Queenstown to Wanaka Scenic Drive – The BEST Route and Stops on the Way

Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka

Driving from Queenstown to Wanaka is an activity all on its own. This short journey can easily be turned into one epic road trip if you stop along the way and take in the spectacular views.  

But the drive from Queenstown to Wanaka (or vice versa) is a little more complicated than you might think.  

First of all, there are two different routes you can take to reach Wanaka from Queenstown. And while one is more scenic, sometimes inclement weather may force you to go the other, dare I say “boring”, way. But in all seriousness, you can really enjoy both routes if you know exactly where to stop and what to do! 

That’s why in this blog, I’ll tell you all the practical information you should know before driving from Queenstown and Wanaka as well as the fun stuff – viewpoints, attractions, and unique things to do along the way! 

About the Drive from Queenstown to Wanaka

Wanaka is about an hour’s drive from Queenstown. With that said, in bad weather or if you stop along the way this drive could take significantly longer. Depending on the route you choose to drive, the drive is 80 or 120 kilometers long (50 or 75 miles.) 

From Queenstown, you have two choices of routes when it comes to driving to Wanaka. You can either take State Highway 6 which goes through Cromwell, or take the more scenic (but somewhat daunting) Crown Range Road that drives past Cardrona.  

No matter which route you choose, there are a variety of things to see and do along the way. In fact, visiting Wanaka from Queenstown (or vice versa) could easily be a full day trip when you factor in the drive there, exploring all of the different things to do in Wanaka, and then returning back to Queenstown.  

Queenstown to Wanaka FAQs 

Views of the valley from a viewpoint along Crown Range Road, New Zealand
Just one of the views at the very start of Crown Range Road at a pull-over bay.

Related read: For a longer, more epic road trip, consider driving from Queenstown to Christchurch! Read my blog for all the best stops along the way (including spending a couple of nights in Wanaka!)

Choosing Your Route 

The Crown Range Road after snowing
The Crown Range has snow all year round but while its snowing they usually close the road.

If you’re driving from Queenstown to Wanaka, or Wanaka to Queenstown, the first thing you need to decide is which route you are taking. You have to choose between driving the Crown Range Road or the alternate route through Cromwell.  

There are some things you should consider when making this decision: 

Are you a confident driver? 

If you didn’t answer “yes” to this question with confidence, then don’t go the Crown Range route. Crown Range Road is steep, with sharp hairpin turns. In the winter it can be icy requiring snow chains, and in the summer, it is often packed with tourists (who may not be experienced driving on NZ’s roads.) 

What’s the weather like? 

If it is between the months of May and October, you need to check the weather and road condition report before heading to the Crown Range Road. First of all, the road closes on occasion when there has been bad weather (too icy or even mudslides.)  

Second of all, you might need snow chains to drive this way too. In the winter months snow chains are sometimes required, so be sure to carry them and know how to use them! 

Related read: Visiting Queenstown in winter? Find out about all of the best winter activities in Queenstown!

Are you short on time? 

Although shorter in distance (80 kilometers as opposed to 120 kilometers), the Crown Range Road is not the fastest way to get to Wanaka from Queenstown. This route is often busy, there can be accidents causing delays, and bad weather slows everybody down.  

For the most reliable and fastest way from Queenstown to Wanaka, take State Highway 6 through Cromwell.  

Are you looking for the best scenery and stops? 

Then go the Crown Range. It’s simple, this road is stunning and in terms of a memorable scenic drive in NZ, this is one of the best!  

Related read: For another epic road trip, read our guide to driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook!

Queenstown to Wanaka Road Trip via the Crown Range Road

In order of driving from Queenstown to Wanaka, the below are the best stops along this scenic drive that you definitely need to check out! 

1. Lake Hayes 

The sign at the start of the Lake Hayes Loop
The start of Lake Hayes Walkway.

Lake Hayes Estate is a suburb on the outskirts of Queenstown as you drive towards the start of the Crown Range Road. While this residential neighborhood might not sound that interesting, the lake (called Lake Hayes) in which it is based around, is worth visiting.  

Lake Hayes offers mirror-like reflections of the surrounding mountain ranges and a quiet escape from the hiking trails in Queenstown. You can walk around the perimeter of the lake on Lake Hayes Walkway. It’s an 8-kilometer long (5 miles) flat trail perfect for walking for biking that only takes around 2 to 3 hours to walk.   

2. Crown Range Viewpoint 

The Crown Range Road near Wanaka, New Zealand
The Crown Range is just another one of Queenstown’s beautiful highways!

Along the drive from Queenstown to Wanaka, the main attraction is the Crown Range Road, or the highest main road in New Zealand! Just after Lake Hayes, you’ll see a sign to turn left onto the Crown Range Road, here is where the adventure begins.

You’ll begin by driving up the steep road changing directions in switchback-like formations climbing to 1121 meters! It is dangerous to stop along the Crown Range Road, so don’t do it. Instead, wait until you reach an allocated viewpoint with a pullover bay. My favorite is this one near the top! Here, you can carefully pull off the road and park in a large parking lot with views of the valley below, Arrowtown, and The Remarkables.  

This is definitely one of the most beautiful lookouts in Queenstown, and possibly all of New Zealand.  

3. Cardrona Hotel  

The Cardrona Hotel near Wanaka, New Zealand
The historic Cardrona Hotel. Photo credit: zorrostockimages Bigstock

The Cardrona Hotel is a historic icon of the area. Established in 1863, the hotel has managed to keep it’s original charm and is a great place for a photo stop! 

But don’t just take a picture here, go inside and have a bite to eat or even a beer. Their beer garden is perfect for having a pint and they have tons of locally brewed craft beer from Queenstown, Wanaka, and across New Zealand. 

The Cardrona Hotel is a real operating hotel today that you can actually spend the night there if you want. Their rooms are boutique and each have their own historic charm. Plus, it’s the perfect location if you plan on skiing at Cardrona Ski Resort the next day! 

4. Cardrona Distillery 

Just down the road from the Cardrona Hotel is the Cardrona Distillery. Here you can see how pure alpine water is used to make fine spirits and liqueurs.  

Cardrona Distillery has a cellar door which is open every day where you can shop their products. Alternatively, for $25 NZD you can join a distillery tour which starts every hour on the hour from 10 am to 3 pm daily.  

5. Bradrona 

Two people at Bradrona near Wanaka, New Zealand
There are so many bras!

A minute further down the road from the distillery is probably the most unique attraction you will see in all of New Zealand – Bradrona! The Cardrona Bra Fence, or “Bradrona” (as it was named in 2005 after raising a significant amount of money for Breast Cancer), is a pretty weird stop on the way from Queenstown to Wanaka.  

I mean, where else in the world can you see thousands of bras hanging from one fence?! 

Stopping here is simply a photo opportunity, but be sure to leave a small donation in the donation box too! 

Queenstown to Wanaka Road Trip via State Highway 6 

If you want to drive to Wanaka from Queenstown taking State Highway 6 through Cromwell, there are a couple of great places to stop. Below, I’ve mentioned all of the best stops for this drive.

1. Lake Hayes 

Lake hayes at sunset with a mountain backdrop
Lake Hayes at sunset.

You’ll also pass Lake Hayes if you’re driving to Wanaka via State Highway 6. As I mentioned above, this is the place where you can walk one of the best easy trails in Queenstown, Lake Hayes Loop.

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 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 simple a beautiful sight along State Highway 6. You can stop at the Kawarau Suspension bridge and enjoy the scenic views while watching bungy jumpers! 

That’s right, Kawarau Gorge is home to one of Queenstown’s famous bungy jumps. If you dare, you can try it for yourself! Plus, this is the only bungy jump near Queenstown that allows tandems, so it is actually one of the few adventurous, romantic things to do in Queenstown

If you want to bungy jump be sure to book it in advance! They often get fully booked and can’t take any walk-ins.  

3. Gibbston Valley 

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

As you continue on Highway 6 past the Crown Range Road turnoff, you’ll reach the world-famous Gibbston Valley. The Gibbston Valley is the place to go if you love wine!

Now, I hope you have a designated driver if you’re planning to stop in at wineries because let me tell you, there’s a lot to check out 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! 

4. Cromwell  

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

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking, what is there to do in Cromwell?! Well, in all honesty, there are actually a few fun things to do in Cromwell. Sure, this small town is underwhelming when compared to its neighbors of Queenstown and Wanaka, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out even for an hour! 

In Cromwell, be sure to wander the historic precinct and take in the historic architecture. Take a stroll along Lake Dunstan, and, did you even go to Cromwell if you didn’t get a selfie with the massive fruit?! 

I wouldn’t stay in Cromwell overnight, but you could at least stop off here and do a little exploring on your Queenstown to Wanaka road trip.  

5. Luggate Grandview Bridge 

After Cromwell the next town you’ll reach is Luggate. Although there isn’t much to do here, stopping to check out the Luggate Grandview Bridge (also known as the Red Bridge or Grandview Bridge.) This bridge was built in 1918 and is one of the most historic monuments in the area.  

It’s a steel truss bridge that is over 100 meters long. It crosses the Clutha River and is actually a really neat attraction. The bridge is clearly marked on Google Maps so, you can’t miss it. 

6. Wanaka Lavender Farm

Bailey walks down a row of lavender at the Wanaka Lavender Farm
In summer the colors are amazing!

Just before arriving in Wanaka, you’ll drive past the Wanaka Lavender Farm. This farm is full of lavender which makes for beautiful photos. They also have a petting zoo on-site as well as a boutique shop and café that sells all things lavender!

You can visit the farm all year round, but the lavender is only blooming in the late spring and summer. During the summer months, it costs $10 NZD for an adult to visit the farm and $5 during the offseason.

Personally, I love visiting the Wanaka Lavender Farm! Not only is it beautiful, but the animals are really cute and it’s one of the cheapest things to do in Wanaka!

Related read: Once you’ve arrived in Wanaka, there a ton of different things to see and do in Wanaka!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary at Cargo Brewery in the Gibbston valley
Thanks for reading!

If you really want to hit all of these attractions in this blog, then drive to Wanaka on one route, and then drive back to Queenstown on the other! This way, you can check out all of the fun things to see and do!

I hope this blog helps you enjoy your road trip from Queenstown to Wanaka. These two towns are some of my favorites, and the attractions that connect them on the road between them are just as exciting! If you want to continue on road-tripping, consider doing the epic drive from Wanaka to Mount Cook – it never disappoints!

Be sure to browse around more on this blog. I’ve written a ton about Queenstown, Wanaka, and tons of other places on the South Island!

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