Just a 90 minute drive from Queenstown in your Hertz Queenstown Airport Car Rental, Wanaka is another beautiful lakeside resort town. Whereas Queenstown can be busy at times, and parking difficult, Wanaka is smaller, quieter, and for many people a more pleasant place to stay.
There are two ways to get there. You can take the lowland route from Queenstown through the Kawarau Gorge and out to Cromwell, then up the Clutha Valley. Along the way you’ll pass some world-class wineries, great little cafes, Lake Dunstan and the Warbirds & Wheels Museum at the Wanaka Airport.
Or you can take the old state highway over the Crown Range and down to Wanaka. This is the highest main road in New Zealand, is sealed all the way, and Hertz allow their rental cars to use the road – not all rental car companies do. This spectacular drive starts just past Lake Hayes, out of Queenstown, and zigzags in hair-raising curves to almost 1200 metres elevation. At the top there’s a great viewpoint where you can look back over the Wakatipu Basin and across to the Remarkables.
In summer the road passes through wild, open tussock country, placid farmed valleys and rocky passes. Stop for a break at the historic Cardrona Hotel which is one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand. Opened in 1863 when Cardrona was a thriving gold mining town it is now the sole remaining business left. It’s also a highly photographic place with old vehicles in the sheds out the back, rustic accommodation and a very down-home bar and cafe area.
In winter this road can be covered or closed by snow, but if not it leads to one of New Zealand’s great ski fields at Cardrona. In addition to the easy skiing and snowboarding on the Cardrona Ski Field there is world-class cross-country skiing at the Snow Farm. Vehicles have to carry chains in this area in winter.
From Cardrona the Crown Range road ambles steadily downhill to Wanaka with beautiful views of Lake Wanaka as you descend off the high country. Like Queenstown, Wanaka is a great outdoors destination with boating and kayaking, skiing in winter, wineries in summer, fly fishing, mountaineering and alpine walks in summer and the Rippon Music Festival held every two years at the Rippon Vineyard.