Queenstown

The Scenic Road from Queenstown to Wanaka: 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 Wanaka certainly has those. The Crown Range is known for its tight curves and sweeping vistas and it didn’t disappoint – here’s everything you need to know about driving the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka (or Wanaka and Queenstown).

Queenstown to Wanaka

The road from Queenstown to Wanaka 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.

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 Wanaka. 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. 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 Wanaka, which involves heading towards Cromwell. It’ll take longer (90 minutes VS an hour) but it’s a lot easier.

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. The first place to stop features a fence or corrugated iron flags and a nice view back towards Queenstown.

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 – such a pretty scene!

Over the Hill

From there it’s mostly downhill all the way down to the main road into Wanaka. There aren’t many places to stop on the first section, but we got some nice 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, the nearby “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.

The Details

The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka should take you 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!

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.

What is the most scenic road you’ve driven in New Zealand (or anywhere else in the world)? Let us know in the comments below!

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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.
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