Long time local secret, Lake Wanaka - tucked into New Zealand’s grand Southern Alps mountain chain - is developing a reputation as one of the world’s premier year-round destinations.
Already in 2012, the little lakeside town and surrounding region, which includes the country’s fourth largest lake and some of the highest peaks, has gained accolades from two significant North American travel publications.
Outside magazine’s 2012 Travel Awards named Lake Wanaka as the world’s best new adventure hub, while National Geographic has listed the resort town in the world’s top 25 ski towns - the only southern hemisphere town featured in the 2012 list.
Top 25 ski towns
Wanaka shares the top 25 with iconic northern ski resorts such as Aspen (Colorado, USA), Zermatt (Switzerland) and Chamonix (France), and was selected for a winning mix of top skiing and snowboarding, hospitality, amenities, ski heritage and culture.
The region is also famed for its Lord of the Rings Middle-earth landscapes.
Home to many of New Zealand’s elite snow sports athletes - including freeski star and local hero Jossi Wells - Wanaka’s ski facilities range from groomed beginner slopes to adrenalin-pumping steep descents, cross country tracks, and world-class park and pipe facilities.
National Geographic tips Lake Wanaka as a great place for northern hemisphere skiers and snowboarders "who just can’t let go when winter slips way". Meanwhile locals often find themselves rubbing shoulders with international ski pros wintering over on New Zealand slopes.
Easy snow access
Wanaka has a natural advantage in the snow stakes because it receives New Zealand’s most prolific snowfall - more than four metres / 160 inches of snow in an average season. It is also within easy access of six ski areas covering the most varied and extensive terrain in Australasia, and a short flight into the largest heli-skiing region outside North America.
Treble Cone, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Snow Park NZ and cross-country ski area, Snow Farm, are all less than 35 minutes drive from town, and Queenstown’s The Remarkables and Coronet Peak are just an hour away.
Treble Cone has more snow and skiable terrain than any other South Island resort, Snow Park NZ boasts a world-class terrain park, and Cardrona is the family-friendly place to be. Snow Farm is New Zealand's only dedicated cross-country skiing area with 50km of tracks in the Pisa Range.
Cardrona and Snow Park have on-mountain accommodation, and down on the lakeside Wanaka has a host of bars, restaurants, cafés, and a wide variety of accommodation from backpackers to boutique establishments and luxury lodges.
Ultimate ski experience
Off-piste fresh powder skiers and snowboarders can choose between numerous helicopter day trips into the mountains or take a guided ski tour into Black Peak Hut above the Matukituki Valley for the ultimate backcountry experience with Aspiring Guides. This basic little mountainside hut accommodates four or six at a squeeze but the winter landscape is pure white magic.
For the less intrepid, there are also luxury heli-ski packages at Minaret Luxury Tented Lodge, in a remote glacially carved alpine valley, or a mountain-top experience at Whare Kea Chalet - both of which come complete with in-house chef, a high level of comfort and virgin snow as far as the eye can see.
Leading outdoor destination
Away from the snow, Wanaka - gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, and the eastern edge of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area - is fast becoming one of New Zealand’s leading year-round outdoor destinations with hundreds of tracks and trails to walk, run or mountain bike.
There is an endless choice of road cycling, and Sticky Forest - five minutes from town - has more than 20 mountain-bike trails while Lake Wanaka and its rivers are a freshwater paradise for kayaking, sailing, fishing, and swimming.
The region is a popular training venue for some of the world’s leading elite tri-athletes with a high altitude centre at Snow Farm, open water swimming in the lake and uncrowded roads.
New Zealand’s largest triathlon festival Challenge Wanaka is held each February, and the Hawea Epic mountain bike race takes place in April.
Lake Wanaka is also on the Te Araroa / the long pathway trail which travels the length of New Zealand, and includes three of Wanaka’s most scenic tracks - from Lake Hawea, along the Clutha River track and around the western edge of Lake Wanaka before heading into the mountains.
Outside is an influential travel magazine, published in the US, and with an international circulation of over 678,000 active outdoors travellers.
Background: Ski Wanaka
Cardrona Alpine Resort is a 35-minute drive from Wanaka and is a great ski area for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It has on-mountain accommodation and a ski and snowboard school, and great facilities for kids.
Treble Cone is a 35-minute drive from Wanaka and offers a real New Zealand snow experience with long uncrowded slopes, legendary off piste terrain and unrivalled views. And it has the longest vertical rise in the Southern Lakes.
Snow Farm is New Zealand’s only cross-country ski area, and caters for all levels of skier. It includes on-snow accommodation.
Snow Park is a boutique mountain resort that is renowned for its world class terrain park and awe-inspiring views. Snow Park is a 35-minute drive from Wanaka.
Coronet Peak, Queenstown offers exhilarating skiing and riding for all levels. It has a dedicated learner and novice area and is a social and fun venue with regular live music and a range of world class events. Coronet Peak is a 60-minute drive from Wanaka.
The Remarkables, Queenstown is a 60-minute drive from Wanaka and is a great choice for beginners, novices, youth and families. The high alpine location, fantastic terrain parks, great snow and friendly, relaxed nature makes it an alpine experience for all ages.