Guide to Wanaka, New Zealand

  • Spectacular scenery and challenging flying
  • A short XC will put you into glacier country
  • Unstable air in October and November, more consistent in late summer
  • An uncommercialised mountain resort
One of the launches near Wanaka. Photo: Ant Green

One of the launches near Wanaka. Photo: Ant Green

Strong thermals take you over the peaks – Mount Cook is only 120km away!


Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island offers spectacular scenery and challenging flying on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park. Less commercialised than nearby Queenstown, it’s a resort town good for both summer and winter.

The main launch for Wanaka is just below the Treble Cone ski-field. A gravel road suitable for two-wheel drive hire cars gets you to a grassy launch, from where you can also walk further up the ski-field. The road is often locked in the summer, but the local club has the combination, and visiting pilots are welcome as long as they’re qualified and have taken out a NZHGPA membership.

One tandem operation is based here, so you can often get a lift up for a few dollars, especially early in the day. On a good day there are enough people around to make retrieving your car at the end of the day reasonably easily.

There are quite a few other launches around – some walk-up, some 4WD – and a couple of high-wind soaring sites too.

Not too far away to the south-west is Queenstown, which offers more sites and plenty of commercial craziness like bungy jumping and the rest.

Mountains.. that says it all, really: strong but tight thermals, with a bit of lee-side action and changing microclimates from valley to valley. You’ll be rewarded with amazing views as you climb above the ridges. Big smooth crossings provide some relaxation, but every peak is different, so that keeps it interesting.

October and November offer the best unstable skies, but more chance of rain and wind. January to March see more consistent weather.

Christmas and New Year are the NZ summer school holidays, so town is busy over those two weeks.

Launch: 1,100m
Landing: 300m
Cloudbase: 2,500m

All welcome, although the landing is tighter for hang gliders than some might want.

The flight back to town is the local classic. Get high at take-off, then set off on a 9km glide to Mt Roy. From there it’s another long glide to land in the centre of Wanaka next to the cafés and bars. But why stop there? Mt Cook (3,754m) is only 120km away…

Secondly, up the valley towards Mt Aspiring (3,033m) and back. Twenty kilometres takes you to glacier country – simply outrageous flying in big country, with a road along the valley for an easy retrieve. If you don’t mind a bit of walking you can fly a whole lot further than that, though!

Wind. The sea breeze / valley breeze system is quite complex, but the lakes give you good warning of what’s going on.

There’s limited mobile phone coverage in some of the valleys, and not all valleys have roads in them, so have a look at the map before you fly into the distance, and think about your retrieve options before it’s too late. Having said that, hitching is generally good.

Wanaka is a tourist town with camping grounds, backpacker hostels, motels and hotels. The YHA in the middle of town is friendly and well located, as is Wanaka Bakpaka. The council campground in Albert town is basic and cheap, or there is a slightly more upmarket one in Wanaka town itself.

Wanaka Paragliding: Richard van Nieuwkoop 027 469 7685
Paraventures: Mark Hardman 021 809 275
Lucky Montana: Rob Darby 027 220 1185 (January only)
Plus lots of operators in Queenstown.

You’ll never get bored here. Walking, swimming, sailing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking and road biking are just the start. You can hire gear, and /or a guide or just go if you have your own stuff.

After that try jet boating, sky diving, the maze, aircraft museum, Cinema Paradiso, cafes, bars, vineyards or just hanging out at the lake.

The best forecast is the Southern Lakes and Mountains forecast
Victoria University forecast maps
NZ Rasp, not perfect but worth a look

Queenstown is the closest international airport and is one hour away, with shuttles available. It’s often cheaper though to fly to Christchurch, five hours away, and jump on a bus. Wanaka has a small domestic airport with one flight a day from Christchurch, but locals don’t want that getting any bigger, as there are currently no airspace issues, but that could change if Wanaka goes too commercial.


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