Excavated by massive glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, Lake Wanaka covers an area of 192km² and is just over 43kms long.

The town was originally settled during the gold rush of the 19th century however early Otago Māori used the local passes here to reach the greenstone (pounamu) on the West Coast and had numerous camping sites on shores of the lake. It is unknown how far back the Māori history goes, however it is know that a Māori war party from the north destroyed the early settlements in 1836. In Māori, the area was originally named “Oanaka”, which means “place of Anaka” – Anaka being the name of an early Maori chief in the region.

The first European to reach the lake was Nathaniel Chalmers in 1853, who walked from Tuturau in Southland to Wanaka via the Kawarau River and returned by raft down the Clutha River, and was guided by another local Māori Chief. The area was surveyed not long after, in 1863. Over the following few decades Europeans began to settle in the area that become known as Pembroke. These Upper Clutha River area residents operated sheep stations and worked in timber production.

Eventually, the high-country farming community of Pembroke gained its current name, Wanaka, in the year of 1940 – paying tribute to the original Māori settlers over a hundred years prior.

These days Wanaka is a tourist town fist and foremost, however there is still a strong high-country farming industry. The population is upwards of 7,000 now and it is growing rapidly. Between 2005 and 2015 the population increased by 50%, and every year more people are gravitating to the well-known lifestyle reserve.