To be perfectly honest, spending a single day in Wanaka isn’t enough. The chilled-out lakeside hamlet is one of New Zealand’s best towns. Unlike nearby, bustling Queenstown, which hums with travelers, Wanaka exudes a symbiotic feel where locals, visitors, farmers and nature exist in melodic harmony. If, however, you have a limited amount of time to explore the area, here are some tips for how to spend a single day in Wanaka.
Since Franz Josef Glacier and bustling Queenstown are two of the South Island’s best sites. it only makes sense that visitors want to see both while traveling in New Zealand. The problem, however, is that Franz Josef Glacier is a bit too far from Queenstown to do as a day trip. Technically, of course, it’s still possible—but expect to spend almost 10 hours driving to do the journey in a day.
Given the proximity of vineyards to town, one of Marlborough’s most popular activities is wine touring on bicycle. The valleys between the vine-lined hills are beautifully straight and flat, making for casual and easy biking conditions. Over the course of a single day, travelers on a biking wine tour from Blenheim can visit six different Marlborough wineries while enjoying the pastoral scenery. Slowly pedal past rustic farmhouses and expansive vineyards while basking in the sun of one of the driest regions in New Zealand. When you arrive at the tasting room or cellar door, you can also sample the bread and olive oil that many vineyards provide, or grab lunch at a restaurant seated amongst the vines. A benefit of touring Marlborough by bicycle is you work up an appetite while peddling between the vineyards, as well as give your body time to process the tastings.
The Routeburn Track — with its epic views, cascading falls, hidden lakes, ridgeline trails, comfortable huts, glacial valleys and soaring alpine parrots — is a legitimate contender for the title of one of the best hikes on the South Island. Given its popularity, however, the first tip for hiking the Routeburn Track is to make reservations early. Bookings for the peak season of December to March can fill up months in advance, and if you wait too long secure a spot, you could either be left without a bunk entirely or forced to hike the trail in two nights — rather than the recommended three.
During winter in Queenstown, the city itself only gets two days per month of snow falling downtown. What’s more, Queenstown’s elevation is barely a thousand feet above sea level. It’s curious, then, that this South Island resort town is a global magnet for snowboarding and often considered one of the best in the Southern Hemisphere.
Visit Dunedin in the middle of July and you’ll question if it’s still Polynesia. This town, after all, is located on an island that’s part of the “South Pacific,” but the brisk weather and occasional snow make it anything but sunny and tropical. Here on the South Island’s southeastern coast, winter lows from July-August hover just above freezing, and high temperatures generally struggle to break above 50°F. Heavy snow is rare, however—especially along the coast—and a light, coastal band of clouds tend to linger over the shore.