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Queenstown vs Wanaka: Which Is Best To Visit

I won’t keep you in suspense about the Queenstown vs Wanaka battle result. While Wanaka has many attractions and is a great place to visit, if you have to choose one, the clear winner is Queenstown for the majority of visitors.

I’ve been to both towns several times but spent more time in Queenstown. For a video of my Queenstown skydive experience, keep reading!

Read on to discover some of the differences between the two, the highlights of each town, and ultimately why Queenstown wins this particular battle.


Queenstown on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkable Mountains behind

Scenery: Queenstown vs Wanaka Views

The scenic views from Queenstown and Wanaka are actually quite similar. Both towns are located within the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. They are both lakeside towns, with Queenstown sitting on Lake Wakatipu, while Wanaka town is on the shore of Lake Wanaka.

They are both surrounded by mountains, although Queenstown sits directly opposite the spectacular Remarkable Mountains, giving the town a more dramatic view.

You can’t judge the scenery of these two towns without mentioning their proximity to other scenic locations. Queenstown has the advantage of being a starting point for many day trips, including to famous Milford Sound and the stunning drive to Glenorchy, while Wanaka is a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park.

Wanaka is also home to ‘that Wanaka tree’, a lone willow tree rising through the waters of Lake Wanaka which makes for some stunning photos.

That Wanaka Tree, lone willow tree growing out of the water in Lake Wanaka

Ultimately, when it comes to the scenery they are both beautiful places to stay and you won’t go wrong with either, but the views from Queenstown across the lake to the Remarkables are pretty special.

My very own skydive with NZONE.

Activities

When it comes to activities, any New Zealand city or town would struggle to compete against Queenstown. Queenstown is one of the world’s best locations for adventure activities. If you are asking yourself Queenstown vs Wanaka, the answer is obvious.

It’s the home of the world’s first commercial bungy jump. Jet boats (which were invented in New Zealand) are a popular activity to explore some of the rivers in the area. Paragliding, skydiving and skiing are also very popular in Queenstown.

βœ… Book your ticket for a jet boat tour on the Shotover River here.

That isn’t to say that Wanaka is devoid of adventure. You can also participate in skydiving and skiing in Wanaka, but Queenstown does have many more options.

In terms of skiing, Queenstown has easy access to the Remarkables and Coronet Peak, while Wanaka is close to Treble Cone and Cardrona. If you love to ski then these excellent ski fields are a great choice in the southern hemisphere when ski fields in the northern hemisphere will be closed.

For visitors who prefer not to elevate their adrenaline levels, Wanaka is a great place for relaxing. Wanaka Lavender Farm is very popular, as is Puzzling World where adults and kids alike can try to get their heads around puzzles and optical illusions.

Queenstown is the location of Kiwi World, where you can spot the iconic nocturnal birds and other native bird species. Kiwi World sits next to the gondola up to Skyline Queenstown where you can relax at the restaurant with views of the town and lake.

A person doing a bujy jump from Kawarau Bridge above bright blue river

Food and drink: dining options in each town

The wider region of Central Otago is famous for its wineries, and both towns benefit from easy access to wineries and wine-tasting tours.

Queenstown also has The Winery in the town centre, where you can craft your own wine-tasting experience with the machines that dispense tasting portions of a wide range of wines.

Gibbston Valley is a short distance from Queenstown and is very popular for wine tasting. Cromwell is another great winetasting town, about equidistant from Queenstown and Wanaka.

βœ… If you want to join a wine-tasting tour, book your tickets here.

Both Queenstown and Wanaka have some excellent restaurants, however simply by being a larger location Queenstown does have more.

Queenstown Food and Drink

You can enjoy a drink at a floating bar on Lake Wakatipu or at one of Queenstown’s ice bars. Patagonia Chocolates make excellent ice cream and is right next to the lake.

The Bunker is a great choice for a romantic meal, and Fergburger has a large menu of different burger options. Queenstown has a slightly buzzier atmosphere than Wanaka when it comes to nightlife.

Wanaka Food and Drink

Kika is a great choice for dinner in Wanaka, and Big Fig has excellent breakfast and lunch options. If you feel like some live music to accompany your drinks then Cork Bar is somewhere you should check out.

Accommodation: finding the perfect place to stay

Both towns are more expensive to stay in than other parts of the country. In the height of summer, the tourist population can outnumber the residents by almost 2 to 1. This means that accommodation comes at a premium and must be booked in advance.

Wanaka can also be very busy but not to the same extremes as Queenstown.

Where to stay in Queenstown

πŸ“QT Queenstown is luxurious but also quite expensive. If you want to splash out then this is a great choice and there is an excellent marketplace-style restaurant on site.

πŸ“The Dairy is a quirky little hotel, in a central location and good value for money in Queenstown

πŸ“There are a couple of hostel options in Queenstown – YHA and Absoloot are both worth considering.

Where to stay in Wanaka

πŸ“Lakeside Apartments has great views and a pool in the centre of Wanaka

πŸ“Clearbrook Motel is a good mid-range option close to several restaurants

πŸ“YHA Wanaka is a perfect option for travellers on a budget and includes female-only dorm rooms, great for solo female travellers.

Beach by Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkable Mountains behind the lake

Car Hire

To make the most of the Central Otago region, you might want to consider hiring a car. You can easily drive from Queenstown to Wanaka, and the route through the Crown Range Road has some pretty spectacular scenery.

Tip: Discover Cars is a great place to find deals and will help you explore local gems such as Arrowtown, Glenorchy and Cromwell.

One word of warning about Discover Cars – their car hire company ratings are wildly different to reviews found on Google, so it’s worth cross-referencing to make sure you choose a good company.

Conclusion: which town is right for you?

Ideally, the choice won’t be Queenstown or Wanaka, but rather visiting both. If you do have to choose just one, for most visitors the advantages of a larger town and more activities will make Queenstown the clear winner.

If you are visiting in New Zealand’s summer and prefer a calmer environment then you may prefer Wanaka, but by and large, Queenstown is the better choice for most tourists.

Wanaka is actually a good option for a day trip from Queenstown. They are within an hour of each other and the Queenstown to Wanaka drive passes through some beautiful mountain scenery.

Calm waters at Lake Wakatipu with the snow-capped Remarkable Mountains behind and a few clouds in the sky

FAQs

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit

For most visitors, the best time to visit is between late Spring and early Autumn – November to March. Queenstown is especially busy in December.

When Is The Ski Season

New Zealand’s ski season is approximately from late June to early October, perfect for visitors from the Northern Hemisphere where the seasons are reversed.

Beach by the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Mountains in the background and ducks swimming near the shore of the lake.

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