From Queenstown to Wanaka: 4 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Michael Law and Lana Law
Jul 1, 2023
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For a relatively short drive (about 90 minutes), the trip from Queenstown to Wanaka packs in a lot of scenery, a bit of history, and all kinds of activities. Two routes between these popular tourist destinations are available: The first is up and over the Crown Ranges, and the second follows the Kawarau River along the valley floor.

Famous tree in Wanaka
Famous tree in Wanaka | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Both routes have something to offer, and which one you choose will depend on where your interests lie. The Crown Ranges via Arrowtown route climbs steeply on a series of switchbacks to the Crown Ranges Viewpoint and then descends a long valley through Cardrona into Wanaka.

The other route passes by the world-famous bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge through valley bottom scenery, orchards, and Lake Dunstan. This route, although longer, is considered an easier drive. Both options are well-signposted and easy to follow.

A variety of transport options exist and range from self-drive to buses, tours, and private shuttles.

Below are the best ways to get from Queenstown to Wanaka.

1. From Queenstown to Wanaka by Car

View near Crown Range Summit towards Queenstown
View near Crown Range Summit towards Queenstown | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The best option is to drive yourself between Queenstown and Wanaka. You'll have maximum flexibility to stop along the way and the choice of two routes. The route up and over via Arrowtown is 75 kilometers and takes 75 minutes; the other route is 111 kilometers and takes 90 minutes.

The shorter and more popular route is past Arrowtown and then through the Crown Ranges mountains. This is an incredibly scenic drive. Once you reach Arrowtown, about 20 minutes from Queenstown, park the car and take a stroll up and down Buckingham Street, the town's historic main street. This area is set up to look much like it did during the gold rush days of the mid to late 19th century.

Continuing on, Cardrona is about two-thirds the way to Wanaka and is the perfect stop for a coffee or lunch at the famous hotel. Grab a sunny table in the backyard area and soak up the funky surroundings. Cardrona is also home to the Cardrona Alpine Resort, with skiing in the winter, mountain biking and hiking in the summer, and New Zealand's only mountain carting experience. For spectacular views, ride the gondola to the top.

Scenery near Cromwell
Scenery near Cromwell | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Alternate Route: Another route follows the Kawarau River and Clutha Rivers via Cromwell to Wanaka. You'll pass by vine-covered fields along with the AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping Center at the Kawarau bridge, the place where commercial bungee jumping first started in New Zealand back in November 1988.

The scenery changes, and the road gets a bit narrow before eventually emerging near the orchards of Cromwell. Pop into the Goldfields Mining Centre and learn about the events that opened up this once-remote area of New Zealand in the mid-19th century.

From here, it's an easy and flat drive past Lake Dunstan into Wanaka. If you are towing a trailer, this is the recommended route.

2. From Queenstown to Wanaka on a Tour

Cardrona Hotel
Cardrona Hotel | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

A tour is a great way to transit from Queenstown to Wanaka — all the driving and parking are taken care of, and you'll get a guide to show you the highlights.

The Arrowtown and Wanaka Highlights Tour from Queenstown is a good option. This six-hour tour takes you up and through the Crown Ranges with a stop for photos at the top of the pass.

You'll also visit the famous Cardrona Hotel, where you'll be able to wander the grounds and soak up a bit of the history. From here, it's on to Wanaka and the famous tree in the lake, along with the wonderful waterfront area. At this point, you can depart the tour and stay in Wanaka. You won't see Arrowtown, as it's visited on the way back from Wanaka.

If you'd rather go the other way past the bungee jumping site, through Cromwell and past Lake Dunstan, sign up for the Arrowtown and Wanaka Platinum Tour from Queenstown. Operating in reverse from the tour above, this tour also includes historical locations in Gibbston Valley and fruit tasting at an orchard in Cromwell.

3. From Queenstown to Wanaka by Bus

Scenery between Wanaka and Queenstown
The scenery between Wanaka and Queenstown | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The most economical way to get from Queenstown to Wanaka is by bus. Richies Transport runs a shuttle between the two cities four times a day. Depending on which shuttle you choose, you'll either be routed through Cardrona or Cromwell. In the early morning (leaving Queenstown), you'll go via the Crown Ranges and Cardrona; in the late morning (leaving Queenstown), you'll go via Cromwell.

The same schedule happens in the afternoon; early buses go through Cardrona, and later afternoon buses go through Cromwell. Each route has six to seven stops along the way, including Queenstown airport. The route through Cromwell is 30 minutes longer.

Fares include one large bag. Extra bags, skis, and bikes are an additional fee. The bus is just that — a transport option; no commentary or information is provided.

4. From Queenstown to Wanaka by Private Shuttle

View from Crown Range Summit towards Wanaka
View from Crown Range Summit towards Wanaka | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For maximum flexibility and a guide as well, there's no better option than Roam Wanaka. They will pick you up and drop you off wherever you'd like. It's a private shuttle, so you make the calls on where to stop and for how long.

Roam Wanaka has two vehicles: a Volkswagen van that holds up to six passengers plus and a Mercedes Sprinter Van that can hold up to eleven passengers. Both vehicles have trailers to hold all your luggage, skis, surfboards, golf clubs, or whatever you have packed for your New Zealand adventure.

If you have a larger group, this option is exceptionally convenient and relatively cost-efficient versus taking the bus.