There are two ways to drive between Queenstown and Wanaka, and this one is the most memorable. It's the highest main road in New Zealand.
The Crown Range lies between Queenstown and Wanaka. The road over the range, known as the Crown Range Road, is the highest main road in New Zealand. It reaches an altitude of 1121 metres, which does bring challenges. In winter, the road is often covered in snow and ice, making for very difficult driving conditions.
While the Crown Range Road is a shorter distance to journey between Queenstown and Wanaka, travel time is longer and the road is much more challenging than the usual route through Cromwell. You should also allow time to stop and admire the massive views, which are often accompanied by amusing encounters with kea (mountain parrots).
If you're setting out from the Queenstown end of the road, look for the clearly marked turnoff just past Lake Hayes. The road zigzags up to the Crown Terrace and from there you can look down to Arrowtown in the Arrow Valley, and across to the Remarkables Range.
The road then climbs steeply to the summit, where you'll be able to see Frankton, part of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. For another impressive view, leave your car and walk up the track to the lookout. On the Wanaka side of the range, the road crosses a plateau of farmland and descends steadily along Cardrona Valley. On the left is the Crown Range; on the right the Criffle Range. This land around here is old goldmining country - piles of tailings can still be seen. The historic Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand's oldest - there are many interesting local artefacts on display in the bar and restaurant.
If you are thinking about driving over the Crown Range, always check the road conditions before setting off, especially in winter when chains are often required. If you are an inexperienced driver, or are unfamiliar with New Zealand’s road conditions, your trip will be much more enjoyable if you take the more frequently travelled route through Cromwell.