Two words came to mind when overlooking Wanaka from Mount Iron: cute and cozy. After a couple of days in Queenstown, buzzing with adrenaline seekers, it felt like we had stepped into another world. We spent our time in Wanaka hiking, puzzling, and watching a movie at the cutest cinema we’ve ever seen.
Here’s some more information on a couple of the best things to do in Wanaka, New Zealand.
Hike to some awesome viewpoints in Wanaka
New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise. There are great hikes to be found throughout the country, including Wanaka. Just an hour west of this cute little town is the Rob Roy Glacier Track. You’ll cross the roaring West Matukituki River over a swing bridge, hike through a beech forest, and end up at a viewpoint where you can admire the Rob Roy Glacier. It’s an exhausting, but beautiful 4 hour return hike.
If you don’t feel like conquering the 30 km unsealed washboard road to the trailhead of the Rob Roy Glacier Track, you can satisfy your hiking needs on the Mount Iron Track. Locals seem to use this 4.5 km loop track for their weekly (or daily, who knows) jog, but you won’t catch me doing this. The track is pretty steep you know, climbing 300 m above Lake Wanaka at a steady rate.
We hiked this loop track in clockwise direction. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the top of Mount Iron, having searched a couple of geocaches on our way up. The 360° views over the surrounding countryside at the summit are awesome! We had an overview of the cozy Wanaka, saw the maze of Puzzling World, and Lake Wanaka, all against a stunning backdrop of mountain ranges: the Pisa Range in the south, and the Southern Alps in the northeast.
Let Puzzling World in Wanaka mess with your head
Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World is one of Wanaka’s rainy day (tourist) attractions for all ages. We bought Puzzling World Combo tickets beforehand on BookMe, paying NZ$16 per person (adult). There are two main areas in Puzzling World: The Great Maze and the Illusion Rooms. You can choose to only visit one of them for NZ$16 per person or go with the combo deal and visit them both for NZ$20. This means we saved NZ$4 per person by booking through BookMe. Score!
Upon entering the Puzzling World building, we received a little folder reading “Welcome to Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness, messing with your mind since 1973”. Inside there’s some information about the different sections in Puzzling World and a small map to navigate through the halls and rooms filled with mind-boggling attractions.
We started our visit with The Great Maze, a multi-level labyrinth. You can choose between The Classic Challenge (average time to complete: 30-60 minutes) and The Difficult Challenge (60-90 minutes). We completed The Difficult Challenge in 45 minutes. Granted, we were working together and I suspect Brecht to have a photographic memory. It was pretty cool and I’m proud to say we didn’t have to make use of the emergency doors throughout the maze “for those with limited patience, time, or energy”.
After acing The Great Maze, we headed to the Illusion Rooms. Our favourites are the Hologram Hall and the Hall of Following Faces, both self-explanatory names. Never thought so many Einsteins would follow my every move. The Ames Illusion Room is pretty cool too, designed to shrink or enlarge its visitors. Last, but not least, the Sculptillusion Gallery is filled with sculptures that’ll blow your mind.
After a couple of hours of mind bending fun, we ended up back where we started: in the Puzzle Centre Gift Shop & Café. We wandered through the souvenir shop and had to brace ourselves or we left with a campervan full of fun and challenging puzzles. We did try some of them for free at the tables in the café.
Before leaving we joined a bunch of Roman soldiers in the toilet and snapped a quick shot with the Leaning Tower of Wanaka outside of the Puzzling World building. We had a great afternoon!
Catch a movie at the unique Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka
A friendly Irish couple we met on our liveaboard dive trip to The Great Barrier Reef recommended catching a movie at Cinema Paradiso when in Wanaka. What a great tip!
Cinema Paradiso is a cute little movie theatre with comfy old sofas and good food before, during or after the movie. We bought tickets for Eye in the Sky (I cried) at the counter in the café for NZ$15 per person. We had a drink and ordered our meal before the movie started. Brecht’s salmon pizza (NZ$22) and my pumpkin and basil ravioli with Italian meatballs (NZ$18) were ready when we came out during the intermission. We didn’t have enough time to finish though, so we asked for a tray to take it back to our comfy sofa. The atmosphere was relaxed and warm, the staff friendly. We had a lovely evening!
We were in Wanaka for only a couple of days, but we had a blast! The small town is cute and cosy in every way: as seen from the top of Mount Iron as well as in Cinema Paradiso. There’s a bunch of things to do in Wanaka, some more popular than others. Can you believe we forgot about Wanaka’s most popular attraction though? We didn’t see That Wanaka Tree!
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