Things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, with kids

Wanaka is a city on the South Island of New Zealand. It's small, beautiful, and cozy. It has a lake and a lot of mountains. We visited it with our kids. Click for more!

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Wanaka is a beautiful town near Queenstown. With a stunning clear blue lake (Lake Wanaka), surrounded by mountains, a tree growing inside the lake (*the* Wanaka Tree), and a small town feeling, it’s sure to make anyone fall in love with it. We had 2 weeks there in November 2017 – and here’s our guide to Wanaka, New Zealand, for families with kids

I need to say this because it’s true: it’s a SMALL town. Very small, very residential. Not everyone likes small places, so I thought I’d get this out of the way up front to avoid any problems.

 

 

Wanaka vs Queenstown

I don’t know if you’ve gone through our Southern Lakes region post, but if you have, you know that I’m not a fan of Queenstown. It’s far too touristy and expensive. The lake, even though it’s Wakatipu, the same from Kingstown, feels dirty and smelly there while it’s lovely in Kingston.

So of course, I like Wanaka better. Wanaka is also very touristy and expensive, but it’s not even close to Queenstown levels.

Wanaka is smaller, there aren’t too many options for anything BUT there is everything. If you want to do some grocery shopping, you’ll have one supermarket. There are a few restaurant options, a bookstore, a couple of drug stores. Many hostels. And etcetera.

Even though it is a very tourist oriented place, there are many locals there, so the prices, although high, aren’t as exorbitant as in Queenstown.

If you don't dress accordingly for the weather, you won't enjoy your day and when we travel, that's one important thing to have in mind. Dressing warmly doesn't mean heavy loads, but packing and traveling smart. Click to know more!

Wanaka is stunning all year round. This photo was taken last year when we first saw it. It was really cold, and we had a very short time there, but we knew we had to go back.

Where to stay in Wanaka with kids

We spent our days in this house. It’s a huge house, it can accommodate around 100 people (just kidding, but it can surely have 15 people nicely). It’s a bit far from town, but I enjoyed the exercise. It shouldn’t be so much fun if the weather isn’t nice, or when we were walking home with the groceries, but we liked it. It’s super well equipped and we dealt fine with it. The limited internet was the only ‘problem’ because we couldn’t let the kids watch Netflix or do their online courses, but other than that, fine. And we had the visit of the occasional spider – we don’t mind them much, except when they creep on us while we’re not expecting.

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The Wanaka tree sits in side the lake and it's pretty cool to see that single tree there.

Wanaka being Wanaka: gorgeous. *The* Wanaka tree gets green foliage during summer. I think it loses a bit of the charm, but oh well, pretty anyway.

 

 

Where to eat in Wanaka with kids

We didn’t eat out too much because we were a 30-minute walk away from the town (and the nearest restaurant) and, well, we didn’t have a car for most of our days there so it was easier to cook than to go grab something to eat.

But we still managed to try a few places, of course.

  • BoaBoa is a cheaper option there, with almost no space to eat in. We loved grabbing a fish & chips and having it on the benches in front of the shop. The little sparrows and ducks usually came around to ask for food and we usually tossed them a few pieces of chips and maybe a piece of fish here and there.
  • Doughbin is a pie-shop right next to Boa Boa. We ate there once and it was lovely. A bit full, though. Their pies receive awards every year and they really were good.
  • Patagonia serves chocolate. And desserts. And ice cream. They’re usually very full and the lines take forever but it’s good sweets.
  • Black Peak serves gelatos. Good ones. The store is small and the lines are usually long but it’s good stuff, worth trying once. Or twice.
  • Water Bar is the only dine-in place we visited. The food is good, but I hate that the indoors part of it is full of super loud music (not always, only if you’re lucky like we are) and the outdoors is just full of inconsiderate smoking people. If you go, consider visiting for lunch because dinner options are more limited – I mean, no Caesar salad, really.
  • Spice Room is an Indian restaurant, and we love Indian food. We chose the take away because it’s a small restaurant and we’d just spent the day out so we were pretty dirty and tired – not the best time to take 4 kids to a restaurant. Well, the food is good, it just takes very (VERY) long to be served. They told us 30 minutes but they took around an hour to make ours.
Lake Wanaka is one huge lake and can be seen from all over the town. Here is our guide to Wanaka, New Zealand, for families

Because Wanaka is such a small town, you can see the lake from almost anywhere. How not to love it?

What to do in Wanaka with kids

There isn’t really A LOT to do except for hikes, paragliding, helicopter rides, and water sports. The hikes were a bit too long for us (mostly over 3 hours return or it took us an hour to get to the starting point of the hike, so it wouldn’t be wise to take a 5-year-old to a 2 hour-hike after taking one hour walking to get there. Heli rides would be way too expensive, as well as paragliding, so we didn’t have much left.

But we didn’t let that spoil our days, oh no.
It was summer, so we managed to squeeze a few things in but if it were winter, I think walking. Haha.

Spend time at the lake

Who cares if it’s cold? Lovely crystal clear fresh water – irresistible. We NEEDED to go for a swim.
Trust me, you get used to the cold after a bit – if you keep moving, it’s even best.

I don’t recommend you to swim during winter because, you know, it’s cold and snowy, but during late spring, summer, and early fall, oh, yes, please.

There are little fishes swimming about and *the* Wanaka tree to be explored. Go on and try it. My kids were pretty amazed that the water wouldn’t hurt their eyes (they’re only used to sea water) and had a lot of fun.

The pebbles (it’s mostly rocks and no sand) are a bit painful to get past, but after a few steps in the water, you reach the sandy part and it’s only joy. It’s shallow for a loooooong while, no waves, so it’s great for kids learning to swim.

If you get tired, there are a quite a few playgrounds around, so you could always go play a bit and return to the water when tired.

And then again, if it’s winter, you can try making pebbles bounce on the water – one of my kids’ favorite things to do when there’s water around!

There are plenty of options of fun things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, for families with kids. In Summer, it's a little better. Click for more!

One day, we found a balloon there. Coral (5) played for a long time with it – funny how such a simple thing can bring so much joy… It popped on the grass on the way home…

 

 

Paddle Wanaka

So we’ve wanted to try SUP ever since we were in Canada and just now had the chance (seriously 6 months later). Paddle Wanaka is right in front of the lake, making life easier for people like us, that decide to do stuff in the moment.

We didn’t get them on the first try because the stand-up paddleboards were always rented out, but then at the second time, we got it. And we loved it so much that we had it for 2 hours. We actually only did it standing up for around half-an-hour but we had a lot of fun with the kids on it paddling around. It could’ve been a kayak to do what we did, really, but it was great doing the SUP even for a few moments.

If you want to try SUP, I definitely recommend that you book online before going there – it’s almost always rented out. For kayaking, not so much as their supply is a lot bigger.

They’re there from 8 am to 6 pm. During winter, they only show up if you book, so think about it and bring a wetsuit.

Water sports like SUP are great to practice in Wanaka: the calm waters of the lake offer the perfect starting point for anyone. Click to know more things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, with kids

I thought it’d be harder, but SUP is actually much easier than it looks. The kids managed to do it way quicker than me and they loved it!

Puzzling World

It’s the other thing to do in Wanaka. Think of a trick art museum with a giant maze and some really cool puzzles for people to try.

João (12) has been wanting to visit it since the last time we were in Wanaka and we never really managed to so this time we made an effort. It’s not close to the town, so you’ll need a car to get there (or a taxi, whichever works best – though it is pretty hard to find a cab for 6 there).

We spent around an hour in the Illusion rooms (they’re quite big, actually) and over an hour to get out of the maze. We’re below average – they said most people manage to find their way out in an hour but not us. Haha. João did – though not the rest of the family. Even the toilets are a lot of fun, so try them! – if you have smaller kids, you need to know that all that time is spent walking around in a giant maze, with nothing but walls to look at, so think if they’re not gonna be bored. Coral (5) loved it, but she was quite tired and impatient in the end.
It also has a lot of stairs and bridges, so it’s not suitable for prams or wheelchairs.

In around 2 hours you manage to see everything, but I’d keep another 2 hours to play in the cafeteria and take some cool photos around (including outside).

A family pass costs NZ$ 69 for 4 people in 2017.

Puzzling World is a great place in any season to enjoy in Wanaka. For more things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, for families with kids, click !

This is less than a quarter of the actual maze, but it’s what I was able to get on camera. It’s actually a lot harder than I thought – and fun!

A walk through History

Right on the walkway by the lake, there are tiles with pieces of history written on them. My kids found them fascinating and we often stopped to read them. Fun for kids who read, because even though I was reading them for Coral (5), she didn’t like it.

 

 

Watch the stars

The sky in Wanaka is gorgeous! So may stars, pretty unbelievable. It was summer this time, so it wasn’t dark until after 9 pm – the kids had already gone to bed. During the other seasons of the year, the sun sets a lot earlier and the stars are just as beautiful. It’s worth spending a few moments watching them shine.

I have no photos because we were too busy actually looking at it – we forgot.

Okay, so this is the end of our little guide to Wanaka for families.

Click to know all the things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand, for families with kids.

The sun shone almost every day of our stay there and I couldn’t have been happier. We enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. Wanaka grew even more on our hearts!

Below is our table!

  • City / Country
  • Minimun Stay
  • $ ~ $$$
  • Child-friendlyness
  • Best local transport option
  • Safety
  • Do we recommend it?
  • Wanaka / New Zealand
  • 2 days
  • $$$
  • The town is fine, but the activities are more suited for an older kid – not toddlers and preschoolers
  • Walk or car, depending on what you’re doing
  • SUPER safe
  • YES!

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Fancy a traffic-free place for your holidays? Look no more! Click to know all the things to do in Wanaka (NZ) for families with kids

Even though it was high season, that’s how crowded the streets were. Haha. It’s true, it was taken during our last stay there.

 

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