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Wanaka’s popularity with visitors has soared in recent years, mostly because it is so darn beautiful! In fact, Wanaka has got to be one of my favorite towns to visit on the South Island for epic views and stunning mountain landscapes. Although, as a local I might be a liiiittle biased!
With tons of fun things to do in Wanaka, from gorgeous hikes to excellent restaurants, it’s no wonder that Wanaka is so popular! It’s safe to say that this bustling town should be at the top of your New Zealand bucket list!
That said, no action-packed trip would be complete without finding the perfect place to rest your head at the end of a busy day. Wanaka might be a relatively small town, but believe me when I say that there are endless places to pick from here!
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, so let’s dig in.
Wanaka is one of the most picturesque towns on the South Island (if not the whole of New Zealand), and if you know anything about New Zealand, you’ll know that that’s no easy title to earn!
The town sits on the shores of gorgeous Lake Wanaka (home to #thatwanakatree) and is surrounded by the Southern Alps. With a population of just under 9,000 people, the town’s population almost triples in size during the busy summer months.
Wanaka isn’t just a ‘pretty face’ though, there is so much to see and do here that it’s easy to spend a few days here exploring either as a standalone trip or as part of a bigger road trip.
Considering Wanaka’s next-level 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 walking to Roy’s Peak (a firm photographer’s favorite) and exploring the Rob Roy Glacier.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with tons of other fun tours and activities in Wanaka, like cruising on Lake Wanaka, skydiving, and disc golf. If you’re after a more chilled vacation, Wanaka is also famous for its luxurious spas and wine tasting spots – my personal recommendation would be 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 Tititea Steak House and Big Fig on Ardmore Street.
Also worth checking out are the food trucks on Brownston Street. Here you’ll find Mexican, organic, and southern fried food served from various food trucks daily! If you love coffee like me then Ritual Espresso on Helwick Street is the place to be, and for some awesome Mexican food you can’t get much better than Burrito Craft on Brownston Street.
Even though most of the accommodation options, restaurants, and bars are in the center of town. There are lots of great spots 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.
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. To help you pick, I’ve described both options in detail along with the pros and cons of each area below.
I have also listed the absolute best places to stay in each area to make choosing accommodation super easy!
Wanaka is located just under an hour’s drive from Queenstown and just over 5 hours from Christchurch. Wanaka is 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 that pretty.
And with Instagrammers’ 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.
Here in downtown Wanaka, you’ll find tons of restaurants, numerous tourist souvenir stores, two supermarkets, the super-cute Cinema Paradiso, and a food truck park with several yummy food options. Generally, staying in central Wanaka will be your best bet if you want to be in the middle of the action. 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 tons of benefits! Many people 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 trying a craft beer 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 – the Cardrona ski field is over a 20-minute drive from the center of town, so staying in Cardrona may be a better option for you.
Where to Stay in Central Wanaka
YHA Wanaka – $
Just a couple of minutes walk along the lake from the center of Wanaka, YHA Wanaka definitely packs some impressive views for a budget-friendly hostel! There’s a movie room, laundry facilities, and several other rooms where you can relax and make new friends.
There are plenty of room options available, from 4-bed dorm rooms up to en-suite private. The rooms here are clean and simple, and what more could you ask for when you’re traveling on a budget?
Clearbrook Motel and Serviced Apartments – $$
Located just 300 meters (984 feet) from the center of Wanaka. the Clearbrook Motel is a relaxing oasis right in the center of town. All apartments here also feature a balcony or a patio to admire the stunning mountain views… You don’t even have to leave your accommodation to take some amazing pictures!
These self-contained apartments have a laundry area and kitchen – ideal for longer stays or if you want to save some money by eating in. If you’re traveling as part of a group or are a large family, you can also book the self-contained holiday home, which features 3 bedrooms and sleeps up to 7 guests.
A one-night stay here at the Clearbrook Motel starts from $285 NZD per night. You can check availability, prices, and book Clearbrook Motel online here on Booking.com, here on Expedia, or here on Hotels.com.
The Moorings Motel and Apartments – $$
Just a 5-minute walk from the town center, most of the rooms at The Moorings Motel have gorgeous mountain views as well as cooking facilities so you can eat in. There is also an outdoor BBQ and self-service laundry onsite, super useful whether you’re traveling with family or as a couple!
Starting as low as $252 NZD per night, there’s a range of apartments to book here, from a studio up to a 3-bedroom apartment. As an added bonus, the larger apartments feature a wood-burning fire – how cozy!
Club Wyndham Wanaka – $$$
If you’re visiting Wanaka to relax and spoil yourself, then there’s no question that you should stay at Club Wyndham! This hotel is located right in town only minutes from Lake Wanaka and features an outdoor heated pool with a waterslide, a hot tub, a sauna, and an onsite bar and café. It’s enough to never want to leave!
All rooms come with a kitchenette or full kitchen, a balcony, and many also offer lake views. You can choose between many different room types as well, from the king bed studio which sleeps up to three, all the way to the three-bedroom suite which sleeps up to eight adults!
Wanaka Luxury Apartments – $$$
Last, but definitely not least, we have Wanaka Luxury Apartments, which is situated under 1 km (0.6 mi) from the center of town on Stonebrook Drive. These luxurious self-contained apartments come with a fireplace and either a kitchen or kitchenette, plus some apartments even have a spa bath – talk about pure bliss!
It’s one of the larger properties in Wanaka with 29 apartments. They also have a large outdoor pool, a BBQ area, and even a wood-fired pizza oven. The interiors have a ski lodge feel with large fireplaces and cozy but modern decor. This is my go-to pick if you’re looking for a property that’s quiet but is also super close to town.
Rooms here at Wanaka Luxury Apartments cost around $270 NZD to $400 NZD depending on the season, and it’s always a good idea to book your room in advance for the best deals. You can book your room on Booking.com here, Hotels.com here, and Expedia here.
Outskirts of Wanaka
While staying in the center of town may be best if you’re looking to pack your schedule with restaurant visits and other activities, there are plenty of benefits to staying on the outskirts as well!
The area surrounding Wanaka is home to many gorgeous and scenic small towns, so 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’re keen to join a harder trail, then the Isthmus Peak Track (or the “other Roy’s Peak”) also starts nearby.
If peace and quiet is your number one priority, then I’d suggest staying outside of Wanaka, either 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!
Pros of staying just outside Wanaka
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.
Cons of staying just outside Wanaka
Public transport is limited outside of central Wanaka so renting a car in New Zealand is necessary. We recommend Discover Cars for this. 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 if you fancy cooking at home.
Where to Stay Just Outside of Wanaka
Hawea Hotel – $
Located right next to Lake Hawea, the Hawea Hotel is surrounded by absolutely stunning alpine scenery. It’s also just a 15-minute drive into Wanaka! All rooms here come with lake and mountain views, and you’ll also have access to their on-site restaurant and bar too.
For budget-conscious travelers, there are hostel dorms with shared bathrooms and living spaces detached from the main property, all of which are kept very clean and include all the amenities you can expect from a hostel.
You expect a bed here in a dorm to cost around $78 NZD per night, with a private room costing slightly more, at around $180 NZD per night. You can check availability and book your room online on Booking.com or on HostelWorld.
Cardrona Hotel – $
The Cardrona Hotel is so much more than just a hotel – it’s situated in the oldest building (and most photographed) building in New Zealand! 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 here 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. Rooms here at the Cardrona Hotel are also pretty affordable, starting from around $150 NZD per night. You can book yours here on Booking.com, here on Hotel.com, or here on Expedia.
The Camp – Lake Hawea – $
Operating since 1971, The Camp is a popular holiday park that offers pretty much everything you can expect from a first-rate New Zealand camping site. They have a range of accommodation options, from Lakeside Cabins, larger cottages, camping, and powered sites too. There’s even a food truck on-site as well as laundry and kitchen facilities!
Just a short walk away, you’ll find a small supermarket in the Hawea township, which is great for stocking up on any supplies you might be missing. You can also rent fishing equipment and bikes from reception, a great option whether you have kids or simply fancy spending some time out enjoying the peace and quiet.
The Hidden Spring – $$
Tucked away in a secluded location over 5 km (3.1 mi) from the center of Wanaka, The Hidden Spring is a super cozy retreat that’s situated in the tiny town of Albert Town. This property has a gorgeous garden area and all rooms here have a patio or terrace area which looks out onto it.
It’s quite popular with families and the family rooms here are larger than most. I’ve stayed here before in one of their deluxe double rooms with a bath, and honestly, I can agree with just how awesome that view is!
A one-night stay here at The Hidden Spring starts from around $170 NZD per night, rising to around $200 NZD in high season. For the best deal, I’d suggest reserving your room online in advance on Booking.com.
Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead & Eco Sanctuary – $$$
Now this is a property for a special occasion! Mahu Whenua calls itself a ‘high country homestead’ and is the most luxurious property in Wanaka AND is 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. Now, rooms here aren’t cheap, starting from around $2,300 NZD per night, but what you get is nothing short of next-level luxury. Meals are included in your rate and are served in the beautiful on-site restaurant. The concierge team can also assist you in booking any activities you wish.
There are also TONS of Airbnbs or 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 – While some properties offer flexible cancellation options, 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, I’d highly suggest using Booking.com to book your stays. It’s the only platform for hotels that 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.
Other Things to do in Wanaka
- Cardrona Valley Mountain Quad – Zip up into the mountains on a quad bike! This tour makes sightseeing a little bit more thrilling as you’ll follow your guide through winding dirt tracks past lush farmland. Look to spot sheep and cattle and learn from your local guide about the area! You’ll stop to take in the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains of the Cardrona Valley. It’s only a 2-hour tour so you will still have a lot of time for other activities.
- Wine and Maori Culture 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! Just focus on the wine and beautiful landscapes as you visit the different wineries and enjoy the provided cheese platter.
- Horse Riding Trek – This is the perfect leisurely sightseeing activity that takes you up into the countryside and past historical gold-mining locals for some fabulous views and information from your local guide about this area’s past. 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 for 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 more cost-effective than booking these activities separately.
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’m sure you’ll agree that there are lots of accommodation options in Wanaka. There are 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.
Thanks so much for reading! 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, you can check out more of the in-depth guides about Wanaka and NZ that I’ve poured my heart and passion into. I’ve also included three more I think you’d be interested in below: