The Drive from Cromwell to Queenstown

New Zealand’s South Island is renowned for its natural beauty and scenic vistas, and the journey from Cromwell to Queenstown is no exception. 

Queenstown is known as the "adventure capital of the world," with visitors coming from all over the globe to experience activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, and white-water rafting.  Cromwell is known for its orchards, wineries and stunning scenery, with the nearby Lake Dunstan offering opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. 

As you travel along the winding roads from Cromwell to Queenstown, you’ll see dramatic mountain ranges, crystal-clear lakes, and historic towns that offer a glimpse into the region’s fascinating past. 

The Scenic Route: Cromwell to Queenstown

The State highway 6 (SH6) road winds through the rugged Kawarau Gorge and leads to the shimmering waters of Lake Wakatipu.  It takes around an hour's drive and is a popular route for road trips, with plenty of places to stop and take in the stunning surroundings.

These are the highlights along the way:

Start - Old Cromwell Town
Cromwell also has a rich history, with a number of historic sites and buildings that offer a glimpse into the town's past.  Old Cromwell Town is a beautifully preserved historic precinct that showcases the region's gold rush heritage. There are plenty of shops, cafes, and galleries to explore, as well as guided tours.

Highlands Motorsport Park
The first attraction you'll pass as you leave Cromwell is the Highlands Motorsport Park, a one stop adventure destination for everyone with a world-class facility and exceptional experiences to match.  There are over 12 different activities on site, ranging from high speed Supercars, to outdoor Go-Karts, self-drive and we drive options all set to a stunning backdrop. 
The Kawarau Gorge
Continuing along State Highway 6 (SH6) you'll pass by orchards and a number of market stalls where you can pull over to pick up some fresh fruit.  It's then into the Kawarau Gorge which is an impressive spectacle, with towering cliffs and the gleaming waters of the Kawarau River.

Soon after, you'll reach the Goldfields Mining Centre, an atttraction that offers an insight into the life of the early gold miners in the Otago region, and their difficult working conditions.  Located on the banks of the stunning Kawarau Gorge, the centre covers around 25 hectares, with many of the old mine shafts and mining equipment still visible.  Visitors can opt for a guided tour with one of the centre's knowledgeable staff or a self-guided tour.  The tour includes some of the early mines and tunnels, the site of the Chinese Village lived in by the Chinese miners who came to search for gold, and the site of the Goldfields Mine itself.

Roaring Meg
Further along and situated just off Kawarau Gorge Road is Roaring Meg Waterfalls.  There is a small car park where you can pull over and park.  The view of the waterfalls and turquoise waters of the Kawarau River can be seen from the car park.  It's a great place to have a quick break, take a photo and two before continuing on your way.

Gibbston Wineries
Next up and a highlight of this route is passing through the award-winning wineries of Gibbston.  It's well worth stoppping off at a cellar door and enjoy sampling some of the decorated wines that have put Central Otago on the world wine map.  With fertile vineyards irrigated by the Kawarau River, which runs parallel to SH-6, there are over a dozen wineries to visit, from both established estates to many smaller, boutique outfits.  
The Kawarau Bungy Centre
On the edge of the Gibbston Highway is The Kawarau Bungy Centre, an iconic attraction that draws visitors from all over the world.  Even if you don't want to take the plunge yourself, it's worth a visit to watch others take the leap and experience the thrill of this adrenaline-fueled activity.

If you turn off at McDonnell Road, it's a short drive into Arrowtown,  an old gold mining town and a real slice of New Zealand history.  Situated at the base of the Arrow River, the charming settlement of Arrowtown resembles a Wild West frontier town.  Arrowtown has lots of delightful whiteboard buildings, with pretty, colonnaded shop fronts, ornate cornicing and a real 'gold fever' feel.  The free to visit Chinese Settlement Village is well worth a visit along with the many fantastic shops and restaurants.

Lake Hayes
Continuing along SH6 (if you haven't turned off for Arrowtown) you can't miss the magnificant Lake Hayes.  It's a tranquil and beautiful lake that's just 15 minutes drive from downtown Queenstown.  The lake attracts walkers, runners, and cyclists who are all drawn to the natural beauty of the area.  The reflective lake offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and is an invitation to take your camera out and snap away.

End - Lake Wakatipu
The final part of the drive is past Queenstown Airport in Frankton and a lovely drive alongside Lake Wakatipu into Queenstown.  Lake Wakatipu is the jewel in the crown of the region's natural wonders. The lake stretches over fifty kilometres and is surrounded by mountains, including the towering Remarkables range. There are plenty of water-based activities on offer, including kayaking and paddle-boarding, as well as the famous TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise.

A Brief History of Cromwell and Queenstown

The history of Cromwell and Queenstown is closely intertwined with the gold rush era of the 19th century, which saw thousands of prospectors flock to the region in search of precious metal.  Cromwell was founded in the late 1860s and became an important hub for miners and merchants.  In contrast, Queenstown, which was established in the 1850s, was a popular stopping point for those travelling to the goldfields in the surrounding mountains.

The gold rush had a significant impact on the landscape of the region. The hills and valleys were transformed as miners dug tunnels and shafts in search of gold, and the rivers were diverted and dammed to provide water for mining operations.  Today, visitors can still see the evidence of this era in the historic buildings and ruins that dot the landscape.

The small village of Clyde (20 minutes drive away and alongside Lake Dunstan) is a particularly well-preserved example of a gold rush town. Visitors can wander the streets and admire the beautifully restored buildings, including the Clyde Hotel, which was built in 1879 and is still in operation today.  The town also has a number of museums and heritage sites that offer a glimpse into life during the gold rush era.


Whether you're a history buff or an adrenaline junkie, the journey from Cromwell to Queenstown is an unmissable experience.  With stunning scenery, iconic attractions, and plenty of outdoor activities, there's something for everyone along this beautiful route.

Queenstown Car Hire:

If you need to hire a car to reach any of the cafes, check our My Guide Car Rental Comparison Tool for the best deals on the market.