Best 1 Day Summer Road Trip Series: Wanaka

Wānaka - In One Day - Road Trip

Welcome to Charming Wānaka!

A short but incredibly scenic drive north from Queenstown (approx. 1hr20mns), will bring you up and over the stunningly beautiful Crown Range alpine pass to another beautiful lake and township - Wānaka. 

Not quite as populated as Queenstown, Wanaka still holds much of its small community charm with a spectacular mountain & lake scenery combination.  Considered another resort town due to its two ski fields - Cadrona and Treble Cone, it’s a hub for snow sports in the winter and water sports in the summer.  It does however get crazy busy during the high seasons so a little planning will help with things like parking, cafés and restaurants.

Given both the summer and winter activities available, from skiing to kayaking, harbour cruises to mountain carting etc, factoring in an early start may be necessary when planning your day.

When deciding to visit Wānaka on a day trip, there are two main options; a) Visit Wānaka as your day destination, so driving there and back over the Crown Range, or b) a road trip to Wānaka, around to Cromwell and then back via the Kawarau Gorge.   


1. Direct to Wanaka – Day in Wānaka

By Bus: You can get there by bus from one of the following providers; Ritchies, or InterCity, both of which have affordable transfer options and several departures per day.  If you ask in our reception, we can help you with the booking and the timetable! 

Rental Car: If you have a rental car then the route is pretty simple.  Throw Wānaka into your Google Maps or Waze and it’s a pretty much direct route from Queenstown via Cardrona Valley.  Head out of Queenstown on route 6a until you get to Arrow Junction, then turn left onto the Crown Range Road / Cardrona Valley Road all the way into Wanaka.

This option gives you the chance to stop at the highly photographed and must-do Cardrona Valley Pub for either a morning coffee en route or an end-of-the-day beer on your way home. We'd definitely recommend stopping though - it's a historical building with the coolest garden bar!

And how could we forget...  don’t forget to stop for a photo opportunity at the top of the crown range!  The entrance into the parking lot is on your right, at the very top, so be careful crossing the traffic - traffic coming in the other direction has to crest the hill before they can see you! 

Please, drive carefully over the Crown Range.  It is an alpine mountain pass.  Respect the road rules, and drive to the speed limit (not faster and certainly not slower…).  Please maintain your distance and HAVE PATIENCE!  if you are NOT a confident driver used to navigating tight turns on a mountain pass, please reconsider driving yourself, and take the bus – it will make your day way more enjoyable and stress-free!



Parking in Wānaka

Most of Wanaka is ‘Pay by Hour’ parking with a time limit attached.  Make sure you read the signs well.  The easiest, but busiest place to park is on the waterfront – follow your nose, you can’t miss it!  This has mixed parking options from 30 minutes to a full day - which are located a little further out of town.  Otherwise, there is a lot of parking outside of the immediate township, a short stroll in – if you don’t mind walking. 

What to Do in Wānaka

Probably my favourite pastime is to grab either an ice cream from Black Peak Handcrafted Gelats , or a coffee from Kai Whakapai and head over to the lake and sit on the beach. Wānaka has more outdoor and craft shops than high street ones, which makes for a pleasant afternoon of wandering around the streets and alleys and getting a truly unique perspective on the township.

There are, of course, a whole host of other attractions.  The best list can be found on the official Lake Wanaka website.  Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Promenading – around the Lake Wanaka Hike and Bike trail
  • Lunch at Rippon Valley Vineyards (an absolute must-do)
  • Shopping – Stroll through town
  • Puzzle World – for small families
  • Drive out to Glendu Bay –a  great scenic drive
  • Drive out to Albert Town – great scenic drive
  • A walk up Mt Iron


2. Road Trip to Wanaka + Surrounds 

The second of your day trip options involves more of a day spent exploring not only Wanaka but also its surroundings… - This, of course, requires a car.

Suggested tourist route: 

Queenstown / Crown Range / Cardrona Valley / Wanaka / Glendhu Bay and further afield to Mt Aspiring National Park/ back to Wānaka / Albert Town (via Wanaka) / Lake Hawea / Cromwell Old Town/ Queenstown via Kawarau Gorge and Gibbston Valley.

This would be a big day, but you’d see a great amount of Central Otago in the process.  Be prepared for short stops along the way to take those magical photos.    Allow time for a stroll around Wanaka and aim to be leaving Lake Hawea for Queenstown (via Cromwell) by mid to late afternoon so you don’t have to drive the gorge in the dark.




Whichever way you decide to travel, Wānaka is a beautiful place to visit and easy to get to from Spinnaker Bay Executive Apartments in Queenstown.  Just ask any member of our reception team for more information, or help!