Queenstown to Mount Cook Scenic Drive


The scenic drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook is often hailed as one of the most beautiful road trips in New Zealand. The Southern Alps provide a breathtaking backdrop from your car window and the incredible stops along the way make this a self-drive trip you do not want to miss.


Trust us, this is one trip you do not want to waste on the back of a bus or a restricted tour group. With our awesome itinerary, you can pick up a Queenstown car rental and take your time at each jaw-dropping stop.

14 Queenstown to Mount Cook Drive Stops

How to get from Queenstown to Mount Cook?


You can drive straight from Queenstown to Mount Cook on State Highway 8 and it will take you approximately 4 hours to drive the 261-kilometre route. However, this would be a very short article if this was our recommendation.


An epic road trip calls for epic stops! We recommend taking the slight detour through Wanaka as it is worth the extra kilometres. With beautiful scenery in Wanaka, Omarama, and Twizel, you can easily plan overnight stays to make this drive into a 3-day trip or an awesome 6-day round trip.



What to know before you drive to Mount Cook


It is a long drive to Mount Cook Village from Queenstown with many stunning views to admire on the way. Be prepared to ensure you have a safe journey:


  • If you are only planning a day trip then set off early to ensure you see the most of Mount Cook Village.
  • Even with the stunning mountain views, the Mount Cook road is windy and narrow. In peak traffic, tour buses can slow your journey so plan your road trip effectively.
  • Fill up your petrol or charge your electric car before you take off. The last petrol stop on the way to Mount Cook is in Twizel, which is a 40-minute drive away.
  • Pack snacks and water with you as the options in Mount Cook Village are limited.
  • The high altitude at Mount Cook can cause temperatures to drop, even in summer: pack layers and extra warm clothing to be prepared.
  • Download your map in case you lose your phone signal.


Is it safe to drive in winter?


The roads in New Zealand are well-maintained and sealed and the Crown Range road is safe to drive in winter. However, you should always apply caution as snow and ice can pose hazards on mountain roads. Before driving, check weather reports and road closures, as conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Remember that winter means shorter daylight hours so plan accordingly and try not to drive after dark.


Allow extra distance between cars to avoid whiteout conditions from wind-whipped snow. Though many New Zealanders successfully drive to Mount Cook in winter with the right precautions, seriously consider postponing your trip if forecasts call for heavy snow or blizzards, as driving visibility drops exponentially.


Whilst you don't need a 4x4 to drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook in winter, you can hire one for peace of mind. With a range of SUVs and 4-wheel drive rental cars, you could enjoy a once in a lifetime road trip with Enterprise.


Do you need snow chains?


It is always recommended to pack snow chains in winter as the weather can change rapidly on mountain roads. Snow and ice can cause loss of traction and control, even for 4WD cars. Snow chains can bite through the ice and provide added stability when braking, steering, and accelerating.


Be sure to hire snow chains when you pick up your rental car in Queenstown. Our friendly staff can even show you how to fit them to your wheels.

14 Scenic Stops from Queenstown to Mount Cook

Queenstown to Mount Cook Scenic Drive


Our 14 stops from Queenstown to Mount Cook Village offer incredible photo opportunities of the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps. Whether you are completing the Crown Range route on a 4-hour drive on a day trip or following our multi-day adventure itinerary, this route will give you the most awesome views.

1. Arrowtown

Queenstown to Arrowtown: 19.4km

This historic gold mining town is only a 22-minute drive from Queenstown but worth the early stop. You could spend a few hours here learning about the town's rich history in the gold rush era at the Lakes District Museum or be transported back in time to explore picturesque Buckingham Street. With quaint boutique shops and a stunning Arrow River, it's a great place to kick off your Mount Cook road trip adventure.

If you don't have time for a town centre exploration, then make sure you stop at the Arrow Junction lookout point for stunning scenery views.

2. Crown Range Summit

Arrowtown to Crown Range Summit: 16.2km

Another 20-minutes drive and you will reach the breathtaking Crown Range summit and lookout point. Often hailed as the highest mountain road in New Zealand, the Crown Range road will reach an altitude of over 1,100 meters. The great news? The Crown Range summit is only a 10-minute walk from the gravel car park, making it the perfect road trip stop.

The stunning views of the rolling hills and snow-capped mountains will make the steep walk worth it, we promise.

3. Cardrona Hotel

Crown Range Summit to Cardrona Hotel: 14.3km

Trust us, this is the perfect lunch stop for your scenic South Island road trip. The Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand's oldest and most iconic hotels. The rustic charming facade hides the spectacular award-winning restaurant inside, complete with a roaring fire and an awesome beer garden. The cute hotel is actually New Zealand's most photographed building so definitely worth the pit stop.

If we haven't sold you on this stop already then let us tell you that they even serve a huge selection of local craft beer. Yes, please!

If you want to explore the Otago region, stay in one of their quaint rooms and extend your multi-day road trip.

4. Bradrona

Cardrona Hotel to Bradrona: 2.4km

As you approach the end of the Crown Range road, you will get to the most unique attraction on the South Island, Bradrona. In this beautiful landscape, you can find a wall full of over 1,000 bras left by tourists. It. is unknown why this quicky place exists but the first bra appeared in 1998 and has grown every year since.

At only a 10-minute walk from Cardrona Hotel, you should definitely check out this obscure place. Leave a momento if you are brave enough.

5. Wanaka

Bardrona to Wanaka: 22.5km

Another 20-minute drive and you will find yourself in another magnificent place, Wanaka. If you are a thrill-seeking ski or snowboarding adventurer then this alpine resort town is the perfect stop for you. With the Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resorts to explore, you should make this your first overnight stay to make the most of it.

Even if you are not into snow sports, Lake Wanaka and the surrounding rolling hills provide many activities to enjoy. You must check out the famous Wanaka tree growing out of the tranquil Lake Wanaka. Join a 1 hour Lake Wanaka cruise or take on many of the surrounding hiking trails, including the stunning Roy's Peak.

With Mount Aspiring National Park located close by, Wanaka is a hiker's paradise. Mount Aspiring is the backdrop of the iconic Lord of The Rings movie scenes and an ultimate New Zealand site.


Places to Stay in Wanaka

  • Club Wyndham Wanaka: For a luxury road trip overnight stop, book into the Club Wyndham. At only a 700-metre walk from Lake Wanaka, you could unwind in the heated pool before exploring the area.
  • Distinction Wanaka Alpine Resort: With panoramic mountain views, this alpine resort is a calming place to stay on your Mount Cook road trip. It features a hot spa, swimming pool, and games room to make your overnight stay relaxing.

6. Lindis Pass Lookout

Wanaka to Lindis Pass: 80km

1 hour from Wanaka you will find Lindis Pass, an incredible photo opportunity you do not want to miss! On clear days, see for miles down the valley from 971 meters above sea level. Lindis Pass lookout point is right near the summit and you can see the breathtaking landscape of the Southern Alps. You can also take short walks to other lookout points which immerse you in the rolling hills covered in snow.

7. Omarama Hot Tubs

Lindis Pass to Omarama Hot Tubs: 33.1km

Drive another 23 minutes for the most relaxing road trip stop, Omarama Hot Tubs. This private land offers serene indoor and outdoor baths with picturesque mountain views. The mineral water is so fresh and comes directly from the mountains. You can also enjoy spa and massage treatments for the ultimate driving break.

8. Omarama Clay Cliffs

Omarama Hot Tubs to Clay Cliffs: 15.5km

Taking a 10km detour on a dirt road West of Omarama will be the best route decision you make. The Omarama clay cliffs are awe-inspiring natural rock formations that make you feel like you are on a movie set. You can even climb the inside of the pinnacles and spot the stunning valleys below. We recommend taking 20 minutes here at least to take in the beautiful scenery and appreciate the South Island.

9. Twizel

Omarama Clay Cliffs to Twizel: 37.4km

Another 34-minute drive and you will land in the quaint town of Twizel where we recommend you stay overnight. The small town is the perfect base to explore the picturesque surrounding Otago region.

Make sure you check out Lake Ruataniwha surrounded by beautiful forests and hills. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear autumn day then you could see the rustic leaves reflected in the clear water.

There are also many hiking trails to check out, including around the Ben Ohau Station mountain range. If you are a Lord of The Rings fan then this is a must-see as it was the dramatic backdrop to the Battle of Pelennor Fields scene. Although Ben Ohau Station is actually privately owned, you can visit on a LOTR tour.

For an amazing New Zealand experience, visit the High Country Salmon farm where you can taste the freshest glacier salmon on the South Island! The flow of glacier water makes the salmon incredibly unique in flavour.


Cool Places to Stay in Twizel

For an impressive sunset view, book into a hotel and watch the sky turn orange and reflect in Lake Ruataniwha.

  • Mountain Chalets Motel: A 5-minute drive from the lake is a cute motel right in the middle of the mountain ranges. With BBQ facilities and comfortable chalets, it is a great place to rest your head in Twizel.
  • Distinction Mackenzie Country Hotel Twizel: For a more upscale stay, we recommend a night at this country hotel surrounded by the Aoraki Mount Cook and Mackenzie Country ranges. You can even hire bikes and enjoy a peaceful cycle ride during your stay.

10. Alpine Lavender Fields

Twizel to Alpine Lavender Fields: 17.4km

If you are travelling between December and March then start your day with a 13-minute drive to the spectacular Alpine lavender fields. As one of the largest organic lavender fields in the Southern Hemisphere, you can capture impressive purple rolling fields. Make sure you stop in the shop to buy their products or try the ice cream.

11. Peters Lookout

Alpine Lavender Fields to Peters Lookout: 6km

Drive another 5 minutes and you will see the turnoff for Peters Lookout parking and it is worth it for another majestic stop. The view here is iconic on a clear day when Lake Pukaki is bright blue and the Aoraki Mount Cook is snow-capped. If you are a photography fan then make sure you hit up this lookout!

12. Lake Pukaki

Peters Lookout to Lake Pukaki: 4km

Head further up the road for 5 minutes and you will find the Lake Pukaki lookout car park. Explore the lake on one of the walking trails or just to a moment to be closer to the stunning blue lake. The water really is as blue as the pictures, it's unbelievable!

13. Mount Cook Road

Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook Road: 10.4km

Just before you get to Mount Cook airport, make sure you stop for the best picture view of Aoraki Mount Cook. The road winding into the Mount Cook range is an iconic Instagrammable shot.

Safety Notice: Make sure you park safely at the side of the road and put your hazards on if necessary. Do not wander in the middle of the road for a photograph and always make sure you are safe.

14. Explore Mount Cook!

Mount Cook Road Stop to Mount Cook Village: 29.2km

You have made it to the Aoraki Mount Cook ranges and it is worth spending at least 1 night here! You could spend your whole time taking in the highest mountain in New Zealand, it truly is majestic standing at 3,724 meters! However, there are also some amazing things to do in Mount Cook Village and National Park.

  • Hooker Valley track: After a few hours drive, the perfect thing to do is to stretch your legs on an easy and flat 3-hour hike. The Hooker Valley track provides awesome views of Mount Cook and Mueller glaciers.
  • Scenic flight: Make the most of the highest mountain by taking a cool scenic flight over the Mount Cook range. See the top of the mountains you just can't access by foot.
  • Kayak the Tasman Glacier: A glacier kayak tour is one of the most unique ways to explore Mount Cook National Park. You can check out icebergs and even stop in a secluded glacier bay for lunch.
  • Stargazing: Did you know that Mount Cook has the largest dark sky reserve in the World? You cannot visit Mount Cook and not admire the clearest night sky on Earth. Book a tour to get the best vantage points and cool facts.


Amazing Places to Stay in Mount Cook

  • Hermitage Hotel: There is no better place to stay than the luxury, historic 1800s Hermitage Hotel. This alpine hotel provides incredible views, quality bedrooms, and world-class restaurants.
  • White Horse Hill Campsite: One of the most popular places to stay in Mount Cook is this campground. It's close to the Mount Cook village and National Park trails and has amazing views. Just remember, it is basic with a few toilets, water, and unpowered sites.
  • Aoraki Court Motel: For more of a budget-friendly stay without camping, try the Aoraki Court Motel. The rooms are comfortable and it's only a 3-minute walk to Mount Cook village.

Take the Wheel on your Queenstown to Mount Cook Adventure


These 14 stops from Queenstown to Mount Cook promise an unforgettable drive with the most picturesque road trip views through New Zealand's South Island. The Crown Range Road winds amidst the Southern Alps, offering unparalleled landscape views you do not want to miss off your bucket list.


Check out our ultimate list of Things to do on the South Island to continue your epic trip. With car rental branches at NelsonChristchurchDunedin and Queenstown, you can plan a road trip around the full island. We also offer one-way rentals to make your road trip route more convenient.


Experience the freedom of the road with an Enterprise car rental.