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Driving From Dunedin to Queenstown: The Best Places to Stop

Driving From Dunedin to Queenstown: The Best Places to Stop

Driving from Dunedin to Queenstown takes you from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Alps in only around 3.5 hours, but you’ll probably want to stop a few places along the way. Whether you’re spending a few days doing this or just want to stop at scenic viewpoint or two, this post should have you covered.

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Dunedin to Milton

The first part of the Dunedin to Queenstown drive takes you to Milton. A good place for a quick stretch of the legs is Lake Waihola. It’s very close to the main road and there are places to sit close to the water. If you’ve got plenty of time you could do part of the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin to Waihola or Milton, stopping by places like Brighton Beach and Taieri Mouth.

If you’re rolling through Waihola at lunch or dinnertime consider getting some fish and chips at Waihola Fish and Chips. It’s famous in Dunedin and for good reason.

The other place I’d recommend stopping is the Sinclair Wetlands. The turnoff is just before Lake Waihola and it’s a bit more of a detour — skip it if you’re in a hurry as there are better places further along the road to Central Otago and Queenstown.

Milton to Lawrence

Milton is a place to grab petrol and food, and from there it’s a mostly uneventful drive to Lawrence. Manuka Gorge could be a good place to do a short walk (Mount Stuart Tunnel Track) — it was closed the last couple of times we tried but you might have more luck.

Lawrence is cute little town that has managed to maintain a lot of its heritage buildings. The main street can be walked around in 10-15 minutes — longer if you get caught up in one of the galleries or antique stores.

There are some short walks in Gabriels Gully, or you can just drive to the lake pictured below and relax in a secluded spot.

Lawrence to Roxburgh

After Lawrence, the scenery starts to change — you’re nearing the foothills of the Southern Alps! Beaumont has a pub and a cycling trail, and you’ll soon come to Ettrick, which is one of the first places you’ll find Central Otago stone fruit (in summer) along this road. Don’t panic too much though — there are a lot more places to buy fruit (and real fruit ice-cream) throughout Central Otago.

Roxburgh is a cool little town and is a great place to stop for a snack. There are also a few nice walks (Frog Rock is an interesting spot) and the Roxburgh Dam is worth a quick look.

READ MORE: 7 Scenic Dams in Central Otago

Roxburgh to Cromwell

From Roxburgh you’ll continue to drive through the heart of Central Otago. There are dozens of places to see in this area so I’ll just give a few highlights. One is Mitchell’s Cottage, a nicely restored stone cottage just off the main road.

If you have a 4WD you could continue past Mitchell’s Cottage and up to the Old Man Range for some awesome views over Central Otago.

Next stop is Flat Top Hill. There’s a walk up to some viewpoints, or you could just check out the dam and reservoir if you’re in a rush.

Alexandra is a short drive from there and you’ll find lots to do, including walks by the river, a big clock on a hill and numerous cycling trails. Check out my post about the best things to do in Alexandra!

Clyde is next up and it’s a better place to stop than Alexandra if you’re short on time. The main street has some grand old buildings and is very compact. Walk up to the viewpoint above town if you have time.

You’ll also see Clyde Dam, one of the most impressive man-made structures in New Zealand. There are a few different viewpoints but the one on the opposite side of the river (across the red bridge) is my favourite.

Clyde travel guide, Central Otago, New Zealand

From Clyde it’s a short and scenic drive to Cromwell. It’s now home to a famous cycling trail, which follows the lake on the opposite side of Lake Dunstan to the road. The drive is great too though, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have the time or energy for a big bike ride.

The best part of Cromwell is its historic quarter down by Lake Dunstan. The lake stunning on a nice day, especially in autumn!

Bannockburn is a short detour from the main road to Queenstown but is worth it if you want a nice walk — The Bannockburn Sluicings Track should take around 90 minutes and has some unique views.

Cromwell to Queenstown

The final stretch to Queenstown is one of the best, as a lot of it is through the Kawarau Gorge. Stop off at Roaring Meg for a good look at the gorge — and some interesting history, or stop at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy to do a jump (or just watch other people do it).

READ MORE: 15 of the Best Things to Do in Queenstown

After that you’re almost in Queenstown and there’s heaps to see and do. You could visit a vineyard (Gibbston is a popular one), head up to the Remarkables Ski Area or stop off in Arrowtown and explore one of New Zealand’s best old towns.

READ MORE: Queenstown Itinerary: How to Spend Three – Seven Days in Queenstown

Walking the historic streets of Arrowtown, New Zealand

Lake Hayes is another cool place to stop, and it’s right by the main road. And that’s pretty much my post, although it’s just a guide. There are a lot more places on the drive between Dunedin and Queenstown — a great place to explore!

Only Have a Few Hours?

If you’re driving from Dunedin to Queenstown and are short on time but want to visit a few places, I’d spend 5-10 minutes walking around Lawrence,  check out Mitchell’s Cottage,  choose one of either Clyde or Cromwell to look around and maybe do a short walk (Flat Top Hill or the Bannockburn Sluicings would be my choices).

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand

I’d also stop at Roaring Meg, Kawarau Bridge Bungy and Lake Hayes. Doing all that would extend the drive from three and a half hours to maybe five or six.

Hiking Lake Hayes in Winter, Queenstown, New Zealand

Got Longer?

You could easily stretch this drive out to a week or longer, spending a night or two in some of the towns I mentioned above. You can branch out from those towns and explore lots of Central Otago — it’s a big area filled with countless interesting places to go (the photo below is St Bathans).

READ MORE: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Central Otago

Dunedin to Queenstown: Other Routes

There are a couple of different ways to get to Central Otago from Dunedin. One takes you up the coast to Palmerston and then inland, while the other takes you through Middlemarch (Sutton Salt Lake is a good walk near Middlemarch). The main route I’ve talked about in this post is slightly shorter than the other two and I reckon there’s more to see. If you’ve done it a few times it’s always good to mix it up though.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island Travel Guide!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.