The town of Wanaka is found on the southern end of Lake Wanaka, at the mouth of the Clutha River, in the Central Otago region of South Island New Zealand. It is surrounded by mountains and is the gateway to the Mount Aspiring National Park.

Lake Wanaka covers an area of 192km² in total and is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake. It is 300m above sea level and is estimated to be more than 300m deep.

Driving to and from Wanaka

There are only three main roads connecting Wanaka to the rest of the South Island; the Crown Range which connects Wanaka to Queenstown via the village of Cardrona; State Highway 6 which runs down the West Coast through Haast, Hawea, Wanaka and on to Queenstown via Cromwell; and State Highway 8 which heads north towards Tekapo and Christchurch (connecting to Wanaka via SH8a and SH6).

Approximate driving times:

  • 30mins to Cromwell (via SH6 heading south)
  • 1hr to Queenstown (via Crown Range Rd)
  • 2hrs to Haast and the West Coast (via SH6 heading north)
  • 2hrs to Lake Tekapo (via SH8)
  • 4-5hrs to Christchurch (via SH8)

Note that the Crown Range can be restricted in winter time. The road can become very icy and snowy, and may be restricted to 4WDs or 2WDs with chains, and sometimes it can close completely. In this scenario it is best to take SH6 via Cromwell (approximately 1hr 20mins).

Buses to and from Wanaka

Daily bus services connect Wanaka to all major towns and cities within a days drive, including Queenstown, Cromwell, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and Greymouth.

Buses are scheduled multiple times a day to Queenstown and back, but are less frequent heading north to Christchurch and to the West Coast.

Check the following companies for schedules and prices:

Flying to and from Wanaka

Flying to Wanaka is generally done via Quenstown Airport, where domestic routes to all major New Zealand cities are available plus a few international routes to Australia. Read more about flights to and from Queenstown Airport here.

It takes approximately 50mins to drive from Queenstown Airport in Frankton to Wanaka.

Wanaka itself has a small domestic airport (10mins drive), which is limited to charter and scenic flights only.

Hitch Hiking out of Wanaka

Hitch hiking in and out of Wanaka is extremely easy. When hitch hiking to Queenstown, it is best to wait on McDougall Street, at the pull-in bay just after the park. When hitch hiking to the West Coast it is best to wait on the corner of the Albert Town – Lake Hawea Rd (SH6). When hitch hiking north towards Christchurch it is best to wait at the Admore St and Anderson Rd roundabout – we recommend using a sign in this case stating your destination. Snacks for the journey are always appreciated by the driver.

Please note that there can always be risks with hitch hiking. It should always be done with caution. 360queenstown-wanaka takes no responsibility for incidents that could be linked to the advice we provide.