Wanaka’s popularity with visitors has soared in recent years mostly because it is so darn beautiful. In fact, Wanaka is one of my favorite towns to visit on the South Island for epic views and stunning mountain landscapes. Wanaka also offers plenty of amazing things to do from gorgeous hikes, excellent restaurants, and plenty of adrenalin-filled activities. It’s safe to say Wanaka should be at the top of your New Zealand bucket list!
Before arriving in Wanaka ready to explore you’ll need to find the perfect place to stay in this small, but bustling mountain town. This task can be difficult with the endless amount of places to stay around town. However, as a local to the area I know Wanaka well and as such, want to help you find the perfect hotel.
In this blog, I detail everything you need to know before deciding where to stay in Wanaka, including the two main areas to choose from, a description of the best things to do in town, as well as 10 different hotels and hostels to suit every budget!
It’s your complete guide to choosing the best area and hotel in Wanaka for your perfect holiday!
Wanaka is one of the most picturesque towns on the South Island (if not the whole of New Zealand). The town sits on the shores of gorgeous Lake Wanaka (home to #thatwanakatree) and surrounded by the Southern Alps. This small town is postcard-perfect. Wanaka has a population of just under 9,000 people but in the busy summer months, the town’s population almost triples in size. The town is not just a ‘pretty face’ though, there is so much to see and do in Wanaka that it’s easy to spend a few days here exploring.
Considering Wanaka’s astounding natural beauty, it’s no surprise that some of the best free things to do in Wanaka involve getting out in nature. Some of the best hikes in Wanaka include Roy’s Peak (a firm photographer’s favorite) and Rob Roy Glacier. Some other fun things to do in Wanaka include paddle-boarding on Lake Wanaka, skydiving, and disc golf. Of course, if you’re after a more chilled vacation there are luxurious spas and wine tasting too. For a wine tasting with a view visit stunningly scenic Rippon Winery on Mount Aspiring Road.
There are lots of restaurants in Wanaka town too (over 30 to be precise), from fine dining to kid-friendly there’s so much choice. Some of my favorites include Ode on Post Office Lane and Big Fig on Ardmore Street. Also worth checking out are the food trucks on Brownston Street. Here Mexican, organic, and southern fried food is served from various food trucks daily. If you love coffee like me then Ritual Espresso on Helwick Street and Soulfood on Ardmore Street are excellent!
Even though most of the accommodation options, restaurants, and bars are in the center of town. There too are some gorgeous properties within driving distance of Wanaka. One of my favorite towns close to Wanaka is the teeny-tiny town of Cardrona, located on the stunning road between Queenstown and Wanaka. Cardrona is home to the famed Cardrona Ski Resort, The Cardrona Hotel (the oldest pub in New Zealand), and ‘Bradrona’ – one of New Zealand’s quirkier attractions.
Best Areas and Hotels in Wanaka
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Wanaka you have two choices: either stay right in central Wanaka town, or stay on the outskirts of town. Below I have described both options in detail along with the pros and cons of each area. I have also listed the absolute best places to stay in each area to make choosing accommodation for your stay in Wanaka super easy!
Wanaka is located just under an hour’s drive from Queenstown and just over 5 hours from Christchurch. Wanaka often compared to its more famous neighbor Queenstown. But in recent years, Wanaka has come on leaps and bounds in its popularity among tourists. In fact, every year the town attracts over 300,000 tourists! It’s been said that its popularity came about due to the power of social media – Wanaka is just so pretty! And with Instagrammer’s favorite attractions like #thatwanakatree and Roy’s Peak in town, it’s only a matter of time before it’s attracting the same amount of tourists as Queenstown.
This picturesque town is especially popular with couples and young families. You’re spoiled for choice for dining options if you stay in central Wanaka with over 30 restaurants in town. There are also numerous tourist souvenir stores, two supermarkets, the super-cute Cinema Paradiso, and a food truck park with several yummy food options. For most visitors staying in central Wanaka will be their most ideal location, I mean, with a stunning lake at your doorstep why wouldn’t it be?!
Pros of staying in central Wanaka:
Staying in downtown Wanaka has many benefits. Travelers choose to stay in this location because of the number of bars, restaurants, and activities that are within walking distance. Within 5 minutes you can be laying on the shores of Lake Wanaka or at one of the best breweries in town. There are also more budget-friendly options in central Wanaka too, with almost all of the hostels located there. Surprisingly, for a busy tourist town, most of the accommodation in central Wanaka offers free parking to guests.
Cons of staying in central Wanaka:
Some of the more luxurious and exclusive properties are a short drive from the center of town. So if you want that type of vacation then central Wanaka may not be the best choice for you. Also, if you want quiet and solitude – central Wanaka can be noisy in the evenings during peak times of the year. If you’re visiting Wanaka to ski – Cardrona ski field is over a 20-minute drive from the center of town, so, Cardrona may be a better option for you.
Where to Stay in Central Wanaka Town:
$$ – Clearbrook Motel and Serviced Apartments: located just 300 meters from the center of Wanaka. Clearbrook Motel is a relaxing oasis, right in the center of town. All apartments here feature a balcony or a patio to admire the stunning mountain views. These self-contained apartments have a laundry area and kitchen – ideal for longer stays or if you want to save some money by eating in. If you’re traveling as part of a group or are a large family you can book the Self Contained Holiday Home, it features 3 bedrooms and sleeps up to 7 guests.
$$$ – Wanaka Luxury Apartments: situated under 1 km from the center of town on Stonebrook Drive, these luxurious self-contained apartments come with a fireplace and either a kitchen or kitchenette. It’s one of the larger properties in Wanaka with 29 apartments. Outside there’s a large outdoor pool, BBQ area, and even a wood-fired pizza oven. The interiors have a ski lodge feel with large fireplaces and cozy but modern decor.
$$ – The Moorings Motel and Apartments: just a 5-minute walk from the town center and located very close to Lake Wanaka. Most rooms have gorgeous mountain views as well as cooking facilities so you can eat in. There is an outdoor BBQ and self-service laundry onsite too. There’s a range of apartments to book here, from a Studio up to a 3-bedroom apartment. The larger apartments feature the luxury of a wood-burning fire.
$ – Wanaka Bakpaka: just a couple of minutes walk along the lake from the center of Wanaka. This budget-friendly option on Lakeside Road has great views over Lake Wanaka. There’s an outside BBQ area, laundry facilities, and a range of room options for every budget. You can choose en-suite private rooms up to a 4-bed dorm room. The rooms here are clean and simple and some have gorgeous lake views.
$ – YHA Wanaka: smack-bang in the middle of town on Brownston Street is the super popular YHA hostel. The YHA boasts a couple of relaxing communal areas and a roaring log fire (perfect for the cold Winter evenings). There are even a pool table and movie room. Plus the staff here are super friendly and helpful. It’s a great option if you’re a solo traveler or looking to socialize with like-minded travelers.
Outskirts of Wanaka
The area surrounding Wanaka is home to many gorgeous and scenic small towns. By staying on the outskirts of Wanaka you’ll get to enjoy what this region is truly about the great outdoors. From the comfort of your hotel, you’ll be able to enjoy views you simply can;t get in town and hear nothing but the sound of nature.
Popular places to spend the night include Lake Hawea and Cardrona. Cardrona is under a 20-minute drive from Wanaka and is home to the popular Cardrona Ski Resort and the Snow Farm – two of the best ski fields in Wanaka. There’s also an award-winning restaurant and even a whiskey distillery. So, you may find you don’t need to venture back into Wanaka in the evenings.
Lake Hawea, a 15-minute drive from Wanaka, is especially gorgeous during the summer. The Lake is the 9th largest in New Zealand and is popular for fishing, kayaking, and swimming. It’s one of the best stops on a road trip to Franz Josef and one I always make time for. There’s also the gorgeous lakeside Lake Hawea Walking Track here as well as a yummy food truck operating out of the Holiday Park. If you want to join a harder trail the Isthmus Peak Track (or “other Roy’s Peak”) also starts nearby.
If you want a relaxing vacation then a stay outside of Wanaka or in Cardrona, Lake Hawea, or one of the other quieter properties listed below. Because a little rest and recovery will be just what the doctor ordered.
Quiet and solitude can be found just outside of Wanaka town and it’s also where you’ll find the best views such as at Lake Hawea Lookout and the Cardrona Valley. On top of that, the quiet air is so addictive and I guarantee you’ll get the much-needed rest you deserve. The more luxurious properties are located here too. So if you’re looking for a romantic getaway one of the below stays will be ideal.
Public transport is limited outside of central Wanaka so a rental car is necessary (read below for more on that.) You will likely need to drive into Wanaka if you want to dine at restaurants as there are very limited options in these towns. Also, worth noting is there’s no large supermarket in Cardrona or Lake Hawea so you will likely need to stock up in Wanaka.
Where to Stay just Outside of Wanaka:
$$ – Wanaka Alpine Lodge: is just under 4km from the town center in Albert Town, it is surrounding by stunning alpine scenery. Set on almost 2 acres, this property boasts 4.5-star boutique rooms. All rooms come with an outdoor patio to enjoy the garden or mountain views (depending on what room type you book). Included in your rate is breakfast as well as freshly baked goods on offer throughout the day. There are complimentary bikes as well to explore the area.
$ – Cardrona Hotel: this hotel is situated in the oldest building (and most photographed) building in New Zealand. It’s located at the end of the Crown Range road – a gorgeous drive connecting Wanaka with Queenstown. You won’t miss this stand-out building! The rooms are cozy and comfortable plus there’s an award-winning restaurant onsite. Rooms available here include a Queen room, a Twin room, and the luxurious Captain’s King room. And did I mention the gorgeous and huge beer garden to enjoy the warm summer evenings? If you stay here in the Winter both Cardrona Ski Resort and the Snow Farm are a short drive away.
$ – Lake Hawea Holiday Park: a typical New Zealand holiday park located on the shores of Lake Hawea. This popular holiday park has been operating since 1971. They offer a range of accommodation options from Lakeside Cabins, larger cottages, camping, and powered sites. There’s even a food truck on-site as well as laundry and kitchen facilities. There’s a small supermarket located in Hawea township – just a short walk away. You can also rent fishing equipment and bikes from reception. If you have kids this is a great option for you!
$$ – The Hidden Spring: is tucked away in a secluded location over 5 km from the center of town. The Hidden Springs is in the tiny town of Albert Town. This property has a gorgeous garden area and all rooms have a patio or terrace area which looks onto it. It’s quite popular with families and the family rooms here are larger than most. The Deluxe Double Room with Bath option has a stunning freestanding bath looking onto a gorgeous view.
$$$ – Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead & Eco Sanctuary: now this is a property for a special occasion. It calls itself a ‘high country homestead’ and is the most luxurious property in Wanaka and one of the most beautiful on the South Island. Just a 20-minute drive from Wanaka the property offers five luxury Suites and a large outdoor pool. The large front lawn has epic views over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. Rooms here aren’t cheap and start from $1500. Meals are included in your rate and are served in the beautiful onsite restaurant. The concierge team can assist you in booking any activities you wish.
There are also TONS of Airbnbs of Bach houses available to choose from. You can browse them all here!
Related read: After Wanaka, why not venture on an epic road trip?! Read my blog about the drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef and all the best places to stop along the way.
Important Things to Consider Before Booking a Place to Stay in Wanaka
Cancellation policies – most of the properties here offer flexible cancellation policies given the current travel climate. However, it is always best to check the cancellation policy before booking. Often the cheapest available rate is non-refundable, so, make sure to check the fine print. If you want to guarantee you get the best price use Booking.com to book your stays. It’s the only platform for hotels I use and if you find your hotel (room, dates, and length of stay must be the same) cheaper at any point after booking they will match it.
Check the reviews – always make sure to check the property reviews on booking sites like Booking.com or HostelWorld. So that you don’t get any unpleasant surprises during your stay. Past guests often praise and complain about the same things so you will soon understand if a property is right for you before booking.
Amenities – if a swimming pool is important to you for example, always check to see if it will be in operation during your stay. Often hotels tend to do maintenance work in the off-season. It’s happened to me in the past and I don’t want you to get caught out the same way.
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 in 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
I’m sure you’ll agree that there are lots of accommodation options in Wanaka. There’s a couple of budget-friendly options as well as some super luxurious stays. So, no matter what type of vacation you’re after – Wanaka will have a hotel or hostel for you. I hope this blog has inspired your wanderlust for Wanaka and its surrounding areas. With so many choices, I’m sure you’ll find the perfect accommodation for you in Wanaka!
Thanks so much for reading! As always it’s been a pleasure to tour you through the region that stole my heart all those years ago. I hope that after reading this guide you have the perfect place to stay for your upcoming trip. If you did, then don’t say goodbye just yet, browse around My Queenstown Diary and check out more of the in-depth guides about Wanaka and NZ that I’ve poured my heart and passion into.
If you do have to go, I hope I’ll see you out on a hiking trail somewhere in NZ or even sipping wine in Queenstown… Happy travels!