The Queenstown to Glenorchy road

Looking up the lake towards Glenorchy
Looking up the lake towards Glenorchy

Could this be the most scenic drive in New Zealand? In a country abounding in quiet roads and beautiful scenery, such a claim is ambitious. Yet many consider the drive along the edge of Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and Glenorchy to be the best in the country.

Whether it's the best is very subjective, but having driven this and many other great kiwi roads, I'd have to say it's right up there with the most magnificent of them. Even if you haven't been there, you may have seen glimpses of the road to Glenorchy on television - many car advertisements have been filmed there. The stunning setting amidst lake and snowcapped mountains could make any rust-bucket look good.

Lake Wakatipu from the Queenstown to Glenorchy road

The drive starts from New Zealand's busiest tourist destination, but the majority of Queenstown's visitors don't venture very far up the lake, at least by road. Most of those who do are hikers taking a bus to the Routeburn, Greenstone, Caples and Rees-Dart tracks, all of which have their trailheads beyond Glenorchy.

Lake Wakatipu is an 84km long glacial lake (New Zealand's longest) consisting of three straight sections arranged in a zig-zag. The journey from Queenstown to Glenorchy traverses two of them, and for the most part clings to the sides of the mountains which plunge steeply into the deep waters.

The scenery is magnificent right from the start, but thanks to the explosive growth of Queenstown in recent years, it takes a little while to leave behind the narrow finger of development creeping out of town along the lake edge. Once you round the corner and head up the Glenorchy stretch of the lake, it feels like another world - a remote and nearly pristine one.

Lake Wakatipu reflections from the road to Glenorchy
Lake Wakatipu reflections from
the road to Glenorchy

Despite the relative straightness of the lake edge, the road along it has plenty of bends, and plenty of ups and downs too. It is the combination of enjoyable driving experience and grand scenery that makes this road memorable for me. The mountain and lake views constantly change, as new peaks come into view and perspectives alter.

A place to pull over mid-journey, just past the corner where the road turns towards Glenorchy, provides a great spot to stop and take photos. The whole drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is an easy 45km on a sealed road, so unless you're taking a bus there shouldn't be any excuse not to stop and take some time to soak up the scenery.

Heading back towards Queenstown from Glenorchy
Heading back towards Queenstown

This drive is gorgeous at any time of year, but in my opinion the cooler months, when snow decorates the hills, are best. Hikers' buses don't usually run in winter, so you'll need your own wheels to see it then. If the weather isn't good, don't let that put you off - dramatic cloud effects can add atmosphere, and the weather can change quickly. But if you strike a clear sunny day, the blue of the sky and lake, together with the browns and greens of the mountainsides and the white snow, make for some superlative scenes that no postcard can do justice to.

Location map

The road between Queenstown and Glenorchy is indicated by the pink line.
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