The best way to see New Zealand, in my opinion, is to drive. There are so many amazing drives you can go on that are jaw droppingly beautiful and will have you stopping every five minutes to take photos. We had already enjoyed several very scenic drives on our first few days in the country, driving from Christchurch to Queenstown on the South Island. Our next stop would be Wanaka and then over the Haast Pass to the rugged West Coast. To get to Wanaka from Queenstown you can either back track along the Gibbston Valley to Cromwell, or you can take the scenic route over the Crown Range and through Cardrona. Naturally, this was the option I chose.
We were travelling in the Springtime and the ski season was over, with very little snow left on the mountains around Queenstown, however we had some bad weather the night before and awoke in the morning to find the mountains covered in fresh snow. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get over the Crown Range, but I decided to give it a go – we could always turn back if there was snow on the road.
It was a beautiful sunny day, making the green hills and snowy mountains look beautiful against the blue sky. We drove out of Queenstown and along the Gibbston Highway, before taking the turn off for the Crown Range Road. The road climbed up steeply immediately, zig zagging up the hill before flattening out for a little while, travelling along a sort of small plateau with snow dusted hills rising up above. The lush green paddocks were full of sheep and lots of little lambs – another good reason to visit in the springtime.
Eventually the road began to climb again, winding slowly up the mountain. With each bend it seemed like the snow was getting closer, and I then knew that we would probably be driving through the snow. Luckily, as we reached the snowline, there was no snow left on the road, either having being cleared sometime in the morning, or already melting away as the sun warmed up the road. The lush green grass of the paddocks below had been replaced with a white winter wonderland up in the mountains.
We stopped at the lookout at the top of the range, parking in the snow and enjoying the incredible views out across the valley.
The drive down the other side of the range was a more gentle incline, the road following a small stream along the valley. The terrain was alpine tussock grass, all covered in fresh powdery snow which had fallen during the night. Eventually we left the snow behind, dropping down the valley and back into the green sheep paddocks, leading us to the tiny village of Cardrona.
I knew nothing about Cardrona and was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful old historic pub as well as some other old buildings. The whole scene made the town look like it was something out of the wild west. We just had to stop to take a look around. It was a bit early for a beer so after a quick look at the stunning interior of the old pub, we wandered down to a gallery run by a local artist who did some exquisite work.
We left Cardrona behind and continued on the easy, scenic drive along the valley, surrounded by green paddock with snow dusted hills rising up above. Eventually we reached Wanaka with its perfect setting on the lake.
New Zealand is one of those places that just wows you every day, just when you think it couldn’t get any more beautiful.