A firm favourite amongst Wānaka swimming enthusiasts, Glendhu Bay is just a 10 minute drive west from town. In the summer months, the Glendhu Bay Motor Camp is packed with campers along its shores, but if you keep an eye to your right heading out towards the camp, you’ll spot a few areas where it’s safe to pull over, park and go for a dip.
Perhaps the most obvious place to swim is the lakefront beach. Stretching for over a kilometre along Ardmore Street, it’s simply a matter of picking a spot and wading in. Towards the centre of town, you can jump off the wharf and swim out to the pontoon.
After your swim, check out the new walkway next to Lakeside Road and see if you can spot Lake Wānaka’s grebes (a relative of penguins and albatross) on their nesting platforms.
The beautiful (and famous) Blue Pools Track of Makarora will take you to the Blue Pools, the azure-coloured river so often depicted on social media. But don’t be fooled by the tropical colour – these waters flow from glacial rivers and they are definitely a cold shock on a hot day.
Work up a sweat with a walk along the track to the swing bridge and then make your way down below to brave the gorgeous waters.
Compared to the other options on this list, swimming at Crucible Lake requires a bit of a mission. Tucked into a crater of Mt. Alba, Crucible is a glacier lake accessible via a track beginning in Siberia Valley. Leaving from Makarora, you can access the valley with Southern Alps Air, Wilkin River Jets, The Siberia Experience or by a (very long) walk.
On the valley floor you’ll spot the Siberia Stream, Siberia Hut and the beginning of the incredible Gillespie Pass Circuit. Getting to Crucible requires a 6-8hour return trip from here. But if you make it, it’s absolutely breathtaking.
There are four distinct islands on Lake Wānaka – Ruby Island, Te Peka Karara, Mou Tapu and Mou Waho. The latter of the four is an eco-sanctuary that has been completely ridden of pests allowing native species like the weka and weta to thrive in a predator free environment.
At the top of the island, you’ll find a swimming spot like no other – in a lake on an island on a lake on the South Island in the ocean!
You can only get there by boat, so if you don’t have your own vessel, there are a number of companies that can help including Wanaka Water Taxi, Eco Wanaka Adventures and Wanaka Cruises.
Tranquil, beautiful and only a 15 minute drive from Wānaka. Lake Hāwea definitely rivals Lake Wānaka in beauty. Away from the hustle of the Wānaka lakefront, Lake Hāwea is a serene escape and offers breathtaking mountainscape views.
For the locals here in Wānaka, our waterways are incredibly meaningful to us. Besides being a way to cool off on hot days, they also facilitate healthy ecosystems. WAI Wanaka is a local non-profit that works to accelerate local action for our fresh water. Their Community Catchment Plan works to identify risks to the health of our waterways and actions we can take to mitigate these risks. If you’ve been out enjoying the water and want to learn more about how we are protecting it, check out WAI Wanaka.
Want to explore more lakes and rivers? If you’d rather stay above water, check out some of our favourite activities here.