After a wonderful two days in Wanaka, we drove further south to our next destination. This next town on our trip is perhaps the most well known place on South Island – Queenstown. It is a place that has often been labelled as a must-go in NZ, and it is also considered the adventure capital of the world. Judging from our research, we expected it to be a buzzing (and crowded) tourist hot spot. We left Wanaka early in the morning, as we wanted to reach Queenstown early enough to be able to do the famed drive to Glenorchy the same day. We had to do all of this the same day because today was the last day of our rental car contract. We had to return the car in the evening, and from tomorrow onwards, we were going to be without a car!
There are two routes to go from Wanaka to Queenstown, one through Cromwell (longer but flat) and one via the Crown Range (shorter but winding and hilly). Cromwell gives you the chance to do some fruit pickings on South Island orchards, while the Crown Range gives you mountainous views and winding roads. We decided to go via the Crown Range as we were interested in photo stops and views. Another reason to go via this route was to check out the famous Cardrona Hotel, which comes just before the start of the Crown Range Road.
Within 20 minutes of leaving Wanaka, we were at the Cardrona Hotel, the oldest hotel in New Zealand. It was where the gold mining folks hung out during the 19th century. The hotel was established in 1863, so it is quite old indeed.
(The Cardona Hotel, by the road)
(it was established in the 19th century)
(a phone booth and the Old General Store)
(on the other side across the road)
(ancient artifacts across the road)
(apparently, you can go on horseback riding here)
After a few minutes of exploring and picture taking, we proceeded straight to the Crown Range Road. This road can be quite difficult to drive on during the winter months, as it has some very tight hairpins. The fact that the Crown Range is vulnerable to weather events was evident by the fact that the board welcoming us to the starting point of the road had a space on it to describe the status of the road, whether it is open or closed. We had never seen this sort of sign previously in our other drives. Thankfully the road was open that day and the weather was clear. In summer months on clear days, the road is not very difficult to drive on. As long as you use basic common sense, it is a breeze.
(leaving Cardrona Valley)
(the lovely Otago countryside)
(The Crown Range begins)
We drove for the next 1 hour on a road cutting through the hills along some very dramatic scenery. While the Lindis Pass drive was (in our opinion) much more scenic than the Crown Range Road, this particular drive was more exciting because of the tight bends and curves that came along. Also, the views were a lot greener than Lindis. There were lots of tourists driving to Queenstown that day, and some of the parking areas of the various viewpoints were full of cars coming and going. But that did not stop us from taking some amazing pictures.
(twisty and turning)
(a lookout point along the way)
(hello Queenstown – in the background)
(lovely mountain ranges)
(beautiful mix of brown and green)
(wonderful setting for a hilly road)
(lots of tourists at lookout points)
(pretty views all around)
(descending the Crown Range)
(fork at the end of the Crown Range near Arrow junction)
(heading south west towards Queenstown)
(river flowing along the way)
(crowds start to grow as we approach Queenstown)
(increasing traffic means we are almost there)
(along Frankton Rd)
(beautiful Lake Wakatipu)
Finally, after about 2 hours and 68 kms since leaving Wanaka, we made it to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world! We could see paragliders in the sky and gondolas going up the Queenstown hill. There were loads of people and cars everywhere. There was a unique buzz in the air, and it felt very different to the rest of the South Island. It felt like we were in a city. We were ready to experience everything that Queenstown had to offer.