Driving from Dunedin to Queenstown, New Zealand, is a great way to take in amazing landscapes, viewpoints, attractions, and unique things to do along the way.
To get to Queenstown, you can choose between two routes. Whichever one you take, you’ll experience an epic road trip revealing iconic scenery that spins the wheels and plucks the heartstrings.
Which Route Should you Choose?
The direct route follows State Highway 8 (SH8) via Clyde. It’s a 278.5 km journey, following picturesque highways from the Pacific Ocean to the foot of the Southern Alps. This Dunedin to Queenstown drive takes around 3.5 hours non-stop. The Southern Scenic Route is 610 km and takes about 11 hours non-stop.
To help you decide which road to take, consider the following:
Are you Confident Driving on New Zealand Roads?
The direct route via SH8 is the better option if you’re not confident on New Zealand roads, particularly during the winter months when snow, ice, and heavy rainfall can cause delays.
Are you Looking for the Best Scenery?
For the prettiest drive, the best route is the Southern Scenic Route, as you’ll pass beautiful gems such as Te Anau, Invercargill, and the Catlins region.
Do you have Time?
If you want to take your time and savour all the sights along the way, choose the Southern Scenic Route. This road trip option can take you anywhere between one to nine days.
Driving the Shortest Route from Dunedin to Queenstown
The quickest way to drive from Dunedin to Queenstown is along State Highway 8, past vineyards and the charming towns of Central Otago.
Picturesque Lake Waihola is the most inland tidal lake in New Zealand and is famous for its stunning reflections and black swans. You’ll also find a holiday park if you fancy a break in your journey and participating in watersports.
Lawrence is a small town brimming with charming heritage buildings. Stroll down the main street to discover unique galleries and antique stores. Alternatively, take short walks through Gabriels Gully, jump aboard the Tuapeka Mouth ferry, or visit the Old Weatherstons Brewery ruins.
Historic Clyde in Central Otago is a great place to taste-test your way around the best local wineries. If you want to stay overnight, you’ll find plenty of quaint hotels and B&Bs. Don’t forget to check out the historic Clyde Bridge crossing the Clutha River for a scenic photo opportunity.
The next stop in Central Otago is nestled on the shores of Lake Dunstan. Cromwell has a rich gold mining history, and today, its summer stone fruit is the town’s highlight. Wander through the historic precinct, or tour Lake Dunstan aboard a beautifully-restored 1929 wooden motor launch.
The Kawarau Bridge Bungy has been attracting adrenaline junkies to Central Otago for years. If you’re not brave enough to try it out for yourself, watch the action from the bridge or grab a cuppa from the on-site café.
Lake Hayes offers the most stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and is a popular spot for walking, kayaking, and cycling.
Driving the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin to Queenstown
This scenic drive showcases spectacular landscapes full of natural wonders. You’ll enjoy stunning mountain vistas, deserted beaches, pristine lakes and rolling farmland along this stretch of road. Stretch your legs in the small towns to explore farmers’ markets and galleries full of landscape artworks.
Dunedin Railway Station
This railway station was constructed in the Flemish Renaissance style and features dark basalt with white Oamaru limestone facings. Inside, the booking hall’s mosaic floor consists of almost 750,000 Royal Doulton porcelain tiles.
Balclutha lies at the heart of the mighty Clutha River. Take a stroll along the Blair Athol Walkway for fantastic river views. Visit the South Otago Museum to learn about the area’s gold mining history.
Tautuku Estuary Boardwalk
Explore the trails and boardwalks that weave through podocarp forests into the Tautuku Estuary. The walk will take about 30 minutes. Keep an ear out for the shy but noisy Mata (Fernbird).
Nugget Point Lighthouse
Make sure you take a quick detour to grab a photo of the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand. See if you can spot seals and the world’s rarest penguins on the rocks below.
The Cathedral Caves are two sea-formed passages located in cliffs at the northern end of Waipati Beach and are only accessible at low tide.
The Catlins Coastal Conservation Park
The Catlins are famous for their sea caves, rugged coastline, and waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of dolphins, seals, and sea lions.
Invercargill is a great place to recharge and spend the night. Take a walk around Queens Park, enjoy the historic downtown area, and visit Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca. Or, take a short drive to Sandy Point Domain, where you’ll find walking, mountain biking, horse riding, motocross, and dog sledging trails weaving through native bush and across beaches.
The town of Bluff lies on the southern coast of the South Island and is home to the May Bluff Oyster Festival. Venture out to Bluff Hill Lookout for spectacular ocean and big sky vistas.
Kingston lies at the end of the infamous Devil’s Staircase section of the road between Queenstown and Te Anau. Head to the lakefront beach to view the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu, or get the adrenaline pumping with an Xtreme Off-Roading tour. Alternatively, embark on an adventure with the advanced level Shirt Tail Track for incredible views of the Kingston settlement.
Devil’s Staircase offers magnificent views of the windy road and Lake Wakatipu. For the best photo opp, pull over at the lookout at the top of Devil’s Staircase.
Wye Creek Track
The 7km Wye Creek Track is located on the west face of the Remarkables mountains and is considered one of the best day hikes in Queenstown.
Find more Fantastic Things to Do and See in Queenstown