Driving between Dunedin and Wanaka
Driving between Dunedin and Wanaka via SH 8 – 277km
The drive between Dunedin to Wanaka takes an estimated 3.5 hours with some winding, hilly roads and a number of attractive stop-off options. The journey brings you from the Eastern coastal climate into the dryland region of Central Otago.
Central Otago has cold frosty winters and (generally) hot dry summers, with 2017 being an exception with stormy weather and snow on the hills. The climate still remains generally dry however, and the intense sunshine received in the area encourages lots of sunscreen and wearing a hat.
The Good South Gems: Clyde township and Rail Trail
The first hour of driving out of Dunedin to Wanaka takes you across the farmland of the Taieri Plains before turning off inland just after Milton. From here some moderately technical driving through rough hill country and winding river valleys take you into the historical goldmining town of Lawrence.
Another 20km or so on the vegetation changes to the tussock covered schist block mountains of the Central Otago drylands as you follow the ever- broadening valley of the Clutha River. Another good stopping point is the town of Roxburgh with a Great Scone Trail tearoom at 103 The Store as well as the famous Jimmy’s’s pies.
Roxburgh is renowned as an apple and stonefruit producing area with a number of orchards having roadside stalls through the spring and summer months. The roads get generally straighter with more expansive views of the upcoming Southern Alps in the distance over the rounded off glaciated terrain on the approach to Alexandra.
A traditional farm service town, Alexandra has extensive parklands and is the junction of SH 8 to Cromwell and the resort towns of Wanaka and Queenstown, as well as the turnoff to the Manitototo Plain and Rail Trail.
After Alexandra, it is well worth taking the detour to the historic township of Clyde. In the shadow of the dam built in the 1970’s, tourism has revitalised the area and Clyde has the highly regarded Oliver’s restaurant and deli a focal point for the township’s main street.
The road from Clyde takes you to the top of the dam with a viewing area giving you and overview of the orchard and vineyard areas you have passed through. You then follow the road alongside Lake Dunstan formed by the dam, before crossing the bridge to the entrance to Cromwell announced by its large fruit sculpture. The current town itself was built in the 1980’s to replace the submerged parts of the original Cromwell with the old precint now revitalised as a visitors area.
The land beneath the water was one of the world’s top producers of stonefruit in the pre-dam era, but now the Cromwell basin is a globally recognised producer of pinot noir with the nearby Bannockburn area enjoying its own microclimate. Apricots, nectarines and peaches are still grown and the growth of the export cherry industry has also added a dynamic aspect to the local economy.
Wanaka is now another 50km west past orchards amd more farmland with the turnoff to Queenstown going left at the same junction.