South Island Road Trips

Explore the range of touring routes to Wanaka

Driving on the South Island roads of New Zealand is a great experience, with relatively quiet roads and some of the most amazing scenery right outside the window.

Wanaka sits in the centre of the lower South Island and is on a number of touring routes which pass such iconic places as Aoraki Mt Cook, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and Queenstown.

Once you arrive, make sure you stay several days to relax in one of New Zealand's most beautiful destinations.

If you would like help planning your travel itinerary, booking accommodation and activities then our i-SITE Visitor Centre can help you plan and organise your holiday.

Even if you're an experienced driver, it's worth checking out our Driving in New Zealand page to find out more about what it's like to drive on New Zealand roads. 

And remember to always drive on the left-hand side.

Driving Routes

1. Christchurch to Wanaka  - (via Mt Cook) 424 km, 5 hrs 25 mins 
From the plains of Canterbury to Tekapo and nearby Mt Cook, then over the Lindis Pass and on to Wanaka – this drive will provide plenty of photo opportunities and stunning scenery.

Highlights:

  • Fairlie Bakery - famous for its pies
  •  Lake Tekapo - Mt John Observatory & Church of the Good Shepherd
  • Lake Pukaki with views of Aoraki Mt Cook
  • Mt Cook Village (detour)
  • Twizel Salmon Farm
  • Lindis Pass

2. Christchurch to Wanaka - (via the West Coast) 667 km, 8 hrs 48 mins
One of the most popular driving routes in the South Island - the drive over Arthurs Pass and down the West Coast is stunning. 

Highlights:

  • Trans Alpine Train journey
  • Arthurs Pass viaduct
  • Hokitika and the history of pounamu (greenstone)
  • Okarito lagoon - visit the white herons
  • Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
  • Overnight at the glaciers

3. Franz Josef Glacier to Wanaka - 287 km, 3 hrs 35 mins 
Arguably one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand, the road down the West Coast passed the glaciers, the Haast Pass and Lakes Wanaka and Hawea and is a road trip not to be missed.

Highlights:

  • Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers
  • Mirror-clear Lake Matheson
  • Views of Aoraki Mt Cook and the Southern Alps
  • Wild deserted beaches

4. Queenstown to Wanaka - 68 km, 60 mins (Crown Range Road) 
From Queenstown there are two alternate routes to Wanaka, both equally scenic. The Crown Range road is the highest paved highway in NZ and while a shorter route, it involves a steep windy road not suitable for inexperienced drivers. Chains must be carried in winter.

Highlights:

  • Lake Hayes and Amisfield
  • Arrowtown - quaint historic village
  • The Crown Range Road - highest paved highway in New Zealand
  • Cardrona Hotel - historic gold mining hotel
  • The Cardrona Distillery

5. Queenstown to Wanaka - 614 km, 1 hr 30 mins via Kawarau Gorge
The alternative route to Wanaka is the Kawarau Gorge which follows the river through into the vineyards of Central Otago. While slightly longer, the road is relatively flat, wider and better suited to inexperienced drivers.

Highlights:

  • Lake Hayes and Amisfield - stunning reflections of mountains
  • Arrowntown - quaint little town
  • Bungy jumping - stop to watch or give it a go
  • Wine tasting - Gibbston Valley vineyards
  • Historic gold mining centre in the gorge
  • Fresh fruit in season
  • Cromwell - visit the old historic town centre
  • Vineyards around Lake Dunstan
  • Hoglund Glass showroom
  • Archangel Vineyard - near Luggate
  • Wanaka Airport attractions and activities

6. Dunedin to Wanaka - 276 km, 3 hrs 30 mins 
The journey from Dunedin through Central Otago and up to Wanaka passes through a number of classic Kiwi towns.

Highlights:

  • Historic town of Lawrence & Jimmy's Pie shop 
  • Orchards of Central Otago with stone fruit and apples
  • Clyde - lovely little town and Olivers Restaurant
  • Cromwell Gorge - old Cromwell town
  • Bannockburn vineyards

7. Wanaka to Milford Sound - 394 km, 5 hrs 
Lakes, mountains, fiords, this road trip has plenty of exceptional scenery along the way and Milford Sound as a reward at the end of the drive.

Highlights:

  • Cardrona Hotel - historic gold mining hotel
  • The Cardrona Distillery
  • The Crown Range Road - highest paved highway in New Zealand
  • Arrowtown - quaint historic village
  • Lake Hayes and Amisfield
  • Drive down Lake Wakatipu around the Devils Staircase
  • Te Anau township
  • Lake Manapouri
  • Homer Tunnel & the Milford Road drive
  • Milford Sound & boat cruise
  • Doubtful Sound overnight cruise

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Flying to Wanaka Driving to Wanaka Explore the Region

Flights to Wanaka

Getting to Wanaka is easy. It’s a short, scenic 60-minute drive to Wanaka from the closest international airport, where you will find all major rental car companies and scheduled bus services that provide transport to Wanaka throughout the day.

Queenstown Airport is serviced daily from all major New Zealand airports as well as over 40 flights a week direct from Australia.

How to get to Wanaka

Driving to Wanaka

Driving on the South Island roads of New Zealand is a great way to experience the region, with relatively quiet roads and some of the most amazing scenery right outside the window.

Major car and campervan hire companies are all located at Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown airports. There are also a number of rental car companies based in Wanaka.

How to get to Wanaka

Explore the Region

Wanaka is unique and captivating; it inspires you to discover, and gives you the freedom to explore.

Located in the stunning alps of the South Island, New Zealand, visitors from around the world are drawn to the Wanaka region by its outstanding beauty.

Explore Wanaka

  1. New Zealand
  2. Auckland 1 h 50 min
  3. Wellington 1 h 20 min
  4. Christchurch 55 min
  5. Queenstown Airport 1 h 4 min
  6. Australia
  7. Brisbane 3 h 50 min
  8. Gold Coast 3 h 30 min
  9. Sydney 3 h 15 min
  10. Melbourne 3 h 35 min
  11. Tokyo 10 h 30 min
  12. Los Angeles 12 h 5 min
  13. Beijing 16 h 10 min
  1. Mount Aspiring
    National Park
    54 min
  2. Christchurch 5 h 14 min
  3. Ashburton 3 h 56 min
  4. Geraldine 3 h 19 min
  5. Tekapo 2 h 17 min
  6. Mt Cook 2 h 6 min
  7. Twizel 1 h 39 min
  8. Omarama 1 h 21 min
  9. Franz Josef 3 h 32 min
  10. Fox Glacier 3 h 6 min
  11. Haast 1 h 43 min
  12. Cromwell 39 min
  13. Queenstown 1 h 4 min
  14. Milford Sound 4 h 34 min
  15. Te Anau 2 h 52 min
  16. Dunedin 2 h 52 min
  1. Mount Aspiring
    National Park
    54 min
  2. Coronet Peak
  3. The Remarkables
  4. Cardrona
  5. Treble Cone
  6. Snow Farm
  7. Heli Skiing
  8. Heli Skiing
  9. Makarora 50 min
  10. Lake Hawea 1 h 7 min
  11. Wanaka Airport 11 min
  12. Luggate 13 min
  13. Tarras 27 min
  14. Cromwell 39 min
  15. Arrowtown 53 min
  16. Queenstown 1 h 4 min
  17. Queenstown Airport 59 min
  18. Matukituki Valley 51 min
  19. Raspberry Creek 1 h 6 min