It’s odd that we’ve travelled all over the world, but really haven’t seen very much of our own backyard, especially not the South Island. So we were so excited to book a family stay-cation to Wanaka this year. It’s a family-friendly winter and summer paradise. Here’s 13 things to do in Wanaka with kids.
We originally timed our stay in Wanaka to coincide with the opening of Cardrona’s ski season. It was a surprisingly warm winter this year though, and right up until the day we arrived, there was almost no snow. But, like magic, as we hopped off the plane in Queenstown, it started snowing!
We booked our accommodation and car rental on Booking.com, and it was super-quick and easy. The car was perfect for families, and it was easy to include roof racks and carseats for the kids and the ski gear. It’s only an hour’s drive from the airport to Wanaka, or 1 hour 20 via Cromwell. So we got there in good time.
Our accommodation at Edgewater Resort Wanaka had everything you need for families. Most accommodation options have a flexible cancellation policy, and this one allowed us to cancel right up until the day before the booking. This was great as it can be unpredictable travelling with kids. We woke in the morning to the most magical dusting of snow, right next to the lake:
Here’s our top 8 things to do with kids in Wanaka in the winter time.
Things to do in Winter in Wanaka with Kids
- Puzzling World
- National Transport and Toy Museum
- Cardrona Alpine Resort
- Hook Wanaka – Lake to Plate
- UnderDog Dog Sledding
- Crossfire Wanaka
- Cinema Paradiso
Puzzling World is a little bit iconic in Wanaka. You’ll see the famous little Leaning Tower of Wanaka in lots of travel brochures and websites, and it is very photogenic! But there’s so much more than that.
We last visited Puzzling World 8 or 9 years ago, and the place has had a full revamp since then. It’s still relatively small as an activity, but the new look and layout makes the place feel larger. Small ‘zones’ have been created in a new area called the Scupltillusion that allows you time to walk around, and interact with the exhibits. The Chindōgu inventions exhibit is especially fun, and the kids loved the crazy perspective phone booth. The new Hall of Following Faces is one part captivating, and one part terrifying.
All the great stuff we remembered was still there. The crazy Tilted House that leaves you feeling off-centre well after you walk out. The hilarious Ames House that uses perspective to grow and shrink you is great fun. And the world-famous maze was perfect with the kids. It was cold (it was lightly snowing when we first arrived), but the sun was out, and the kids practically ran the whole maze!
Other highlights at Puzzling World include the seriously funny Roman ‘baths’ perspective painting outside the toilets, and a new feature where all the tables in the cafe have puzzles on them to play with. Including the maze, you’ll easily spend 2-3 hours at Puzzling World, and it’s worth every cent. 5 stars!
Once the kids discovered there was a toy museum in Wanaka, this made their must-do list. And they weren’t disappointed.
The shop, as you enter, has fun stuff to do for kids, with gumball and coin minting machines, old school amusement park rides, and video games. After that you go into the museum proper, with a fantastic display of cars from the 1920s Austins and Chevrolet’s right through to 1980s Datsuns and Nissans.
Cleverly, the toy museum is integrated into the wings of the car museum. So you can weave back and forth amongst cars and toys, and this makes it really fun for the whole family. The toy exhibits are next-level. From lego and Meccano displays, to old pedal cars and Tri-ang trikes, Barbie and Cabbage Patch dolls, to a huge Star Wars exhibit (with an X-Wing amusement ride!), and DC and Marvel collectibles to, well… marvel at!
Just be warned, not all the amusement park rides were working when we visited, some weren’t even plugged in. And we didn’t find this out until after the kids put their own coins in the slots. Not a situation parents want to deal with while on holiday.
After the main museum building, there are a series of other buildings with different vehicles. A great plane exhibition, and the kids were enthralled with the fire-truck exhibit. The real bonus in this building was the old Air New Zealand Fokker F-27 plane that you could board, complete with old aircraft seats. Super-cool.
While you’re outside, if it’s warm enough, be sure to take the full-sized pedal cars for a blat. We got as far as the carpark and back before Dad’s legs gave up, but it was great fun. And once you’re done, you get to go inside the bar, where there’s a roaring fire, and a bar serving the local craft brewed beer! Another great reason to visit the National Transport and Toy Museum is that they’re currently expanding the brewery to include a full tasting room, with tours of the brewery… one for the Dad’s perhaps.
We’ve mostly only skied on Mt Ruapehu in the North Island, so were super-excited about snowboarding and skiing our first South Island mountain.
We chose Cardrona as it’s away from the crowds in Queenstown, easy to get to, and has great learners and intermediate facilities. We really made the right decision, as there was very little snow in late June, with the intermediate run McDougall’s just opening the day we arrived.
But with two young children, only skiing for the second time, this was ideal, and we certainly weren’t planning on hitting any black diamond runs!
The beginner’s area is long and wide, with a warm inclosed conveyor-lift (magic carpet), just perfect for the kids to warm up. We popped them in ski school for a half-day, and all the instructors were easy-going and made it really fun for the kids. After that, the McDougall’s ‘Chondola’ with some chairs and some gondola’s was perfect for the family to ride up. We could take the kids up in the ease and comfort of the gondola, but when we wanted to sneak in a quick run ourselves, jump on the faster chairlift.
In the shoulder weeks before the school holidays, it was fairly quiet on Cardrona, the cafe drinks were hot and delicious, and it was just a great experience for our new wee shredders.
We really want to get back to Cardrona Alpine Resort when the full mountain is open and try out the Whitestar Express, or even Captains. But, actually, just hanging out on the chill slopes with the kids, and watching them grow in confidence as they link turns, seeing them catch that adrenaline buzz on the downhills… it kind of makes skiing fun all over again! Cardrona, we will be back!
Discovering we could go fishing for salmon in Wanaka without getting wet, riding in a boat, or knowing anything about fishing, was a marvel in itself.
Learning we could then have our fish filleted, smoked, sashimi’d and served on a giant platter 20 minutes later was mind-blowing.
Getting there and realising the restaurant had a roaring fire, amazing staff, great tap beer and mulled wine, and loads of character, was the icing on the cake.
Our 8 year old daughter did have a crisis of confidence after realising we had to kill her fish once she caught it. But, oh my gosh, Hook Wanaka‘s sashimi salmon was totally worth the tears… bless!
This one just speaks for itself really. #ThatWanakaTree is possibly the third most famous tree in New Zealand after Tāne Mahuta, and the ghost of One Tree Hill.
To get to this world-famous-in-New-Zealand willow tree, from town, head down to the lake and turn left, then walk along the lakefront for 10-15 minutes (we were staying at the Edgewater Resort, so was only a 5 minute walk for us).
Get the picture, hash the tag, and bask in your Wanaka Insta-fandom.
What we Missed in Wanaka this Winter
We desperately wanted to try out dog sledding while we were in Wanaka, but we just didn’t have the time unfortunately. Our sister’s family has and the highly recommend it, and the said it is a-mazing!
Get up close, and learn all about these amazing athletic dogs, bred for endurance in Siberia and Alaska. They’re so famous, some have even starred in a Taylor Swift music video!
Then learn how to drive your own team, on a 1.5 hour dog sledding adventure across the Southern Alps back country. Or, choose the ‘basket ride’ tour and have a guide drive while you sit back and enjoy the view.
UnderDog Dog Sled Tours has 5 stars across hundreds of reviews, so is definitely a must-do activity.
Here’s something totally different to do in Wanaka, especially if you have older kids/teens. Crossfire Wanaka has a driving range, mini putt, a rifle range, archery target practice and claybird shooting.
Get a big shot combo and do all 4 activities in the same session.
It’s mostly all under shelter, so this is the perfect activity if the weather gods don’t permit you to get up the mountain. And perfect for beginners, with expert guidance on tap, safety is assured here too. Crossfire Wanaka is just 10 minutes drive from town.
This is another option we’ve included for winter vacations in Wanaka. If the weather gods really throw down, or you just want some chill time with the family, why not take in a movie?
But not just in any old cinema. This is Cinema Paradiso!
A full state of the art boutique theatre ensures the movies will look and sound great. But instead of cinema seats, choose to sit in a comfy couch, or a lazy boy, or even a Morris Minor! And half-way through the film, when you’re starting to feel peckish, how about stopping for intermission for a famous Cinema Paradiso fresh-baked cookie… and a glass of wine!
Things to do in Summer in Wanaka with Kids
We’re really hoping to get down to Wanaka again during the warmer months. The real magic about this adventure playground is that there’s things to do all winter and all summer.
In fact, there’s probably more to do in this awesome wee town when it’s a little warmer.
Our current top list of things to do in the summer months in Wanaka with kids, looks like this:
- Parasailing – this seems like the kid-friendly version of sky diving
- Bike Glendhu – a kid-friendly bike park with trails for all ages
- Kayaking around Mou Waho Island – but travelling there by water taxi!
- Go-karting down Cardrona – just because you can
- Lavender Wanaka Farm – including lavender ice-cream!
Wanaka… we can’t wait to come back!
For more great travel advice, tips and places to go, check out our Family travel section.