Surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes, Wanaka is a smaller, more laidback version of Queenstown but just as scenic. It has everything its big sister offers – with adventure sports, skiing and great restaurants – minus the big crowds.

There are two ways to get here: it’s about 115km northeast of Queenstown if you drive through the town of Cromwell or 65km if you choose to go via Cardrona. But no matter which route you take, leave plenty of time for detours.

The longer way through Cromwell is flat and surrounded with endless expanses of some of Central Otago’s most scenic vineyards. Stop by at Peregrine, a landmark winery as famous for its award-winning architecture as its pinot noirs and pinot gris. The vast roof of its cellar door, rising above the valley floor like a shard of light, evokes the wings of a gliding peregrine falcon. 

The second way, via Cardrona, takes you through the famous Crown Range. The Crown Range Road is New Zealand’s highest main road, complete with steep ascents, challenging twists and turns and breathtaking mountain and valley views.

Once in Wanaka, refuel at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. It’s the best Italian in the South Island, with a great selection of wood-fired pizzas that includes a changing weekly special: beef carpaccio pizza gets a beautiful lift from salty anchovies and capers. Head chef Alfie Ingham’s beef cheek ragù – braised for six hours and served with handmade potato gnocchi – is fall-apart good.

If you want to spend the night, check into the Lakeside Apartments, with rooms offering magical views of Lake Wanaka. It’s in the middle of the town and also has a ski concierge if you want to hit the slopes of the nearby Treble Cone.

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SEE ALSO: Our full guide to the best of Queenstown



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