5 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Cromwell

Beautiful reflections of the clouds at Lake Hayes

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The drive from Queenstown to Cromwell is one of the most popular drives to take from Queenstown. That’s because Cromwell is the gateway to other popular destinations such as Christchurch, Dunedin and Wanaka.

Getting from Queenstown to Cromwell is a short drive at 59.2km (36 miles) and will take about 50 minutes without stops and traffic. However, I recommend allowing at least 90 minutes for this drive. For such a short drive there’s a lot of scenic stops along the way including picturesque Lake Hayes and Kawarau Gorge – home to the world’s first commercial bungy.

In this blog, I’ll tell you all about driving this route including the 5 best stops on the short drive between Queenstown and Cromwell.

About the Drive from Queenstown to Cromwell

As mentioned, the drive between Queenstown and Cromwell is just over 59 km and follows the State Highway 6 (SH6). There are several stops along the way but please be careful when pulling off to these viewpoints as traffic can move quite quickly on this route.

The traffic too can be bad as lots of locals commute between Cromwell and Queenstown for work. Give yourself plenty of time and have patience.

It’s important to be mindful of the weather before you embark on your journey from Queenstown to Cromwell, as during the winter months, sections of the road can be quite icy especially near the Roaring Meg lookout. This section of road is quite narrow and winding too and can be a little scary if you’re not familiar with the road.

For such a short journey there’s a surprising amount of great stops along the way. If you want to make it an even longer road trip, you could choose to go slightly off route and stop in historic Arrowtown just a 15-minute drive from Queenstown. There’s so much to do in Arrowtown that you could easily spend a few hours there!

Queenstown to Cromwell FAQs

Best Stops when Driving from Queenstown to Cromwell

If you’re driving yourself from Queenstown to Cromwell then you can take your time and check out some of the best attractions along the way. Here are the 5 best stops on the drive from Queenstown to Cromwell:

1. Lake Hayes 

Lake hayes at sunset with a mountain backdrop
Lake Hayes at sunset – look at those pink hues!

You’ll pass Lake Hayes as you’re driving to Cromwell via State Highway 6. Lake Hayes is a large lake that is located only about a 15-20 minute drive outside of Queenstown. Here, you can stop and stretch your legs on a walk, simply check out the viewpoint, or even visit the nearby Amisfield Restaurant and Winery – one of the best wineries in Queenstown!

Lake Hayes Loop Track is a popular walking trail around the lake here and is also known as Lake Hayes Walkway. It’s the perfect easy hike in Queenstown for those looking for wildlife, stunning mountain views, and reflections, as well as a little bit of peace and quiet. The trail circles Lake Hayes’ perimeter and although 8 kilometers long, makes for a nice stroll any time of the year. To complete the entire loop track should take between 2-3 hours but you can choose to do sections of it if you’re short on time.

The best time to visit Lake Hayes is at sunrise or sunset when there’s stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains on the lake’s surface. The lake is also a great place for a swim on a warm day!

2. Kawarau Gorge 

A person hangs from a bungy cord at Kawarau Bridge Bungy in Queenstown, NZ
The river at Kawarau Bridge bungy really is that blue!

The Kawarau Gorge is located about 30 kilometers (19 mils) from Queenstown. The Kawarau River flows through the gorge, and back in the day, this was a popular site for gold mining.

Today though, Kawarau Gorge is a stunning sight along State Highway 6 to Cromwell. You can stop at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge and enjoy the scenic views while watching bungy jumpers take a brave leap! 

That’s right, Kawarau Gorge is home to one of Queenstown’s famous bungy jumps. It’s also the site of the world’s first commercial bungy jump, so, it’s definitely something to add to your bucket list! Why not try a bungy yourself! Plus, this is the only bungy jump near Queenstown that allows tandems, so it is actually one of the few adventurous, yet romantic things to do in Queenstown

If you want to bungy jump be sure to book it in advance! They often get fully booked especially during the summer or over school holidays.

Related Read: Bungy jumping is one of the best adventure activities you can do in Queenstown – find out what the rest are!

3. Gibbston Valley 

A lady runs through grape vines in the Gibbston valley between Queenstown and Wanaka
Just checking the grapes and those epic views!

As you continue on State Highway 6 and just a short drive from Kawarau Gorge, you’ll reach the world-famous Gibbston Valley Wine Region. This wine region is known around the world for its Pinot Noir variety!

Plan to have a designated driver with you because let me tell you, there are a lot of wineries to check out in this area and their tastings are all pretty generous! 

Kinross Winery and Bald Hills Cellar Door are some of my favorite boutique wineries in the Gibbston Valley. Also, be sure to head to Gibbston Valley Winery where you can check out New Zealand’s largest wine cave! It also has a tasting room, cheesery, and restaurant. And if it’s a view you’re after, this winery does not disappoint! Tastings at the Cellar Door start at just $10 NZD, complete with the musings of Gibbston’s knowledgeable staff. 

It’s easy to spend an hour or two exploring the wineries here before hitting the road again to Cromwell.

Hot Tip: If you want to visit multiple wineries and drink your fairshare, then it’s best to go on an organized wine tour from Queenstown as opposed to stopping on your way to Cromwell. Wine tours are one of the most popular things to do in Queenstown, and for good reason, they are so much fun!

4. Roaring Meg Power Station and Lookout

view from Roaring Meg Lookout of the Power Station on the road between Queenstown and Cromwell
From here you can see the power station.

Roaring Meg Lookout is just a quick photo stop as the amount of water rushing through here is very impressive. If you’re travelling with kids they are sure to be fascinated by the views and loud sound of the gushing water!

Roaring Meg is a turbulent stream that merges with the Kawarau River and the power of this water drives a hydro-electric power station. From the lookout, you’ll also be able to see the power station which is also quite interesting.

5. Highlands Motorsport and Toursim Park

view of cars at Highlands Motor Sports near Cromwell, New Zealand
Photo Credit: Highlands Motorsport and Tourism Park

Only 45 minutes from Queenstown once you’re nearly in Cromwell you’ll come across Highlands Motorsport and Tourism Park. Highlands has been providing speedy thrills to locals and tourists since 2013 and it’s where you can jump into high-speed go-karts and race around a challenging track full of twists and turns!

You can even take a few super-fast laps around the world-class race track in the hallmark Highlands Taxi – a Porsche Cayenne Turbo! You will reach speeds of up to 180 kph in this heart-pumping car ride to remember.

Also at Highlands is a world-class full-speed racing track, cafe, sculpture park, and museum. You can also watch professional races on certain days.

Different experiences have different prices, but for the go-karting you can expect to pay about $50 NZD per person, and for the Porsche taxi ride, expect to pay $130 NZD for a group of us to 4 people.

6. Cromwell  

Views from a lookout in Cromwell over Lake Dunstan
Views over Lake Dunstan near Cromwell!

Cromwell may not be as famous or as tourist-heavy as its neighbors – Wanaka and Queenstown. But, there’s still quite a lot to do in this small town. It’s easy and worthwhile to spend a few hours checking out the few fun things to do in Cromwell.

My advice for your time on Cromwell is to wander the historic precinct and take in the historic architecture. Take lots of photos outside the quirky storefronts here and grab a coffee and a bite to eat at Grain & Seed Cafe. Take a walk along Lake Dunstan, if you time the light right the reflections on the lake surface are stunning. And before you go, be sure to get a selfie with the massive fruit – you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to Cromwell!

During the summer months, visit the Kiwi Water Park, an exciting inflatable water park on Lowburn Valley Road located only a few minutes drive from Cromwell. The kids will love it (and big kids too!).

For food in Cromwell, I highly recommend Monsoon Restaurant serving delicious Indian cuisine and the Mexican-inspired Amigos Cromwell. For a real treat head out to the Stoker Room on State Highway 8B.

Where to Stay in Cromwell

Cromwell may not be a tourist haven like Queenstown but there are still plenty of great accommodation options here. One of the best places, for both price and quality, is the Central Gateway Motel. The hotel is located in the heart of Cromwell and has outstanding reviews from past guests.

In a similar price range but with beautiful lake views is The Lake Resort which offers studio apartments up to 3 bedrooms villas that overlook the Cromwell marina. Although the basic rooms are rather cheap, the 3 bedroom villa is the most luxurious option in Cromwell.

Since Cromwell is so close to Queenstown, many people choose to stay in Queenstown and visit Cromwell on a day trip. This is a good option too since there are lots of great hotels in Queenstown (as well as hostels for budget travelers!)

Related Read: Continuing on your road trip? Check out my blog about the drive from Queenstown to Christchurch, Queenstown to Mount Cook, or Queenstown to Dunedin for other great road trip itineraries!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

A motorhome by the beach
Me and my trusty campervan!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
  • Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo at the edge of Lake Wakatipu near Glenorchy
Thanks for reading!

Thanks so much for reading, I really hope this blog post has helped you plan the short but sweet road trip from Queenstown to Cromwell. As I mentioned, for such a short drive there are lots of awesome places to stop – I hope you will enjoy visiting all of my suggestions!

If you found this blog helpful then be sure to check out all of my other road trip blogs as well as my detailed blogs about visiting Queenstown – I’ve written a ton of useful info that I’m sure you’ll love!

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