There’s more to Wānaka than natural beauty. Sure, the mountains are spectacular, and yes, they do wrap the place in a mighty presence. But this growing town has got character in spades – if you know where to look. Namely, that’s in the form of well-loved, well-frequented local places where Wānaka folk gather to eat, drink, work and shop.
Wānaka is a seasonal place, especially compared to the more temperate north of New Zealand. This means after the snow melts and the skis are put away, the town erupts in green and the long days invite exploration. For when you’re not scurrying off into the hills, here’s a list of some local haunts to check out.
On Anderson Road, The Good Spot is a sweet blue caravan – and a community hub. As well as locally roasted beans by Venus Coffee Roasters, they serve baking like steaming scones and caramel slices. Owner Polly Withers and her staff tend to know everyone by name, and if you come back you can expect the same treatment.
Meanwhile, Scroggin is the ideal place to stay a while. Inspired by owner Lucy Conway’s passion for quality coffee and time in the mountains, the cafe is a tasteful, wood-lined ode to the back-country hut. The food is far from camping fare, though, with a seasonal menu that’s detailed and inventive. Order scrambled tofu on toast with greens and walnut-date butter, or the classic “one-hander” milk bun with bacon or sausage, egg, cheddar and sauce. With a fireplace and views out to the mountains, it’s the perfect spot to fuel up, pull out a map and plan a mission, or bask in the afterglow of a full belly.
For those with their laptop handy and a bit of work to do, pop into the co-working space General Service. With its light, airy interiors and topnotch facilities, it’s a relaxed, welcoming and creatively charged environment to get stuck into some mahi.
The team at Freshlink Grocer is on a mission to sell groceries with the lowest impact. That means their veggies are locally sourced and organic wherever possible, and they have a huge refill section with everything from grains and locally roasted coffee to laundry liquid and fresh bread. There are even three different types of olive oil to fill your jars with (if you don’t have any jars, they’ll sort you out). Jesse Herbert, the ever-passionate owner, is also something of a local legend.
Having opened last year, Paloma serves tasty Mexican food with a side of cool decor. Try a taco filled with beef cheek birria or adobo cauliflower, and a cocktail such as the Dragonfruit Margarita. There’s a woodfired oven, the team sources the corn for its house-made tortillas from Hawke’s Bay, and even the tortilla press has a name (it’s Tony, by the way). If you like what you taste, head along to Kika or Arc down the road, Wānaka’s higher-end options by the same owners.
Concept store Revology celebrates circular design and sustainability, and its owners Monique Kelly and Alex Guichard live and breathe these philosophies. Wander through the light wood and concrete space for a leisurely browse and you’ll find sustainable homewares, bags made from bicycle inner tubes, a small but thoughtful book collection and a refillable tea wall. There are also originals – such as the eco Revology Chair – by Guichard, who is a product designer at the couple’s in-house studio.
Jenny Ainge and Sally Battson opened their independent bookstore The Next Chapter in October 2020, and it quickly became a beloved Wānaka gem. With its charming red and white awnings, the tiny container is next door to Cinema Paradiso and is stacked with a carefully curated selection of New Zealand and international titles, from rare novels to fat coffee-table volumes. If you’re visiting from out of town, leave some space in your suitcase.
The wild spaces around Wānaka are riddled with hiking tracks, but the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain walks include some of the easier half-day options. Spring and summer are the perfect seasons to go (the tracks can get icy during winter). You can choose a shorter 45-minute or one-hour loop trail to Diamond Lake, or the three-hour-return Rocky Mountain Summit Track. You’ll get a nature fix with enough elevation to be rewarded on the way with sweeping lake views out to Mount Aspiring National Park. And, if you head off in the morning, you’ll be back in town for lunch. The track starts 18.5 kilometres west of Wānaka, on the Wānaka-Mount Aspiring Road.
This article was first published on November 9, 2022 and has since been updated.