Picturesque Queenstown. © Matteo Colombo

Loved by the locals: Southern Lakes

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1. New Zealand Mountain Film Festival 

Mirroring the interests of residents and visitors alike, this film festival, which runs in early July to full-houses in Wānaka and Queenstown, is a celebration of outdoor pursuits and adventures, swinging from pure-adrenalin daredevil stunts to more insightful cultural and environmental themes.

Now in its fifteenth year, the festival also features a number of workshops and seminars, from avalanche awareness, ski tuning and yoga, to film-making and adventure writing. The most recent addition to the festival is a  books and literature program, with readings, poetry and a book competition, as well as live storytelling from some of the country’s top adventurers.

2. Snow Farm

The quietest of all the Southern Lakes ski areas and New Zealand’s only cross-country skiing (XC) venue, the Snow Farm, halfway between Wānaka and Queenstown, is known for its relaxed family atmosphere, expansive Arctic vistas and extremely fit people of all ages.

Originally a private field owned by 'snow farmers' Mary and John Lee, the farm is now a community asset run by a trust.

'If you can walk you can ski,' the cross-country enthusiasts are fond of saying and indeed the basics of this kind of skiing are easy to learn. Unlike the downhill variety, where the learning never ends, you can pick up the essence of XC skiing within an hour.

With three to five lessons you really can become something of an expert, cruising across sparkling winterscapes, feeling perfectly at ease. Outside winter season, the Snow Farm is a good place to visit with a mountain bike or on foot as the network of alpine trails and backcountry huts extends far into the Pisa Conservation Area.

3. Wānaka Farmers’ Market

This is the weekly showcase of local homemade and homegrown fare held year-round near the Lake Wānaka Centre.

Here, you’ll find organic, artisan sourdough and ciabatta from The People's Bread, French and Danish-style pastries from Pembroke Patisserie, free-range Cardrona merino lamb, microgreens, cakes, organic eggs, fruit and vegetables, local honey and preserves, craft beer, organic skincare and handmade soaps, and in wintertime roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.

The market, still with its village ambience, is passionately supported by the local community. Often with live music on offer, every Thursday 3–6pm, this charming market puts the joy back into shopping. 

4. Festival of Colour

When the autumn trees are at the peak of their most burning glory, Southern Lakes' locals celebrate the glorious, fleeting spectacle with the biennial Festival of Colour. Over six days and nights the festival revels in art, theatre and music, book events and exhibitions, with a line-up of artists and performers that would rival anything in the capital or any of the other big city centres.


Balancing the region’s infatuation with the outdoors, this is an adventure of an inner kind, inspired by autumn’s reflective mood and appreciation for its beauty. 

5. Deans Bank mountain biking track

Almost from its inception this 12-km loop track, taking in some of Wānaka’s best scenery has become one of the area's greatest and most popular attractions, reaffirming the town’s status as one of the top MTB destinations in the country.

From kids to seniors, thousands of riders have been enjoying this purpose-built trail day and night (the latter with powerful bike lights), but because the track is ridden one-way only it never feels crowded.

However, loved and popular as it is, this grass-roots initiative of the local bike club was but the beginning of serious trail developments. Each year during Labour Weekend, the local club runs a hugely popular ten-hour endurance race on the Deans Bank track. All proceeds from the race go towards building more trails and the most recent result of this ingenious strategy is the 10-km Hikuwai Loop, skilfully laid out through mānuka forest.

More trails are already planned, as well as an extension to the Deans Bank track itself, a most welcome kind of development. View trail maps and events here.

Explore more...

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Adventure time: cross-country skiing

New Zealand’s only dedicated cross-country ski facility, located on the Pisa Range above Lake Wānaka, has over 50km of tracks and peerless views of the Southern Alps. Read the story . . . 

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Lake Wānaka is a scenic spot all year round, but it's particularly picturesque in autumn...  Read the story . . . 

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