Great Drives from Queenstown: Crown Range Road to Wanaka

Our last day in Queenstown started out a little rainy and rather dreary. My mom and I had caught a cold sometime earlier during the trip and the runny nose and sore throat were at their worst. Tired from the previous days activities, we pretty much slept in that morning. Lucky for us, the day wasn’t an entire waste: it ended up drizzling all morning with some really bad wind. Definitely not a day to spend out in the great outdoors!


Introduction: Christmas in Hong Kong, and New Year in New Zealand
Cathay Pacific First & Business Class Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific Business Class (Reverse Herringbone) SFO-HKG
The Conrad Hong Kong – Harbor View Twin Room
The Intercontinental Hong Kong – Harbor View Room
The Sights and Sounds of Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge HKG Airport
Singapore Airlines Business Class HKG-SIN-AKL
Arrival in Queenstown & The Rees Queenstown Luxury Hotel Apartments
Queenstown Day 1: Milford Sound
Queenstown Day 2: Glenorchy
Queenstown Day 3: Crown Range Road & Wanaka
The Hilton Auckland & New Year’s Eve
Hobbiton, New Zealand
Emperor Lounge @ Auckland Airport (via Priority Pass)
The Park Hyatt Sydney – Opera View Deluxe King Room
Virgin Australia Business Class SYD-LAX
Virgin America Lounge – The Loft at LAX

 

Around 3pm, the rain stopped and the wind appeared to calm down; indicating there was still some time left to visit some spots. I had heard many good things about the Crown Range Road from other travelers to the region and decided it seemed like an ideal drive to do within a short span of time. I definitely didn’t feel like doing a 7 hour drive again given my sore throat and rather irritable state.

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The drive begins on the left hand side of the main road leading out of Queenstown, a couple of kilometers past the traffic circle with the street leading to the airport. As a quick note, the initial ascent appeared to be a little steep, and windy. Just something to be aware of if you are traveling up the road in the winter. In fact I believe the road even closes sometimes under snowy conditions.

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The road leads straight up the mountains surrounding the region and is coined as being the highest main road above the region, though there is some controversy behind this. Along the road were some spectacular views of Arrowtown, Queenstown, and the entire Lake District. The clouds really added to the drama as we made our way up.

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There were an ample number of places along the way to stop for pictures and the views kept getting better.

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I stopped at almost every view point along the way to take pictures, but the best view was actually at the place where there is a stone marker with”Lake County Council” written on it. There is plenty of place to park at this particular view point.

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After the initial climb up to the view point mentioned above, the road leads through a series of valleys and hills to finally arrive at the resort town of Wanaka on the lake by the same name. It was really cloudy when we got to Wanaka and visibility of the surrounding mountains was quite poor. And since it was cloudy, the lake itself didn’t have the fascinating blue hues that characterize the lakes of the region.

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Wanaka is the closest resort town to Mount Aspiring National Park, another potential road trip if one has enough time to spend in the region. The town itself is very small, even when compared to Queenstown, and is well noted for one landmark: The Lone Tree of Wanaka. I was feeling a bit “under the weather” on this particular drive and so completely forgot about the tree (the decogestant was wearing off). Pity since that truly is the point of going to Wanaka 🙂

In case you are wondering what it looks like, there are plenty of pictures available online by typing in the keywords “Lone Tree Wanaka”

On the drive back we stopped at a small viewpoint we seemed to have missed earlier. I had pretty much captured the similar scene on the way to Wanaka, so I just sat there enjoying the view.

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At this point I was starting to feel a bit nostalgic about the excitement I had before I went to New Zealand. The experience had lived up to my every expectation, but now it was almost time to say goodbye to Queenstown and the Southern Alps, and as such 2/3 of my trip. I did find comfort in the idea that I still had Auckland, Hobbiton, Sydney, and even Virgin Australia (that’s right :)) coming up though. I now look back and stop the nostalgic tears by telling myself: I’ll be back there soon.

Bottom Line: The Crown Range Road is a must do while in Queenstown and is one of the best ways to get a bird’s eye view of the region without a helicopter. Wanaka was a bit disappointing at the end of it all, but it could have just been because my decongestant had worn off or my self denial about missing that great photo opportunity. In either case if you definitely don’t have the time, I would start heading back after completing the ascent segment of the Crown Range Highway. If you do decide to go to Wanaka make sure to check out the Lone Tree and be certain that it is a fair bit sunny so that you get the best views.

And that caps my trip report about the South Island of New Zealand folks. Stay tuned for more about the North Island.