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Wanaka Area Guide

Skiing at Cardrona Skifield, Wanaka - ©
The town of Wanaka lies beside the clear blue waters of beautiful Lake Wanaka, the peaks of the southern alps forming a distant backdrop.

The lake is a good place for a holiday at any time of the year, with its warm, dry climate providing excellent boating in the summer, while in winter it is a perfect base for skiing and snowboarding at the nearby ski areas. Once primarily popular for family boating holidays, Wanaka's beautiful setting has become infinitely more desirable in recent years, giving way to greater development around the town, but it remains a small and manageable place, compact enough to walk to most places.

To find out about activities in the area, stop at the lakeside Visitor Centre, which shares a log cabin style building on Ardmore Street with Lakeland Adventures, where you can rent kayaks and dinghies or organise boating and fishing tours. Wanaka has a more relaxed style than its neighbour, Queenstown, but there are adrenaline-fuelled adventures to be had here too, with everything from canyoning and rock climbing, to paragliding and jet boating, skiiing and mountain biking on offer, although just idling around the lake is highly recommended too.

There are good walking tracks around the lake in both directions. Take either the Waterfall Creek Walk west from Wanaka, or follow the shore north to the sheltered bay at Eely Point for a picnic, and on to the Beacon Point Reserve. The 90-minute return walk up to the summit of Mount Iron offers panoramic views of the two lakes, Wanaka and Hawea, and the peaks to the west.

Wanaka's airport, on state highway 6, is the base for a number of aerial activities, including scenic flights over the southern alps and tandem skydiving, and is also home to the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum, which is dedicated to New Zealand combat pilots and the aircraft they flew. Every second Easter (even-numbered years) Wanaka hosts the hugely popular Warbirds over Wanaka air show, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors.

Wanaka lies on the threshold of the Mount Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Area renowned for its magnificent tramping and climbing. Mt Aspiring, named Tititea (the glistening mountain) by the Maori people, can be seen on a clear day from Glendhu Bay, a ten-minute drive from Wanaka. This grand countryside was used in the opening sequence of The Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, to represent the high peaks around Moria.

In wintertime, Wanaka is transformed into a skiers' paradise, close to the downhill ski and snowboarding fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona, and to New Zealand's only commercial cross-country ski area, Waiorau Snow Farm.

From Wanaka, the Crown Range Road, state highway 89, leads through the old gold mining area of the Cardrona Valley, to Queenstown. The road reaches an altitude of 1,120 metres, making it one of New Zealand's highest public roads. It is an easy 26-kilometre drive from Wanaka to the small community of Cardrona, with its historic gold mining hotel, dating from 1863. Just before Cardrona, beside the turnoffs to the ski areas of Cardrona and Waiorau, pause at the sight of the bra fence, once an ordinary farm fence, now bizarrely decorated with a collection of donated women's bras.