Wanaka is a small town an hour north of Queenstown in New Zealand that has been growing in popularity with visitors over the past few years. Nestled in the Southern Alps with the centre of town seated directly on the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka, it has a lot to offer visitors from world-class canyoning, access to excellent climbing routes, a variety of lake activities such as kayaking and SUP, and superb wineries to explore. The best part about Wanaka though might be the endless amount of hikes available in the surrounding area. Our five favourite hikes will make you want to extend your stay in Wanaka from a few hours to a few days (or more).
Roy’s Peak (pictures in our cover image) is the most popular day hike in Wanaka and becoming one of the most popular in New Zealand, so while it isn’t a hidden gem, it is a must do while you are here. The views are some of the most breathtaking in the world and completely worth the grunt up to the top. The track is a steep, unforgiving incline for most of the journey, and while the incredibly fit locals will you tell you it is an easy jaunt, it is definitely on the challenging side for most people. To help prepare, you’ll want to bring plenty of water (there isn’t any available on the track), a few layers of clothing (even on a good day, the weather can change drastically in a short period of time), and of course don’t forget your camera – the million dollar view is worth the extra weight in your pack.
Full day | Carpark on Mt Aspiring Road | 7 minutes from Wanaka
Rob Roy Glacier
Located in Mount Aspiring National Park, this easy and quick hike is worth the hour drive from Wanaka. While the volatile west coast weather can make a visit to Franz Josef or Fox glaciers a bit of a gamble, the weather is generally more favourable for visiting Rob Roy’s. The track itself is usually busy on a good weather day, but the valley that opens up to the glacier has plenty of space to find a semi-private location to admire the glacier and enjoy your lunch.
Half day | Raspberry Creek carpark, Mt Aspiring Road | 1 hour from Wanaka
Also referred to as “the neck”, you’ll be able to see both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea from the top. A solid half day hike on a moderate incline, this track is often unfortunately skipped by most visitors. Considering you get double the lake views, we think it is worth spending the extra time in the area to explore.
Half day | Isthmus Peak car park on SH6 | 30 minutes from Wanaka
Breast Hill & Pakituhi Hut
The least trodden of the day options listed here, Breast Hill is located on the northern side of Lake Hawea. You will likely encounter few other hikers on your way up the continuously steep track with few spots to rest, but the unforgiving incline is worth having a bit more “privacy” on your journey. You can make the round trip back to the car park in one day, or you can pick up a hut pass at the visitor centre ($NZ5 per person) and spend the night at the Pakituhi Hut so you can catch a quiet sunrise in the valley. The hut is also a common stop for those completing the Te Araroa trail which extends the entire length of New Zealand, and takes an average of three to six months to walk, so pack some extra chocolate to share with these weary trampers, and you’ll be sure to make some quick friends.
Full day to several days | Gladstone Reserve on Timaru River Rd | 45 minutes from Wanaka
Gillespie Pass Circuit
For those looking for something more adventurous, the Gillespie Pass Circuit is a challenging 3-4 day hike located in Mount Aspiring National Park. The track should only be completed by experienced trampers, but it is a truly off the beaten path walk that takes you through some of New Zealand’s most pristine waterfalls, glaciers, temperate rainforests, and alpine views. If you are up for the challenge, but don’t have the backcountry experience, you can book a guided trek with Aspiring Guides who will provide you with a professional guide to help you assess the weather, show you how to navigate the river crossings safely, and take care of your meals and snacks for you.
3-4 days | Town of Makarora | 1 hour from Wanaka
Before setting off any of these hikes, stop by the Mount Aspiring Visitor Centre to verify weather and track conditions, pick up maps and hut passes, and check availability of water on the tracks.