Wanaka is a great place for mountain and water-related outdoor activities in summer and winter. The town is located on the North end of Lake Wanaka and famous for The Wanaka Tree, a tree growing in the water near the shore on the western end of Wanaka’s beach. It is a nice spot for sunset photos. In spring the tree has fresh green leaves and the Southern Alps in the back often are still covered in snow and glow red and pink at sunset. Next to Lake Wanaka lays Lake Hawea, which can be nicely photographed at The Neck, the spot where both lakes nearly touch each other. A visit to Matukituki River Valley is also a must-do when you are in Wanaka. The Valley is the gateway into Mount Aspiring National Park and offers nice views of the mountain landscape with the river. The Valley is accessible by a gravel road, which can be inaccessible (to regular cars) after heavy rainfalls, as you need to cross a few small rivers on the way. The mountains around Wanaka already look great from down below, but exploring them on foot you will gain breathtaking new perspectives. Come with us to the 4 best trails around Wanaka.
The most famous mountain around Wanaka is Roys Peak. The views over Lake Wanaka have become an Instagram hit in recent years. We can’t argue that Mount Roy offers the best views over the lake and provides a breathtaking panorama. You can take the best pictures by one person standing at the edge of the trail with the lake and panorama as a back-drop. Sadly I have heard that often you need to wait in line to get to make such a picture. I would recommend coming here for sunrise or sunset to get even better light and photos and to flee the masses. Be aware that in the spring months from 1. October until 10. November the trail is closed due to the lambing season. The hike to Roys Peak takes about 5 - 6 hours out and back and is easy.
The trail starts at a parking lot on the Wanaka - Mount Aspiring Road. During the day-time in summer the parking lot can be really crowded. From the parking lot the trail is marked and leads over grassland upwards. From the beginning of the trail you will get views over Wanaka and the lake. After about 2 - 3 hours you will reach the ridge of Roys Peak. From there you get the famous views over Lake Wanaka. I recommend to walk up and down the ridge to explore different angles for your photo and find a nice spot for your summit picnic. The way back leads you down the same way.
Rob Roy Glacier
The destination of this hike is the lookout point to Rob Roy Glacier. The trail starts from the parking lot at the end of Matukituki Valley gravel road. As mentioned before the Matujituki River Valley itself is really nice to visit and there are many beautiful photo spots along the road. Also be aware that the road is a gravel road and you might have to pass some small rivers, which can be impassable with a regular car after heavy rainfalls.
The track starts at Rasberry Flat Parking and leads along Matukituki River in the beginning. After a short time you reach a crossing and the trail leads over Matukituki River passing a swing bridge. From here the trail starts getting steeper and winds up through forest area. You hike up along Rob Roy Stream until you reach the Lower Lookout point. There you get a first glimpse of the waterfall and Rob Roy Glacier. For the Upper Lookout point the hike continues through the forest with views on the glacier from time to time. After some more hiking the forest ends and you have nearly reached the trails destination. From the viewpoint you can see the waterfalls of Rob Roy Glacier and the Glacier itself nicely.
For all of you who prefere a less crowded and shorter hike or come to New Zealand when Roys Peak Trail is closed the summit of Rocky Peak is a good alternative. From Rocky Peak you get views over Lake Wanaka and adding to that panoramic views into Matukituki Valley and the Southern Alps. The hike out and back takes only 3 hours and you will also pass Diamond Lake on your way.
The hike starts at the Parking lot of Diamond Lake Recreation Area along the Wanaka Mount Aspiring Road shortly after Glendhu Bay. The trail first leads to Diamond Lake. From Diamond Lake you continue on a steep trail leading up until you reach the viewpoint over Diamond Lake. Now you follow the trail further up in the direction to Rocky Peak. After a short time you leave the forest area and first views over Lake Wanaka open up. On the grassy hillside of Rocky Peak the trail ascends further up. After some time you reach the first plateau with a panoramic view in all directions. Now it is only a short walk to the summit, which you can already see. Rocky Peak is a flat grassy summit with beautiful views over Lake Wanaka and a panorama of the Souther Alps. We did the hike for sunset, which was a really nice experience.
Our second favorite summit around Wanaka after Roys Peak was Isthmus Peak. The summit is nestled between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea and thus you get good views over both lakes from the top. The trailhead starts close to the Neck on the shoreline Road of Lake Hawea. The hike follows a trail along the grassy Hillside of Isthmus Peak through sheep grounds. All along the way you can enjoy views over Lake Hawea. OUt and back it takes about five hours to hike the trail.
From the parking lot you follow the clear visible path over a few fences through grassy sheep meadows. Accompanied by these wooly friends you hike further up. In serpentines the trail leads up to the ridge of Isthmus peak. On the way you can always look back and enjoy the views over Lake Hawea. After about 2 hours you reach a ridge line, from where you can now look down to Lake Wanaka. A broad path leads along the ridge to Isthmus peak, which you can already see from here. After a short last ascend the grassy you arrive at the grassy top of Isthmus peak. At sunset you can watch the sun go down behind the mountain ranges of Lake Wanaka. We had perfect photogenic clouds and a beautiful sunset on our visit, which made it an especially beautiful experience for us.