Wanaka Town Facts, Information and History

Wanaka town began as a timber mill settlement and farming community under the name Pembroke in the 1870s, before being permanently renamed Wanaka.

What does “Wanaka” mean?

The name Wanaka is possibly a South Island interpretation of wānanga. It’s a Māori word meaning “sacred knowledge” or “place of learning”. It could also be a flawed translation of Ō-Anaka, or “of Anaka”. Anaka was the name of an early Māori chief from the area.

Where is Wanaka?

Wanaka town lies at the southwest corner of Lake Wanaka, which feeds the Clutha River. The Crown Range separates Wanaka from Arrowtown and Queenstown to the southwest. Lake Hawea lies to the north. The Lindis Valley is off to Wanaka’s east, while the Pisa Range divides Wanaka from its southern neighbours, Cromwell.


Wanaka tourism arguably began in 1867 with the opening of a hotel. It had a slow start, probably because in those days travelling wasn’t easy. Apart from “noisy” New Years Eve celebrations, Wanaka remained a quiet summer holiday destination for a very long time. Eventually, people began seeing Wanaka as a gateway to hiking and snow sports too.

These days tourism brings around 800,000 visitors to the town of Wanaka every year. Activities available range from seasonal sports to scenic flights. Mountain climbing and hiking thrives. And of course, taking photos of a world-famous willow tree living in the lake!

That Wanaka Tree

The little willow first seen growing from a fencepost in 1939 is one of Wanaka’s most famous landmarks. Often featured in photos, paintings and drawings, it’s also extremely popular on Instagram. Just take a look at the hashtag: #thatwanakatree!

Here is the location on Google Maps.

Treble Cone and Cardrona

Probably the most significant part of Wanaka town’s growth took place in the late-1960’s and mid-1970s. Treble Cone ski-field grew from a club operation to a public company, opening for commercial business in 1976. Cardrona Alpine Resort also opened in 1980. Both have become world-famous snowsport areas. Cardrona also opens in summer for mountain biking and go-karting.

In winter the ski-fields attract visitors who fly into Queenstown’s airport. An increasing number of people are choosing to stay in Wanaka, over the more commercial or “touristy” Queenstown.

Wanaka town is also well-placed for tourists visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook or driving into the area via Haast Pass.

Wanaka town growth

Amazingly, Wanaka town had a population of less than 400 until 1960! Lately, though, Wanaka town is growing steadily. Between 2001 and 2013 Wanaka almost doubled in population. Recent data shows there are now around 9,000 permanent residents. This number is expected to keep growing in the years to come.

As more businesses arrive, the ability to reach both residents visitors will become crucial to success. Working with a digital marketing agency, such as Aspiring Digital, makes sure potential customers can find or choose a place to eat, an activity to enjoy, or a builder for their dream home.

To set up a chat about digital marketing options for your business, contact Aspiring Digital today.


Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: