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Crown Range Highway Queenstown, Arrowtown to Wanaka

  • 3 minutes

Crown Range highest highway, NZ between Arrowtown _ Wanaka, South Island sunset

NZ’s highest road

Crown Range Road is the name of a memorable journey in the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s an exhilarating road offering views of alpine high country.

Crown Range Pisa Conservation Area walking tracks, Otago, South Island, Wanaka, New Zealand
Crown Range Pisa Conservation Area walking tracks, Otago, South Island


  • Exhilaration as you drive hairpin bends slowing down to 15 km with sweeping views of valleys and the road snaking below
  • Lunch or an extended stay at the historic Cardrona Hotel
  • Explore the Pisa Conservation Area for more high country panoramic views
  • Join a Cardrona Distillery tour while snapping photos of the slightly tatty bra fence entrance
  • Learn how to tackle snow chains on your vehicle tyres as you navigate the winter landscape of snow and an icy road

While the Crown Range Road is a mere 50 km due to the hairpin bends, serpentines and steep grades it takes an hour and a half to drive in good conditions. There is often considerable traffic and expected delays.

The Crown Range Road starts / finishes at the Arrow Junction and finishes in Wanaka at the southern edge of the town. The road was fully sealed in 2001.

It is not infrequent to see motorhomes on the Crown Range although drivers have to be very cautious and the slow driving can cause queues.

The Crown Range Road is the highest road in New Zealand at 1,079 metres above sea level at the summit where there is an lookout.

The Crown Range Road is officially open year round however snow and ice usually mean snow chains and care is needed. It is very difficult to drive and NZTA has been known to close the road temporarily during blizzard conditions.

Undoubtedly the Crown Range is a spectacular drive especially for passengers with high country views, sweeping panoramic vistas of lakes, towns and farmland as well as the historic Cardrona hotel worthy of a visit. Descending from the summit into the Arrow Valley in the late afternoon is a sunset orange lens over the landscape.

Cardrona Hotel, originally a watering spot and respite for gold miners is now a bustling pub and accommodation hub for summer visitors and winter skiers. The traditional English garden complete with roses, hydrangeas, geraniums and wildflowers is a place for rustic tables, a delicious lunch and a chance to soak in the atmosphere. In winter the pub is a busy depot for skiers.

Cardrona Hotel summer with the iconic vintage touring car, Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand
Cardrona Hotel summer with the iconic vintage touring car, Wanaka, South Island

Cardrona Hotel entrance is marked by a glass window in the floor where the remains of a gold mining shaft can be seen. The hotel is one of New Zealand’s must-go historic hotels. A definite bucket list destination.


Just look for the impromptu decorative fence festooned with bras. Once a single bra now thousands of slightly tatty underwear flaps in the breeze. This is the entrance to the Cardrona Distillery. Distillery tours are popular and the place is known for its slick corporate entertainment and is even a wedding venue. Perhaps the bride took a helicopter to get there.

@Cardrona Distillery
@Cardrona Distillery

Find more great landscapes to photograph with a short walk along the Pisa Conservation Reserve. Entrance at the upper lookout at the summit.

Cardrona is home to one of New Zealand’s well known ski resorts. Cardrona where anything is possible. Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort is open year round with mountain biking a summer pastime.

Check out Wanaka travel guide for what to do and see and Arrowtown travel guide, trip activities, what to do & see. The road is bookended by two of New Zealand’s sought after visitor destinations.

It is possible to drive to Queenstown and/or in reverse from Wanaka in a day and spend several hours exploring the two destinations. It would be tiring as you would spend over 3 hours in a vehicle and a half day does not do justice to either place.


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