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The Road From Queenstown To Wanaka Via The Crown Range
Dorothy - 27/10/01

From the beautiful scenic centre of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu to the beautiful scenic centre of Wanaka on Lake Wanaka by way of the Crown Range, the highest main road in New Zealand, with great views and gold mining history - it's a unique trip not to be missed.

After experiencing some of the wonderful sights and activities Queenstown has to offer you are ready to move on to Lake Wanaka and drive through the Haast Pass to the West Coast.

Leaving Queenstown by State Highway 6 you drive to Frankton and continue along SH 6 - the road signposted as leading to Cromwell. The drive to Wanaka via SH6 is 120 km (75 miles) and takes you through the scenic Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell and on to Wanaka. You may have already driven through the Gorge on your way to Queenstown. Anyway why not add a very special experience and drive over the Crown Range to Wanaka?

Add some extra scenic variety and choose to drive over the Crown Range.
The Crown Range Road is the highest main road in New Zealand and offers some fascinating views. It is a shorter trip - 70km (44 miles) - than going through Cromwell, but don't allow less time as the travelling will be slower and you will want to stop to look at the views and take photographs.

The clearly marked turnoff to the Crown Range is just past Lake Hayes - 18.8 km (11.7 miles) - from Queenstown.

Crown Range
Looking down at the zigzag
Photo source Bill Moore

The road zigzags up to the Crown Terrace and from there you can look down to Arrowtown in the Arrow Valley, and across at the end of the Remarkables and the road to the Remarkables skifield.

The road then climbs steeply to the summit - 1119,7 metres above sea level. From there you can see Frankton, part of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. For another impressive view walk up the track to the viewing point which opens up the view of the end of the Carrick Range sloping steeply down to the Kawarau Gorge.

Much of the road beyond this point was unsealed, but sealing has been completed this year and has made for easier travelling. The road crosses a plateau of farmland and then descends steadily through the steep-sided Cardrona valley and the little Cardrona River. On the left is the Crown Range and on the right the Criffle Range. This land growing mainly tussock is old goldmining country and heaps of tailings are evidence of the earlier presence of the miners who must have rejoiced to slake their thirst at the Cardrona Hotel built in 1870.

Lesley wrote a recommendation for stopping for coffee at this historic hotel in NZine's feature, Recommended in New Zealand - where to eat and drink.

Cardrona Hotel
Historic Cardrona Hotel
Photo source Peter Hunt

"The historic Cardrona Hotel on the Crown Range Road is a great place to stop for a drink. Their coffee is just great. There is a lovely garden in which to have your coffee if the weather is suitable. It is warm and welcoming indoors on cold days. There are many old books, old photos and even old sewing machines
to look at."

Cardrona Skifield
A short distance past the hotel you will note the access road to the Cardrona Skifield. Instead of using a skifield near Queenstown many skiers think it is worth the extra travel to Cardrona via the Crown Range Road because of the quality of the snow and the excellent beginner slopes. There are three chairlifts and beginners' fixed rope tows. On the field there is a ski school, a cafeteria, equipment hire, a souvenir/ski shop and a helipad.

The Crown Range Road gives the shortest access from Queenstown to Wanaka, but the winding road will demand great care from drivers in conditions of snow and ice.

Cycling over the Crown Range
If you are planning to cycle over the Crown Range we recommend that you begin at the Wanaka end as riding up the zigzag would be a very tough challenge.

The last stretch to Wanaka
From the Cardrona hotel the valley opens out and willows grow beside the little Cardrona River. When we did the trip last, in late spring, the sun on the willow trees heightened our awareness of the greenness after driving down through barren hills. Poplar trees also grow in the valley, beautiful in spring and promising some of Central Otago's famous golden tints in the autumn. After the steep gradients earlier in the trip the traveller is scarcely aware of the how the road drops steadily towards Wanaka.

Glimpse of Mt Aspiring
Don't be tempted to speed over the last few kilometres to Wanaka or you may miss on your left the first view of distant snowy mountains, in particular of Mt Aspiring, towering on the skyline at 3.033.6 metres (9953 feet).

Mt Aspiring Lake Wanaka
Mt Aspiring from the Cardrona Valley
Photo source Peter Hunt

Looking across Lake Wanaka to the mountains
Photo source Peter Hunt

The township of Wanaka has changed a lot in recent years with the building of beautiful modern homes, more tourist accommodation and shopping facilities, but the memorable aspect of Wanaka does not change - the magnificent views across Lake Wanaka to the mountains.

A Bill Moore painting
Glendhu Bay Station, Wanaka - painting by Bill Moore
Photo source Bill Moore

If you have time to pause drive around the western shore to Glendhu Bay where you can also enjoy viewing the grandeur of Mt Aspiring. The road leads to Glendhu Bay Station with dark trees and poplars which turn gold in autumn and in the background there is the majesty of the mountains.

For further information read about Neville Peat's guide book Wanaka: The Lake Wanaka Region.

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