ARTICLE Clare Chapman

Wanaka is renowned for being an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Here, nature is the playground, and in this stunning alpine setting, with its dramatic seasonal changes, it is a district renowned the world over.

The region’s four very distinct seasons are some of the most diverse in temperature range in the country, with long, hot summer days and frequent drops below zero in the winter months. Despite this, it is a destination favoured year-round for its snow fields, hiking, mountain biking, extreme sports, and water-based activities. 

Wanaka itself stretches out lazily from the southern shores of Lake Wanaka and out into a wide basin between peaks. It borders one of the country’s most productive stone fruit and wine growing regions and the town’s vernacular reflects this in its rustic small-town charm.

Originally settled during the gold rush of the 19th Century, Wanaka quickly grew but its population today ebbs and flows with the seasons, often seeing influxes of seasonal workers in summer and winter. It has a permanent population of around 8,000 residents. 

The region has a relatively dry climate, with just 682mm rainfall on average each year - less than half the national average. And because of its lakeside location, a lot of its weather comes in from the lake - winds are often high and because of the typically dry weather, irrigation forms an essential part of landscaping in this region.

Garden path with lavender plants on the sides leading to a bench

Fine, grainy glacial soil is typical in the Wanaka region, which is also an important factor to consider in landscaping as it generally needs enriching to align gardens to their full potential.

Here, the kanuka tree is common and a defining part of the landscape, as are native grasses and flaxes, which are hardy across the diverse seasons and need little rainfall to thrive.

“Wanaka is characterised by imported plants too that thrive in this climate,” Zones Landscaping Wanaka director Shane Woonton says. “There are many stunning gardens in the wider region with rhododendrons, lavender, camellias and roses, all of which work well in this area.”

“Because of the climate, fruit trees do very well here too, and they are a central feature of many residential landscapes in and around Wanaka.”

Wanaka’s outdoorsy, laid back vibe means a focus for landscape design and planning is often based around promoting outdoor living. In summer, that revolves around shaded areas, large decking areas and outdoor spaces in which to eat and entertain, making the most of the long summer evenings. In winter, while it is invariably cold, on a still, clear winter’s day, people want to enjoy their outside areas so it is about maximising their ability to do that with landscaping, Shane says.

Gardens and landscaping are a central feature of Wanaka. Perhaps one of the most photographed sites in the region is the infamous ‘Wanaka tree’, a lone willow growing in the shallows of Lake Wanaka in front of Wanaka Station Park - which in itself, is another testament to the region’s alignment with the land. Here, adjacent to the lakefront is what used to be the gardens of a sheep station homestead, now preserved as park in which stand giant redwoods and mature fruit trees with perfectly manicured planting and extensive undulating grassed areas. 

Get inspiration for your renovation project reading about this Garden design for outdoor living.


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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.