Drive from Cromwell to Queenstown via the Kawarau Gorge Road

The scenic drive from Cromwell to Queenstown offers 60 km of gorge, mountain, and lake scenery. Get information on what to expect and see a video of this scenic drive from Cromwell to Queenstown via the Kawarau Gorge Road on the South Island of New Zealand.

This driving route starts at the junction of State Highway 6 and 8B in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand.

It is approximately a 60 km (37 mi) drive from Cromwell to Queenstown.

Driving at about 80 to 100 km/h (50 to 62 mph) – the maximum speed limit on highways in New Zealand is 100 km/h (62 mph) – it would take between 40 and 45 minutes if you drive from Cromwell to Queenstown or from Queenstown to Cromwell.

This drive could take slightly longer if you’re driving on the Kawarau Gorge Road (the part of State Highway 6 that follows the Kawarau River) for the first time. It is a winding road with several tricky corners.

When I drove on this road for the very first time I must have driven at speeds between 60 and 70 km/h, because it was a scary drive. These days I max out at speeds between 80 and 100 km/h while slowing down to take the 45 km/h corners, because I have driven this road countless times and know all of the corners well. Besides, the speed indication signs are well tuned for the corners and can help you drive this road efficiently.

Iconic large fruit in Cromwell, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Iconic large fruit in Cromwell, Central Otago, NZ

The road from Cromwell to Queenstown initially follows the Kawarau River, then you’ll pass through the Valley of Vines (Gibbston Valley; a wine making region), two Bungy jumping sites (The Nevis Highwire Bungy and the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jumping) before reaching Frankton and then Queenstown.

From Gibbston Valley onwards, the driving becomes fairly easy, because the stretches of road you’ll have to drive are mostly straight. Only when getting closer to Queenstown (once you pass the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jumping site) does the road become a bit hilly and winding again, but not too much to make you dizzy as when driving on the Kawarau Gorge Road.

Before reaching Queenstown you’ll pass the turnoff to Cardrona / Wanaka and 2 junctions to Arrowtown, you’ll pass alongside Lake Hayes, and then come up to a roundabout in Frankton that will take you to Queenstown airport if you go left. You need to go straight ahead at the roundabout to get to Queenstown.

Queenstown city center is approximately 6 km away from the roundabout in Frankton. And once you reach Queenstown you can drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, a scenic drive that offers spectacular mountain and lake scenery on gloriously sunny days in any season.

The road from Cromwell to Queenstown does not go through mountain passes and stays relatively low, so is less likely to be snowed in during winter in New Zealand unlike for example the Crown Range road between Wanaka and Queenstown.

How to get to Cromwell

Cromwell is a centrally located town in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand. I often stay in Cromwell, because it is so centrally located.

You can get to it from the North when coming from Lindis Pass or Wanaka, from the West when coming from Queenstown, and from the South when coming from Clyde and Alexandra.

If you land in Christchurch, you can drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, and then from Lake Tekapo to Cromwell through Lindis Pass. If you fly into Dunedin, you can get to Cromwell via Highway 85, Alexandra, and Clyde.

Basic info for the drive from Cromwell to Queenstown

Driving distance: 60 km (37 mi)
Driving time: 40 – 45 minutes
Road type: Sealed (paved) highways
Road condition: Good; mostly smooth driving
Best time to drive: Morning
What you’ll see: Kawarau Gorge, Roaring Meg, vinyards, Lake Hayes, Lake Wakatipu, mountains, yellow trees in autumn

The following map shows the starting point (arrow with star) and end point (flag) for this scenic drive when driving from Cromwell to Queenstown. Use the plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out of the map to see more or less detail on the map.

Figure 1. Map of the drive from Cromwell to Queenstown via the Kawarau Gorge Rd.

Video of the Cromwell to Queenstown drive

The following 5-minute video gives you a taste of what to expect on this scenic drive from Cromwell to Queenstown via Highway 6 and the Kawarau Gorge on the South Island of New Zealand.

 

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

 
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