In the Southern Lakes Region one of the most essential questions is: Queenstown or Wanaka? It’s the choice between an always on tourism & adventure hub vs a laid back tranquil corner in the South Island - between party time and a chilled out pace.
For some people this choice is very easy, the hustle and bustle of Queenstown may be your cup of tea or for some, a little overwhelming. Wanaka might be your perfect spot for chill out time and getting to know the locals, on the other hand some may find it a little bit too small. Either way if you don’t get to Wanaka quick its actually only a few years off reaching the same pace as Queenstown – so that could be a game changer! Both destinations, no matter what the pros and cons are, they both offer so much and sit side by side in one of the most beautiful areas of the world – lucky aye.
So, what are the biggest differences between Queenstown and Wanaka that could help you decide?
Let’s start with the obvious: Queenstown is bigger than Wanaka. With an urban population of more than 14,000 the town is currently the second largest urban area in Otago. Wanaka on the other hand is home to less than 8,000 people. Anyone looking for a variety of shops and bars will feel more settled in Queenstown while Wanaka offers a slower pace with a small selection of bars and restaurants. Naturally this determines the average visitor: While Queenstown has always been the ultimate destination for travellers and professionals from city’s like Auckland & Wellington that relocate to achieve a better work life balance, Wanaka mainly attracts families and those seeking a quieter pace with a more personal feel, the kind of place where everybody knows your name.
Queenstown is also in full season all year round, even in the well-known quieter months of October and April when the summer and winter seasons are in limbo of starting and ending, the number of busses that are bringing tourists to the town doesn't diminish.
Wanaka on the other hand, does experience these quieter times in the low season even though long term residents are seeing a change over the past couple of years- but have no fear, it’s still quite a way off the size and adrenaline of Queenstown.
This all aside, both towns actually have quite a similar listing of things to do… in the summer as well as winter.
In Summer the activities in both places are determined by the waters of Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu. Swimming, kayaking, biking, jet boating: there is another activity for almost every day. With Mt Aspiring Park in the backyard Wanaka is the mecca of rock climbers, hikers and trampers. Queenstown is the gateway to many attractions further south like Milford and Doubtful Sound and some of the Great Walks like the Routeburn, Kepler and Milford Track.
In Winter, the region attracts skiers from all over the world. With Treble Cone, Wanaka has the largest skiing area in the South Island while Queenstown offers with the Remarkables and Coronet Peak with the only tarsealed road accessed skiing in New Zealand. Cardrona is equally reachable from both towns. Same goes for the cross-country paradise Snow Farm, that lies opposite of Cardrona on the Pisa Range.
It really isn't easy to decide but the best part is: Nobody actually has to. Living in Wanaka and partying in Queenstown or living in Queenstown and chilling in Wanaka the next day is totally possible – the towns are literally only an hour drive apart. We’ve even proved this, Harris Mountains Heli-Ski never decided to settle for one, why would we. We have our offices in both towns because in our opinion they are both so awesome that we choose Wanaka AND Queenstown.
So, whatever your preference, be assured you can mix it up and try both but ultimately both tick all the boxes for living the dream and ensure you’re kept entertained all year round!