Wanaka, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a popular holiday destination on the shore of a blue lake backed by gorgeous mountains. Activities are priced accordingly: $229 for half a day of jetboating, $225 for a lake cruise and nature walk, $425 for a 3-hour photography safari, and the list goes on. (Prices in New Zealand dollars.)

Before you decide that this destination is way too rich for your budget, read on. Below is a list of seven activities you can enjoy for NZ$20 (US$14) or less in Wanaka and surrounding region.

1. Walking and Hiking

Walking is free, and you don’t need a guide to do short hikes around here. You could follow the trail around the edge of the lake (to Eely Point or Beacon Point on the east side, or Roy’s Bay on the west side). If you’re wondering about that leaning tree you see everywhere on prints and artwork, you’ll find it on the western shore of the lake, just a 15-minute walk from town.

For something a little more challenging you could hike the loop trail around Mount Iron (548 meters elevation – 1.5 h) for views over the town and lake as well as the surrounding countryside.

If you have your own transport or don’t mind hitchhiking, you can also make it to the Rob Roy track (one hour’s drive from Wanaka), a trail that slowly climbs to a beautiful viewpoint of the Rob Roy Glacier where you can have a picnic (4 hours return).

Hiking the Rob Roy track (New Zealand)

Hiking the Rob Roy track

Cost: free, or cost of picnic lunch + gas (petrol) for Rob Roy.

2. Kayaking

You can rent a one or two-person kayak from the beach across Ardmore Street starting at $20 for an hour. These are the moulded kayaks that you just sit on and steer with food petals while propelling yourself with the paddle (sea kayaks). They’re super easy to operate and you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the skirt if you ever flip. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Kayaks for rent on Lake Wanaka (New Zealand)

Cost: Single/double kayak: $20/$40 for an hour or $30/$60 for two hours. You can also rent paddle boards starting at $20.

3. Swimming

The waters of Lake Wanaka are fine for swimming and in summer you’ll see people doing just that at the western end of the beach.

Swimming in Wanaka (New Zealand)

Cost: free

4. Lavender Farm

Wanaka Lavender Farm is located four kilometres from town. For $2 you can enjoy 10 acres of lavender fields and display gardens, visit the shop and sample lavender products, or have some herbal tea or lavender ice cream in the Tea Garden. There are even farm animals and garden games to entertain the young (or not so young) ones.

Cost: $2 (free for children below 15)

5. Wine Tasting

The signature grape of the Central Otago region is Pinot Noir, and many wineries are open to the public for tastings, although some do so by appointment only. Rippon is the only winery in the town itself, but if you have a car, you’ll find several more nearby (such as Aitken’s Folly or Maude Wines) and even more in the surrounding areas. Get the Wine Map from the tourist office.

Wine Tasting near Wanaka (New Zealand)

Wine tasting at Maori Point Vineyard not too far from Wanaka

Cost: generally a few dollars and often free if you make a purchase.

6. Puzzling World

“Welcome to Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness” proclaims the tag line of Puzzling World, an attraction located two kilometres north of Lake Wanaka along highway 84. For $20 you get access to the Great Maze (in existence since 1973) and several illusion rooms. A café with puzzles and brain teasers also offers refreshments and lights meals. This could be an option on a day when the weather is uncertain, or if you have kids in tow.

Cost: $16 for the Great Maze or the Illusions Rooms; $20 for both ($14 for children 5-15; free under 5)

7. Movie at Cinema Paradiso

If you happen upon a rainy day, check out Cinema Paradiso on Brownston Street. With two screens showing several new releases every day, it is so popular that they suggest you book ahead! The front rows have airplane seats and couches instead of regular theatre chairs, and there is an intermission when the café sells freshly baked enormous cookies!

Inside CInema Paradiso, Wanaka (New Zealand)

Cost: $15

Of course you can also just sit on the beach and take in the view while eating an ice cream. Although the brochures may lead you to think otherwise, you can have fun in Wanaka without completely blowing your budget.


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