Skip to Content

The Scenic Road from Queenstown to Wānaka: Driving the Crown Range

The Scenic Road from Queenstown to Wānaka: Driving the Crown Range

Fancy driving along New Zealand’s highest main road? With great height comes great views, and the road from Queenstown to Wānaka certainly has those. The Crown Range is known for its tight curves and sweeping vistas – here’s everything you need to know about driving the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wānaka (or Wānaka and Queenstown).

This post contains affiliate links — if you click one and buy something, we’ll get a small cut but it won’t cost you any extra. Think of it as helping us out to maintain this blog so we can continue to share our love for New Zealand!

Queenstown to Wānaka

The road from Queenstown to Wānaka starts off sedately enough. You’ll pass by the Kawerau Bridge Bungee and Lake Hayes and you’ll see the roads leading to Arrowtown. It’s a good idea to stop in Arrowtown if you haven’t already – it’s one of New Zealand’s most atmospheric old towns and is a nice change of pace to Queenstown.

READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Arrowtown

Walking the historic streets of Arrowtown, New Zealand

The Crown Range

Soon after passing the last turnoff to Arrowtown you’ll see a sign pointing to Wānaka. The first part of the road is the windiest, with hairpin turns the norm. Make sure to take your time and try and let any vehicles past that you may be holding up. There’s a sign at the bottom of the road telling you the conditions of the road. At times you may need chains – we did it on the first day of spring and they weren’t required. Check the weather here.

If you see that chains are required, or it’s a frosty morning and you don’t feel like driving such a winding road, you can take the long way to Wānaka, which involves heading towards Cromwell. It’ll take longer (90-minutes VS an hour) but it’s a lot easier.

READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wānaka

The Crown Range -- driving from Queenstown to Wanaka

Places to Stop along the way

There aren’t that many places to stop on the Crown Range, so you’ll want to take advantage when you see a viewpoint, car park or chain bay along the way. One of the first places to stop features a fence or corrugated iron flags and a nice view back towards Queenstown.

A view from the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka

From there you’ll keep heading up the hill and eventually come to a couple more places to park your car. The first one then involves walking up a small hill (for another good view), but the last one, which is a large car park at the top of the hill, is where you’ll get the best views. It was the first day of spring when drove the Crown Range so there was still plenty of snow around.

The scenic drive from Queenstown to Wanaka, New ZealandThe Crown Range, New ZealandThe scenic route between Queenstown and Wanaka, New Zealand

Over the Hill

From there it’s mostly downhill all the way down to the main road into Wānaka. There aren’t many places to stop on this section, but we got some decent photos from the car – definitely a scenic bit of road! And then you’ll reach the main road below, where you’ll soon pass through Cardrona. This small town is home to a very famous hotel, a “bra fence” and is also the gateway to Cardrona Skifield. You can drive up there and have a look even if you’re not skiing, and in the summer,  there are hiking and biking trails to explore.

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

Driving the Crown Range, New ZealandThe bra fence in Cardrona, New Zealand

The Details

The drive from Queenstown to Wānaka should take around an hour, but you’ll spend a bit longer if you want to stop and enjoy the views. The road itself is far easier than I remember – I drove it when I was about 18 (probably not a great driver back then) and remember struggling a bit – maybe it has been widened since then though.

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

Where to Stay in Queenstown

There are many great accommodation options in Queenstown. We highly recommend choosing a hotel with a view of the Remarkables and/or Lake Wakatipu. Some options with great views include Ramada Queenstown Central Novotel Queenstown LakesideHotel St Moritz Queenstown – MGallery by Sofitel | Crowne Plaza Queenstown | Kamana Lakehouse | Copthorne Hotel & Apartments Queenstown Lakeview Pencarrow Lodge Queenstown | Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown

If you are looking for a hostel or motel, here are some good options within walking distance or near the lakefront JUCY Snooze QueenstownAbsoloot Hostel QueenstownAdventure Queenstown HostelLomond Lodge Motel & ApartmentsLakeside Motel.

Where to Stay in Wānaka

We recommend choosing a hotel with a view of Lake Wānaka or the surrounding mountains. Some great options with great views and within walking distance from the Wānaka lakefront include Edgewater Hotel Lake Wānaka | Altamont Lodge  | Lakeside Apartments | Clearbrook Motel & Serviced ApartmentsWānaka Heights Motel. If you’re travelling in a campervan or looking for a place to camp, these holiday parks are situated close to town Mt Aspiring Holiday Park  | Wānaka Top 10 Holiday Park.

Other Scenic Drives from Queenstown

Queenstown is the start (or end) of some of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, Kinloch and Paradise is one of the most iconic, but also check out the drive up the Remarkables Ski Area and the drive to Mount Cook via the Lindis Pass.

READ MORE: The Best Scenic Drives in Queenstown

Queenstown and Wanaka are big parts of any South Island itinerary — check out our post for more places to visit!

The following two tabs change content below.

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.