lot.
The beginning of the track follows the West Matukituki Track to Pearl Flat. From Pearl Flat, cross the swing bridge. Then, it’s a steep uphill climb to Liverpool Hut (at 1100 meters). Once past the bush line, the track starts across the exposed shingle, rock, and tussock terrain before bearing left up an easier tussock slope to reach a knoll overlooking the hut.
Liverpool Hut needs to be booked in advance when booking in the busier months (1 December – 30 April). Adults cost $20 NZD and youths $10 per night. It can be booked via the Department of Conservation website. Get in early otherwise the hut will likely be fully booked and this trail is far too long to do in one day.
11. Mount Iron Track
- Distance: 4.5 km (2.8 miles)
- Time Needed: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
Looking for a cool trail you can walk from Wanaka town? Then the Mt Iron Track is a perfect choice. This short loop track takes only 90-minutes to complete and is just over 2km from Wanaka town center each way. This is a must-do hike in Wanaka.
Mount Iron itself rises 250 meters above Wanaka township and has awesome 360-degree views of the Southern Alps, Lake Wanaka, and the Pisa Range. The track begins from the Mount Iron car park off SH84, from here take the left fork and climb uphill on the western side to the summit. It’s a fairly steep climb up a rocky knoll to the summit so appropriate footwear is a must. The hike down will take you to the eastern side of Mt Iron so you get to see two different sides to Mt Iron.
Despite it being an uphill climb, it is still considered a relatively easy hike and is suitable for all levels of hiking ability. If you plan on walking from town, I’d allow an extra 30 minutes to get to and from the trailhead.
12. Waterfall Creek Track
- Distance: 2.5 km (1.6 miles)
- Time Needed: 1 hour
- Difficulty: Easy
Starting at the West End of Roy’s Bay (near #thatwanakatree) this is a very easy lakeside track that passes famous sights like the aforementioned #thatwanakatree and Rippon Winery. Waterfall Creek Track is walking distance from Wanaka township to the starting point at Roy’s Bay – just follow the lakeside track towards the Wanaka tree.
Your first stop once setting off from Roy’s Bay should be Wanaka Station Park. This is the perfect spot for a picnic! The track follows Lake Wanaka’s western shores until you reach #thatwanakatree. The track passes Rippon Vineyard and finally to Waterfall Creek which has great views of Ruby Island.
It’s a very easy track and is stroller and bike-friendly.
Extend your walk or bike ride and continue on the Glendhu Bay Track (which I mention below!)
Related read: Heading to Mount Cook after Wanaka? Check out all the best stops on a road trip from Wanaka to Mount Cook. Once there, be sure to check out all the best hikes in Mount Cook too!
13. Eely Point Track
- Distance: up to 1 km (0.6 miles)
- Time Needed: approx. 30 minutes return
- Difficulty: Easy
This next hike in Wanaka is easily the shortest and easiest trail to undertake. The Eely Point Track is located in Eely Point Reserve a short walk from town. To get here from Wanaka, follow the lake past the Marina until you reach the signposted Eely Point. It will take you about 20 minutes each way and is a very flat, very easy walk that’s well signposted from Wanaka township.
Once in Ealy Point Reserve, you can follow the Eely Point Track which only takes around 30 minutes to enjoy at a slow pace. Eely Point is popular with kayakers, jet skiers, and paddle boarders enjoying the calm waters. Be sure to pack a picnic for this walk as there are some gorgeous picnic benches to sit and take in the scenery once you reach Eely Point.
A further 5 minutes walk from Eely Point will get you to Bremner Bay, a popular local swimming spot. After, you can actually continue walking all the way to Beacon Point (pictured above). I love this small beach area and the stroll through the reserve and along the lake is beautiful.
14. Glendhu Bay Track
- Distance: 15 km (9.3 miles)
- Time Needed: 3-4 hours each way
- Difficulty: Moderate
Glendhu Bay Track is a well-trodden and popular walking track that follows Lake Wanaka’s shoreline. Start the track at Ruby Island Road parking lot, just a 7-minute drive from Wanaka township.
It’s considered a moderate hike – it is mostly a flat easy walk but there are some steep uphill climbs.
When you get to Waterfall Creek the track follows the terraces above Lake Wanaka and heads down to a little beach called Damper Bay – which is very popular with locals in the summer. This first section of the track mostly uphill with several short but steep climbs. You can walk down to Damper Bay if you wish and go for a refreshing swim which I highly recommend. From Damper Bay (and after your swim) you will find the track becomes easier up to Glendhu Bay. There are spectacular views of Mount Aspiring here at Glendhu Bay so be sure to take some photos!
Worth noting is that mountain biking is permitted on this track, so, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for cyclists.
15. West Matukituki Track to Mt Aspring Hut
- Distance: 18 km (11.1 miles)
- Time Needed: 2 hours 30 minutes each way
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Important information: Aspiring Hut will be closed for an unknown time up to June 2022.
As one of the shorter overnight hikes, the West Matukituki Track to Aspiring Hut is a popular choice. This track also starts from the Raspberry Creek parking lot on Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road.
The walk to Aspiring Hut is relatively easy and mainly takes you via the river flats. There are easily negotiated small bluffs that you must cross but it offers great views up and down the Matukituki Valley.
On your walk keep an eye or an ear out for paradise ducks, harrier hawks, skylarks, among other birds. Because this track is quite open to the elements make sure to layer up and bring wet weather gear (even in the Summer). The weather can change very quickly in these parts.
The historic Cascade Hut (you can’t stay here) can be seen from the last bluff and Aspiring Hut is twenty minutes beyond this. You can choose to stay the night at the 29-bed Aspiring Hut but it must be booked in advance. An adult is $40 or if you’re an NZ Alpine Club Member it’s $20. You can book online at (West Matukituki Track to Mt Aspiring Hut.
Overall its one of the easiest and best overnight hikes for those looking for a relatively easy hike near Wanaka.
Related read: If you love hiking then be sure to head over to Queenstown as well as Milford Sound. There are some amazing hikes in Queenstown as well as stunning hikes in Milford Sound that you can read about in my blogs!
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 – This is the perfect budget option for anybody looking to save a few dollars. Although really comfortable, clean, and offering incredible views, Hawea Hotel is super affordable with budget dorms rooms as well as double rooms and family rooms. It is likely the best value for money hotel in Wanaka!
Manuka Crescent Motel – When I travel, I often like to stay in apartment-style hotels so that I can cook my own meals. Manuka Crescent Motel offers studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments, as well as two-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 a only short drive from town in a peaceful area.
Ramada Resort by Wyndham – If you’re visiting Wanaka to relax and spoil yourself, then there’s no question that you should stay at the Ramada Resort! This hotel is located right in town only minutes from Lake Wanaka and features an outdoor heat pool, waterslide, hot tub, sauna, and an onsite bar and restaurant! All rooms come with a kitchenette or full kitchen, and many offer lake views!
You can also choose from a huge selection of Airbnbs and bach 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 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 book 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.
- 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! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
In my opinion, there’s no better place in the world to get outdoors and hike than Wanaka. Those were 15 of the best hikes in Wanaka and I hope you’ll get out and explore at least one of them!
Thanks so much for reading! I really hope this guide has helped plan your hiking adventures and made choosing a little bit easier. If it has, then be sure to browse around more as I have lots more detailed blogs to help plan your trip around New Zealand including hiking guides, road trip guides, and blogs on Queenstown, Wanaka, and more!