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Queenstown to Wānaka – Some of the best roads in Aotearoa

Connecting two of the most popular destinations in the South Island, countless tourists and locals travel the roads from Queenstown to Wānaka each day.

With a number of routes though, which is the best way to get from town to town?

Join us as we share all of the must-see stops along each possible route, allowing you to make the very best choice for you.

We’ll start by discussing the different ways you can travel to Arrow Junction, before exploring the two main onwards roads to Wānaka.

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The Best Ways to Travel from Queenstown to Wānaka

Optional Stops Near Queenstown

There are two main routes between Queenstown and Wānaka but regardless of which route you choose, you can check out Shotover, Arrowtown and/or Lake Hayes near the start of your journey.

Whether you choose route one (via the Crown Range) or route two (Kawarau Gorge), it’s possible to drive any number of ways to get out of Queenstown and to Arrow Junction, where the routes spilt.

  • You might prefer the more direct route from Queenstown to Arrow Junction. This part of the trip spans 18km and takes approximately 20 minutes without stops. It swings past Lake Hayes if you’re keen to jump out of the car.
  • Alternatively, take the longer route from Queenstown to Arrow Junction, driving past Shotover/Arthur’s Point and Arrowtown, and then head straight for Arrow Junction. This route covers 25km and takes 25 minutes without stops – though you will want to stop if you go this way.
  • Finally, if you don’t want to miss out on any of the following three locations that follow, it’s possible to include them all – Shotover, Arrowtown and Lake Hayes, before heading to Arrow Junction. This route is 29km long and takes about 27 minutes (plus stops).

Choose from any of these stops as you head towards Arrow Junction. From there, you will need to choose between driving the Crown Range or Kawarau Gorge (State Highway 6).

But before you make that decision, let’s see what awaits you at each of the locations we just mentioned…

1. Arthur’s Point/Shotover

Arthur’s Point is one of Queenstown’s suburbs located along State Highway 6. With the Shotover River running through it, it’s a beautiful spot that hosts plenty of attractions – the most memorable of which is the Shotover Jet and Onsen Hot Pools.

The iconic Shotover Jet will take you on a jet boating adventure through Shotover Canyon. You’ll travel at exhilarating speeds of over 85km/ph, while pulling 360-degree turns and wizzing past cliff faces. This is an experience like no other and is perfect for those adrenaline junkies out there!

Looking over the passengers of a speedboat from behind.

Don’t miss out on the Onsen hot pools whilst you’re passing through Arthur’s Point. These beautiful private hot pools allow you to kick back and relax in the warm water, complete with a glass of wine and snacks. Or if you’d prefer, treat yourself to a massage.

Whatever you choose, you’ll be treated to views out over the Shotover River. During the day, you’ll look down on the Shotover Jet and after the sun goes down, you’ll witness the mesmerizing sight of twinkling lights reflecting on the tranquil waters.

Steaming bath tub with a view of a rocky mountain in Onsen.

2. Arrowtown

If you’ve got a little spare time when driving from Queenstown to Wanaka, we recommend heading to Arrowtown.

Nestled along the Arrow River, this former gold mining town has an intriguing history. And there’s a fair bit to do there too.

First of all, you’ll want to explore the historic buildings along Buckingham Street, before visiting the old Chinese Settlement. You can also pan for the gold in the river or walk along the Arrowtown River Trail (or any one of the worthwhile walks in the area).

This is also a great place to stop for breakfast as there are plenty of great cafés to choose from. And you’ll also want to grab some snacks for the road at the Remarkable Sweet Shop – their fudge is unbeatable!

Arrowtown's historic cottages for miners along the road.

3. Lake Hayes

Near the start of your trip from Queenstown to Wanaka, we also recommend you stop off at Lake Hayes.

If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day then you’ll be treated to breathtaking reflections of the surrounding mountains along the lake’s surface. For this reason, it’s a popular spot with walkers and cyclists who want to tackle the Lake Hayes Walkway. This trail is a 2 to 3-hour loop that will you all along the lake’s perimeter.

However, even if you don’t have two hours to spare we think it’s worth stopping off here anyway to take some beautiful photographs and enjoy a moment of peace.

This is one of our favourite free things to do in and around Queenstown.

Mirror-like waters of Lake Hayes in autumn.
Photo credit: Destination Queenstown.

Route One from Queenstown to Wānaka: Via the Crown Range & Cardrona

This drive is absolutely spectacular. You’ll wind your way up to the Arrow Junction Lookout Point, before passing over miles of stunning alpine scenery. This is our highest sealed alpine pass at 1,076m above sea level.

During the winter season (May to October), this road is often covered in snow, and for that reason, we recommend it for more confident drivers. Snow chains are essential at this time of year. It’s important to know that the Crown Range is seldom closed, even though conditions may be challenging, so don’t use that as your main indicator.

If you’d like a sense of how what the weather has been like up on the Crown Range, you can check their camera.

Distance: 50km from the Arrow Junction turnoff. This means it’s between 68 and 79 kilometres from Queenstown, depending on the route you choose prior to this point.

Estimated total driving time: Approximately 50 minutes from the Arrow Junction turnoff. This makes the total drive time between 70 and 80 minutes, depending on the route you choose prior to this point.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for an alternative route between Queenstown and Wānaka, that is anything but second-best, you might like to check out the second route we recommend, travelling via Kawarau Gorge.

1. Arrow Junction Lookout Point

If you’re travelling from Queenstown to Wanaka along the Crown Range Road, your first stop after the Arrow Junction turn off will be particularly close, as it’s the Arrow Junction Lookout Point. It’s just a 20-25 minute drive from the city centre (and minutes from the turnoff).

It provides stunning views of Queenstown Hill and the surrounding mountains. If you manage to do this drive on a clear day, you’re really in for a treat as you’ll be able to see for miles!

The viewpoint is easy to reach and there’s a car park there too so you don’t need to worry about parking on the side of the road. Once you’ve parked up, grab your camera, and read the information boards whilst enjoying the epic views.

A valley with roads, grass and a few trees.
Photo credit: Sandra Atkinson, NZTT member.

2. Crown Range Scenic Lookout

Crown Range Scenic Lookout is another fantastic viewpoint you’ll want to stop at!

The Crown Range Road is New Zealand’s highest alpine pass so as you can imagine the views are breathtaking. Though you’ll be treated to stunning vistas at every turn, this viewpoint is definitely worth parking up for. Like Arrow Junction Lookout, this viewpoint has a car park too so there’s no excuse not to stop.

After you’ve arrived at the viewpoint, you’ll want to allow yourself at least 5 to 10 minutes to take it all in.

Pro Tip: This lookout is particularly stunning during golden hour (the period of time shortly after sunrise or before sunset).

Snow-covered mountain tops in Crown Range.
Photo credit: Carly Fowler, NZTT member.

3. Cardrona Hotel

During your trip from Queenstown to Wanaka, we recommend stopping off at the Cardrona Hotel! This iconic building is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand and is quite the famous stop-off point.

With its unique exterior, it’s no wonder that this place is one of the most photographed buildings in the country.

You just marvel at it from the outside if you’re in a rush, but we recommend you head inside to truly appreciate the hotel’s history. There’s an award-winning restaurant and beer garden on-site, so we’re sure that you’ll find a way to keep yourself entertained.

Cardrona Valley Road (near Soho Street turn-off), Cardrona 9382

Front of Cardrona Hotel with a jeep parked.

4. Cardrona Alpine Resort

If you’re heading to Wānaka during the wintertime, you’ll need to be cautious along Crown Range Road. However, once you reach Cardrona Valley Road the journey will be a bit easier.

Aside from the incredible views, one of the main reasons to drive this route in winter is to stop off at Cardrona. This is considered one of the best ski fields in New Zealand. It’s the perfect spot for skiing and snowboarding thanks to world-class facilities and reliable snow.

Or, if you’d prefer to just relax then you can take the cable car up to the Vista Bar or dine at the Mezz. Either way, you’ll be surrounded by towering mountain peaks at every turn.

Sitting on a snow giving a high five in Cardrona Alpine Resort.

During the summer season, the snow disappears from Cardrona but there’s still plenty of fun to be found on the mountain. This is the only place in New Zealand where you’ll find three-wheeled mountain carts.

Fueled by gravity, these cars are serious fun and a great addition to your Queenstown to Wānaka drive.

Cardrona Valley Rd, Cardrona 9305

Two couples racing with carts in the dusty tracks of Cardrona Mountain.

5. Cardrona Bra Fence

The Cardrona Bra Fence is the quirkiest attraction on this list!

It started at some stage between 1998 and 1999 when visitors began attaching their bras to this rural fence – what started with just four bras has grown to approximately 1,000.

Nobody knows why the bras were first attached to this fence, or why this particular spot was chosen, but it’s become quite the attraction!

The bras have been cleared off the fence a couple of times before, but each time that happens, they just come back stronger.

Whether you love it or hate it, it seems the bra fence is here for good.

2125 Cardrona Valley Road, Cardrona 9382

A fence hanged with bras beside the road in Cardrona.
Photo credit: (nz)dave.

6. Cardrona Distillery

If you enjoy a good drop, we recommend swinging past the Cardrona Distillery. With award-winning vodkas, whiskies, gins and liqueurs, all distilled on site, this is a favourite stop for many on the road between Queenstown and Wānaka.

They offer two tours; the classic tour (which is particularly affordable and takes 1 hour, 15 minutes) and the family reserve tour (which is perfect if you’re really looking to immerse yourself over three hours).

The classic tour is $25 each whereas the family reserve tour is $350 per person.

Pouring a Cardrona Whiskey in a small glass.

Classic tours are run on the hour between 10 am and 3 pm, every day of the week, while the special family tour runs Tuesday to Friday, from 10.30 am until 1.30 pm.

The distillery and cellar door are also open from 9.30 am until 7 pm if you would like to make a purchase or sample a locally distilled drop.

2125 Cardrona Valley Road, Wānaka 9382

7. Target Shooting

Located on the drive between Queenstown and Wānaka (via the Crown Range), you’ll find Real Guns New Zealand, a certified shooting range.

Open by appointment only, they are able to provide training on rifles, pistols and shotguns, aiming at fixed or clay bird targets. All guests and tourists are supported by a qualified instructor.

This is a great opportunity to learn how to shoot in a safe and supportive environment that’s designed to be fun for the whole whānau.

1081 Cardrona Valley Road, Cardrona 9382

… and then finish the drive into Wānaka.

Queenstown to Wānaka Route Two: Kawarau Gorge (State Highway 6)

Though the trip from Queenstown to Wānaka is slower when travelling via the Kawarau Gorge, it is every bit as beautiful.

You’ll follow the Kawarau River and Clutha River, passing a number of worthwhile stops along the way. With bungy jumping, vineyards, historic mining relics, racing cars, museums and more, this route really does offer something for everyone.

Distance: 94km from the Arrow Junction turnoff. This means it’s between 112km and 123km from Queenstown, depending on the route you choose prior to this point.

Estimated total driving time: Approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes from the Arrow Junction turnoff. This makes the drive time between 1 hour, 30 minutes and 1 hour 37 minutes, depending on the route you choose prior to this point.

1. Kawarau Gorge and Bridge

No road trip from Queenston to Wanaka is complete without stopping off at Kawarau Gorge. The views here are spectacular as is the iconic Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

During your time at the gorge, you need to spend some time at Kawarau Bungy Jump! This was the first-ever commercial jump site (that’s right, anywhere in the world). This means it’s the original bungy, and where better to jump than that?

Whether you’re planning to jump the Kawarau Bridge (affectionately known as K’ Bridge) or simply to watch, you don’t want to miss out on this super scenic spot!

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you might recognise Kawarau Gorge too, as it features in the movies.

A long bridge where people bungy jump to a river beneath it in Kawaru Bridge Bungy.
Watch people jump from the home of bungy jumping in New Zealand! Photo credit: QueenstownNZ.co.nz.

2. Gibbston Valley

Gibbston Valley is beautiful (as you would expect in this region) with its flowing rivers and towering hills. However, this part of New Zealand is most famous for its delicious wines!

There are several awesome wineries that you can visit including Chard Farm, Kinross, and Mt Rosa Wines.

However, the most famous is Gibbston Valley Winery! Here, you’ll find the largest wine cave in Aotearoa and some fantastic tour options. It is also the oldest winery in the region.

While visiting you’ll be able to explore the cellars, taste some delicious wines and enjoy a wide range of delicious cheeses, meals and desserts.

Plus, as it’s so close to Queenstown, it’s also a wonderful day trip from the adventure capital.

Explaining the growth of grape-bearing vines to a family tourist in Gibbston Valley Winery.
Explore the amazing wineries found in Gibbston Valley. Photo credit: QueenstownNZ.co.nz.

3. OXBOW Adventure Co

You’ll find OXBOW Adventure Co just 30 minutes from central Queenstown. Offering a number of amazing (and exciting) activities, this is a memorable stop on your road trip from Queenstown to Wānaka.

Jump on the ultimate off-roader ride for a 4WD, 4-wheel steer, all-terrain adventure, fly around on their jet sprint boat (which just so happens to be the only custom-built 4-seater jet boat in the world), or take aim at their clay bird targets (with one-on-one guidance from their experienced shooting instructor).

This is serious fun for everyone!

2696 Gibbston Valley, Gibbston 9371

A car about to slide down a ramp in Oxbow Adventure.

4. Roaring Meg Lookout

Located approximately halfway between Gibbston and Cromwell, the Roaring Meg Lookout is worth a quick stop as you head for Wānaka.

From the lookout, you’ll get a great view of Roaring Meg. This power station was one of the region’s only sources of electricity until they were connected to the national grid in 1957. Even today, Roaring Meg functions as a hydropower station, helping to provide energy to the Queenstown region.

6 Kawarau Gorge Road, Cromwell 9384

A house beside a river at the foot of a mountain.
Photo credit: mirsasha.

5. Goldfields Mining Centre & Jet

This part of Aotearoa has a rich gold mining history, so where better to learn about it?

The Goldfields Mining Centre gives guests a glimpse into what life would have been like for the early gold miners. They worked in challenging and often dangerous conditions, often a long way from home. Tour a replica of a Chinese miners’ village and store and imagine what life would have been like in the 1860’s.

While there, we recommend joining a fully-guided tour, hopping on their exciting jet boat ride and learning how to pan for gold. You might just get lucky!

Your guide will provide you with a gold pan and show you where to obtain your gravels.. You will then be shown the right technique for “panning for gold”. The rest is over to you!

Goldfields Mining Centre

803 Kawarau Gorge Road, Kawarau Gorge 9310

Goldfield Jets at full speed.

6. Cromwell

The charming town of Cromwell was originally a bustling gold mining town.

Today it’s most famous for its delicious fresh fruit ice creams and orchards where you can pick your own fruit. Whether you’re a fan of apples, peaches, or pears, you’ll have plenty of options. The most popular orchards in Cromwell include Jackson Orchard, Dam Good Fruit, and Webbs Fruit. Make sure you pay one of them a visit.

During your stop, you can also visit ‘Old Cromwell Town’, take a picture with the huge fruit bowl statue, and relax at Lake Dunstan (more on that soon).

Or, if you’d rather something a bit more exciting, check out Highlands! There you can pick from supercar fast-laps, u-drive race cars, or go-karts (that are driven over a 650m outdoor circuit with single and tandem karts available).

Once you’ve had your need for speed experience, why not check out the National Motorsport Museum, its quirky loos with a view and its licenced café?

Though Cromwell is a small town, it packs a surprising punch.

A race car racing through the tracks of Miles Holden.
Feel the need for speed in Cromwell. Photo credit: Miles Holden.

7. Lake Dunstan

Continuing on from Cromwell, we couldn’t miss scenic Lake Dunstan off this road trip list. It’s a man-made lake and reservoir that was built in the 1990s, and although it is beautiful, the highlight of this place has to be the Lake Dunstan cycle trail.

The trail runs between Clyde and Cromwell and is split up into four separate sections, with the total track sitting at approximately 55km long.

It’s an easy-to-moderate cycle trail, offering stunning views and plenty of awesome stop-offs along the way.

Even, if you’re travelling by car, we recommend that you hop out and walk along at least part of the trail to fully appreciate its beauty.

A couple riding bikes while crossing a wooden bridge in Lake Dunstan.
Bike the Lake Dunstan Trail. Photo credit: Miles Holden.

8. Skydive in Wānaka

On the home straight to Wānaka you’ll find the more exhilarating activity on this list – skydiving!

There you’ll have the choice of three different jump heights – 9,000 feet (2,743m), 12,000 feet (3,657m) or 15,000 feet (4,572m). Whichever you choose, you’ll reach speeds of up to 200km/h in freefall, before your parachute safely opens. You’ll then enjoy views of the rugged Southern Alps (including our tallest mountain, Mount Cook), and the South Island’s longest river, the Clutha.

All of this will, of course, happen under the experienced and watchful eye of your tandem master.

Whether you’re a true adrenaline junkie, or just someone looking to push their boundaries a little, there really is nothing else that compares to a skydive!

Mustang Lane, Luggate 9382

Skydiving with a view of a lake, mountain ranges, rivers and farmlands in Wanaka.

9. The National Transport & Toy Museum

Continuing closer to Wānaka you’ll come across the National Transport & Toy Museum.

This is a must-visit as it’s home to one of the world’s largest private collections of toys and vehicles, making it the perfect family activity. With over 60,000 toys, 600 vehicles, and 20 aircraft there’s a lot to see. This isn’t a place you want to rush.

Whether you’re a fan of Lego or Barbie, there are toys here to suit everyone’s taste.

Adults will enjoy reliving their childhoods and glimpsing at a bygone era, whilst little ones will love that this museum is also home to the largest top shop in the area!

891 Wanaka-Luggate Highway, RD 2, Wānaka 9382

An old plane and a few cars in Oren Rozan.
Photo credit: Oren Rozen.

10. Wānaka Lavender Farm

During your road trip from Queenstown to Wanaka, you won’t want to miss out on this iconic lavender farm.

Just a short drive from the town centre, Wānaka Lavender Farm is easily one of the most beautiful destinations in town.

With beautiful gardens, farm animals, and an on-site cafe, this place has a lot to offer. However, the highlight of course is the stunning lavender fields that you can wander through.

Set on 20 acres of land you’ll find plenty of things to do here – most of all though, we recommend you try their lavender ice creams! You’ll also want your camera for this stop as it’s breathtaking.

36 Morris Road, Wānaka 9382

Pro Tip: Lavender does not flower right through the year so check their Facebook page if that’s an important part of your visit.

A huge farm with lavender flowers.

11. Pembroke Pâtisserie

Although the journey from Queenstown to Wānaka takes just over an hour, you’re bound to be peckish after exploring all these places.

Luckily for you, the Pembroke Patisserie is on hand to curb your hunger, and they’re just a slight detour off the main road.

They have all the baked goods you could imagine, ranging from savoury snacks, such as sausage rolls, pies and rolls, to tasty treats including chocolate brownies, eclairs and vanilla doughnuts.

The cakes are mouth-watering too. Pick from plenty of favourites including banana cake, carrot cake, and lemon meringue sponge.

Everything is freshly baked and prepared at the pâtisserie, and the coffee is amazing, making this a must-visit stop on any itinerary.

20 Alison Avenue, Albert Town 9382

Different tasty pastries with chocolates, grapes, and strawberries in Pembroke Patisserie.

12. Puzzling World

Just as you think your road trip from Queenstown to Wānaka is nearly over, you’ll come across Puzzling World. No matter your age, this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Puzzling World is regarded as one of the world’s weirdest attractions and it’s not hard to see why! With several illusion rooms, the great maze, and the ‘Think Tank Cafe’ your mind will be baffled – so prepare yourself.

Although it’s possible to spend all day here, especially for families, you only need a short amount of time to see the best attractions. Then you can continue onward to Wānaka.

Or, if you’d prefer, you can drive right on through to Wānaka and then double back from town, as it really isn’t far.

188 Wanaka-Luggate Highway, Wānaka 9382

An optical illusion inside a room where a woman seemed to hold a man on her palm.

So, Which Route Should You Choose to Travel From Queenstown to Wānaka?

Honestly, there is no clear answer to this.

If you’re a less-confident driver, then we would suggest taking the longer route via Kawarau Gorge. This trip also offers more in the way of activities and is seriously beautiful.

If you’d prefer to take in stunning alpine scenery and views, whilst travelling from Queenstown to Wānaka that little bit faster, then the Crown Range is the best option for you.

In an ideal world though, we’d recommend doing both!

Whatever you choose, be sure to check out our favourite things to do in Wānaka, along with our favourite hikes and restaurants.

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