Wanaka, a town of 5,000 in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, is where in-the-know Kiwis go for serious adventure. The town is the gateway to 74-square-mile Lake Wanaka, the 10,000-foot Southern Alps, and Mount Aspiring National Park, the training ground for New Zealand’s mountaineers.
The best way to take advantage: fly into Queens-town via Christchurch (from US$130), then rent a car and drive an hour to Wanaka (US$90 per day). Stay at the Whare Kea Lodge, a glass and aluminum structure on the shores of glittering Lake Wanaka (rooms from US$1,170).
The days are cool during New Zealand’s winter—expect highs around 50 degrees—but it’s perfect weather to walk the 6.5-mile Makarora Valley Track to Stewart Falls, trek six miles to view the Rob Roy glacier, or cast to heavy rainbows in the Matukituki River (guides from US$625). The lodge is within an hour of six of the country’s best ski areas—the Southern Alps get 13 feet of snow each winter.
Our favorite is Treble Cone (lift ticket, US$82), which has 2,300 feet of vertical across nearly 1,400 acres—the largest on South Island. Warm up on runs like the Fickle Finger of Fear, a steep howl through a narrow chute. Then go even deeper with Harris Mountains Heli-Ski (from $674). You’ll be picked up on Whare Kea’s front lawn and dropped on any number of 200 peaks for first tracks on 3,500-foot lines. End the day at the Whare Kea’s on-mountain chalet, a cozy outpost perched at 5,700 feet.