The air is still like winter. Alpine blues soften ice-bitten brown and gravel-grey mountains. Long lakes like mirrors line the valleys. Woodfire smoke rises to meet low cloud.
Sitting in the passenger seat, I’m in awe of the natural scenery and glad of hiring a car. I’m an adventurer on wheels; an intrepid spirit in air-conditioned warmth.
Tips for driving around Wanaka:
There are two ways to reach Wanaka from Queenstown. The Crown Range road, past Cardrona, is a winding road with incredible summit views and a higher chance of ice. It is a shorter, slightly more challenging drive but worth it for the photo ops. The other road is longer, and loops around the edge of the mountain range, alongside Lake Dunstan. Both routes take you through Arrowtown, the quaint, historic and tourist-filled township of Marino wool boutiques and cafes. Both routes will also take you a little way through the vineyards of this world-recognised wine region, and past some chances to taste a bit of cheese.
Stay up to date on road conditions by checking online daily. The New Zealand government site is pretty good for road condition and closure updates. Also stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for talk of needing chains on the higher passes and unsealed roads. As you drive, also keep an eye out for signs stating the road warnings. There will be signs telling you if you need to put chains on your tyres, and there are stopping bays to do just that in the winding mountain roads.
There are a couple of great lookouts between Arrow Junction and the Crown Range summit. Be ready to pull over to get those spectacular shots across Queenstown and The Remarkables.