How to travel from Queenstown to Wanaka
The drive between Queenstown to Wanaka is reason enough to book a holiday in the Southern Lakes. Depending on the route you choose, driving time will be between one to two hours, but of course that’s not including all the photo ops you’ll be stopping for! There are two routes to get from Queenstown to Wanaka – with both being equally as scenic and memorable. For where to stay in the Southern Lakes, take a look here!
1. Queenstown to Wanaka via the Crown Range
- The first option is an hour’s journey via the Crown Range, although, due to closures with bad weather, it’s the more unreliable of the two. Starting at the town centre of Queenstown, you’ll make your way up along SH6 towards Lake Hayes. It’s a stunning part of the region where some of the nicest homes in Otago are located. On a still day the lake turns into a photographer’s dream, with the trees, rolling hills and rugged mountains reflecting perfectly on the mirror-like water.
- From there you will pass by the turn-off to Arrowtown, which is a quick and necessary detour to drive through the archway of trees – especially during Autumn! Linking back up with SH6, you’ll then turn up the Crown Range Road, which is a long and windy ascent to the top. There will be many temptations to want to stop to take in the views, but the best place to do so is at the very top of the Crown Range Mountains. There’s a small parking area to pull over to and take in the views of Queenstown in the distance and the remarkable landscape.
- The descent of the mountain range then begins, with another steep and windy road to follow. It’s a magical place to drive through at any time of the year, but most special during the start of summer when there are endless rows of colourful purple, pink and white lupins lining the road and dominating the grassy fields.
- You’ll then connect up with the Cardrona Valley Road, which is another good stopping point to enjoy the surrounding scenery, stretch the legs and grab a bite to eat at the iconic Cardrona Hotel. As you approach Wanaka you will spot the famous Roys Peak to your left. If you’ve got extra time to spare, there’s also the option to take another detour and drive up to the Cardrona Ski Resort, where you can hit the slopes in winter or enjoy the walking trails in summer. It’s smooth driving from there, with a straight shot to Wanaka for your epic holiday to begin!
2. Queenstown to Wanaka via Cromwell
- The second option is an hour and thirty-minute drive that starts out quite similarly as the Crown Range route, with the ability to take in the beauty of both Lake Hayes and Arrowtown. From there, the route via Cromwell is much less challenging and always open no matter what the weather conditions are. Following SH6, you’ll drive along the sparkling blue waters of the Kawarau River.
- The first detour option is pulling up to AJ Hackett’s Kawarau Bridge Bungy, where there’s a free viewing platform to the public to watch brave souls plunge from the bridge above into the rushing waters 50 meters below (or even give it a quick go yourself if you’re game!).
- As you continue onwards, the temptations to keep having more detours will heighten, with numerous wineries to be found along the way – calling your name to come in and have a wine tasting experience or simply explore the beautiful grounds.
- If you’ve managed to avoid the wine tastings, the journey continues along the Kawarau River towards the Roaring Meg Hydro scheme. This ridiculously powerful hydro scheme is definitely worth pulling over to admire from above.
- You’ll continue onwards towards Cromwell, with an absolutely necessary pit-stop at Jackson Orchards. With an array of the most mouth-watering stone fruit Otago has to offer, have your pick of enjoying fresh cherries, apricots, nectarines, real fruit ice cream and even a guided orchard tour!
- You’ll then reach the orchard and vineyard landscape of Cromwell itself, with a scenic drive past Lake Dunstan and the rolling hills of the Otago region.
- The Clutha River will lead you the rest of the way to Wanaka, with options to stop and check out the National Transport & Toy Museum or Puzzling World before reaching the town centre of Wanaka.
The choice of how to travel from Queenstown to Wanaka can be challenging due to both options offering a delightfully scenic journey, but whatever route you choose, you’re in for an absolute treat.
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