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Scenic Alpine Roads in New Zealand, South Island – Part 1

My New Zealand photography adventure took me through many diverse and breathtaking locations all across the South Island, from very well-known places to hidden, remote gems, but the one constant was wonderful scenery!

We decided to set our base in Queenstown, a scenic alpine town set against the majestic Southern Alps and on the side of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is a wonderful home base from which to explore all of the neighbouring regions, either in summer or in winter. From here you can travel in all directions: to Wanaka on Crown Range Road; to Glenorchy and explore the wilderness of Southern Alps from there; to Te Anau on Southern Scenic Route via Kingston and Devil’s Staircase.

Arriving in Wanaka you can travel further along the Haast Highway on the West Coast towards the Glacier Country, or take the State Highway 8 through Lindis Pass to Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo, and then on along the Mount Cook Highway towards the highest mountain in the South Island – Aoraki / Mount Cook.

Te Anau, on the other side, is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. We took a tour to Doubtful Sound which is very convenient as you have to travel by bus, by boat, and again by bus and boat, which makes it almost impossible to do it on your own. On the other hand, you can get to Milford Sound on Milford Highway using your own (hired) car. To see the fjords I heartily recommend an overnight cruise! They say that Milford Sound is the most spectacular natural feature of New Zealand. Having seen both Doubtful and Milford Sound, I have to say, I cannot choose, I am in love with them all.

If all of the above seems too confusing, do not worry. I will explain it in more detail below, highlighting the most scenic parts of the alpine roads. I wrote this article as a supplement to my recently published New Zealand Landscapes Photography Book.

1. Crown Range

The Crown Range Road travelling from Arrow Junction to Wanaka is the highest sealed road in New Zealand, which climbs up a winding zig-zag to Crown Saddle. A number of viewing areas such as Arrow Junction Lookout Point and Crown Range Scenic Lookout offer stunning views down and over Lake Hayes, Arrowtown, and the Queenstown airport. The Historic Summit tops out at 1076 m.

Beautiful Panoramic View on the Crown Range Scenic Road in between Queenstown and Wanaka

A stop-over along the way can be the picturesque village of Cardrona, known for the humorous and unusual touristic attraction called ‘the Bra Wall of Cardrona’ or ‘Bradrona’, an initiative of the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. Are you ready to donate your own bra?

Other things of interest in Cardrona are the Distillery and the General Store, especially if you need supplies. Otherwise, you are on your way to Wanaka very soon.

2. Lindis Pass

Located on State Highway 8 from Wanaka to Lake Pukaki, Lindis Pass is a spectacular desert mountain pass in the Otago region, with a curved two lane highway cutting into the terrain.

Lindis Pass Panorama
Lindis Pass Panorama

Colorful fields of lupines are growing along the roads. Lupines bloom in December and are very much loved by photographers, but they are considered a pest in New Zealand.

3. Glenorchy Road

The scenic road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the best drives in New Zealand and the highlight of it is definitely the breathtaking view from Bennett’s Bluff Lookout over Lake Wakatipu, with snow-capped mountains in the distance and overlooking the Pig and Pidgeon Islands.

Bennett’s Bluff Lookout -A Viewpoint on one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand that connects Queenstown with Glenorchy.

The road winds along Lake Wakatipu and it’s rewarding to go back and forth many times chasing those reflections in water, and the magic light. This area never disappoints, as every new corner offers a new perspective and more spectacular scenery.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Scenic Alpine Roads of New Zealand: 4. Glenorchy-Paradise Road; 5. Haast Highway; 6. Mount Cook Highway; 7. Milford Highway.

Daniela Constantinescu is the author of Most Photogenic and Inspiring New Zealand Landscapes on the South Island, available on the Blurb Bookstore: https://au.blurb.com/b/10626394

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