Southern Alps: Wānaka, Lake Hāwea

Wānaka lies southeast of Haast and southwest of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Fox/FJ Glaciers. A spectacular serpentine route of WOW! on State Highways 6, 8 and 80. For perspective…if you drive this route non-stop, the time is about 6 hours. This post covers Wanaka and Lindis Pass.

1) Wānaka – Mount Aspiring National Park Gateway

Wānaka, laid back and welcoming, should be my home…my spring/summer/fall home – (not a fan of winter – although scenery would be incredibly beautiful.)

A resort town smaller and quieter than Queenstown, it is one of NZ’s fastest growing towns (pop, 11,000) stretching into the hills surrounding the town and lake.

The town is situated on Lake Wānaka, New Zealand’s fourth-largest lake surrounded by turquoise lakes and snow-capped mountains. One of the first areas to get snow in June, it has 2 nearby ski fields and it is possible to see the Southern Lights in the winter.

“That Wanaka Tree”

A crooked willow growing just inside the lake is a New Zealand icon. Standing alone with the mountain backdrop, photos are on EVERYBODY’S Facebook and Instagram feeds (mine too) and some of their photos are fantastic! (Google it.)

Waterfall Creek Walk

Beyond “that tree” is a flat walk along Lake Wānaka ending at a wide shingle beach at Waterfall Creek (there is a creek but no waterfall). Along the way, you can help water native plants and do a little weeding.

Rippon Vineyard

From Waterfall Creek you can detour through Rippon Vineyards with vineyard views to the lake and mountains. Prepare to be bedazzled. Rippon is reportedly the world’s most photographed vineyard…easy to see why. Wānaka has several top wineries and vineyards – the main grape variety is pinot noir.


A number of mountains surrounding Wānaka can be climbed and the list of day-walks seems endless.

Diamond Lake. The complete lake track is 3 miles – or a short 25 minute option to Lake Diamond Lookout.

Mount Iron Walk. Fodor’s: “If you have time for only one walk”, do this one. Mt Iron is 787 feet (240 meters) above the lake. Endless views overlooking both lakes and the Southern Alps.

The walk to the top takes 45 minutes (clockwise), going up the relatively smooth western slope and down the eastern side with its steep cliffs and rocky bluffs.

2) Lake Hāwea & Makaroa – Where I Would Live

Very close to Lake Wānaka is Lake Hāwea, in a parallel glacial valley, (population 1,500). What blows your mind is Lake Hāwea Lookout with vistas of expansive Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. To wake up seeing this every day would be glorious.

Check out Hunters Station on the Bay, a beautiful road that circles the bay. At the end of the road there are numerous walks, not to mention fishing, camping, hiking. STUNNING!

Halfway between Wānaka and Haast towards the village of Makarora is Haast Pass. Passing between giant mountain walls and lush forest, you will find two accessible waterfalls and The Blue Pools on the Makarora River (Link: CLICK HERE to view Haast post).

3) Lindis Pass through the Southern Alps

North of Wānaka, hilly and twisty State Highway 8 dramatically crosses a saddle between two massive valleys. This is Lindis Pass, an empty/beautiful grassy landscape almost biblical with impressive mountains. Find two short trails at the carpark.

A most convincing post is from the bloggers “Holiday From Where”. Link: Lindis Pass – New Zealand’s Mosts Beautiful Drive?

What We Missed

This area is known for “BIG HIKES” (e.g. The Routeburn Great Walk), but also full of day hikes. I ran out of time and these three haunt me still. Look ’em up:

  • Isthmus Peak Trail – at “the Neck” between lakes Wānaka and Hāwea. (Maybe not the entire 9 miles…but some altitude)
  • Roy’s Peak – South of town, a full-day’s walk with views across Lake Wānaka and to the peak of Mount Aspiring / Tititea.
  • Lindis Pass – Near the carpark, climb Double Peak Mountain for a long view.


On a picturesque bay on Lake Wānaka is Glendhu Bay Motorpark with traditional Kiwi camping. The park is closest to the entrance of Mt Aspiring National Park, Roys Peak, Diamond Lake, mountain & rock climbing. Heaps of bush walks and longer tramps can all start from here. 400+ campsites plus cabins and dorms.


  • Click Here for Wanaka to Queenstown/Remarkables and Glenorchy
  • Click Here for Milton and Doubtful Sound

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3 thoughts on “Southern Alps: Wānaka, Lake Hāwea

  1. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place. Makes me want to go!

  2. Glennie Bowland August 9, 2021 — 9:01 am

    Stunning is right! Makes me want to go back!

  3. I know you are not a fan of winter, but when you combine water, mountains, vineyards and flowers…you just might want to stay there for a year or two to see the stunning vistas and how they change every 5 minutes! Just saying our experience here! Beautiful photos and blog!

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