Roadtrip from Queenstown: Kawarau Gorge
Looking for a change of scenery? Just down the road from Queenstown is Kawarau Gorge. Despite being less than 30 minutes from central Queenstown, the landscape of the gorge is in striking contrast to the vast lake and mountain views of the Wakatipu Basin.
The journey through the Kawarau Gorge is one of our favourites and is an impressive showcase of the changing landscapes of this dynamic region.Our best advice, don’t rush.
The Kawarau Gorge road is the main route between Queenstown and Cromwell and takes around 50 minutes. Our recommendation is make a day out of it and make a few stops in the gorge along the way. Here are some of our favourites.
Just twenty minutes from Queenstown you’ll find Gibbston Valley and the start of Central Otago’s wine-producing district. Scattered along State Highway 6 is an impressive selection of wineries, restaurants and cellar doors. Sample the famous Central Otago Pinot Noir as well as white varieties such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Activities in Gibbston Valley
If world-class wineries are not enough to excite you then increase the adrenaline factor with a stop at the AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge. Jumping 43 metres from the historic Kawarau Bridge into the fast-flowing waters of the Kawarau River may be just the kick-start your day needs.
THE KAWARAU RIVER
Beyond Gibbston Valley and through Nevis Bluff, you will start to catch a glimpse of the Kawarau River below. The Kawarau River is Lake Wakatipu’s only outlet making it a powerful body of water with a number of rapids. The deep green waters of the river flow in an easterly direction toward Cromwell where it flows into Lake Dunstan.
Activities on the Kawarau River
There are plenty of opportunities for the adventurous types on the Kawarau River. In the Kawarau Gorge section of the river, there are a number of options for river surfing the mighty waters.River surfing is all about catching the current of the river and floating, swimming and ‘surfing’ your way downstream. If you fancy something a little gentle (and drier), there are some viewing spots along the river, including a viewing platform at Roaring Meg where you can observe the river surfers passing below.
THE KAWARAU GORGE
As the road snakes its way through the gorge, you’ll notice the scenery steps up a notch as well. You are now entering an area that 100 years ago was bustling with gold miners seeking their fortune. As you approach the Mining Centre, you may start to spot the remnants of gold miners’ houses, small lean-tos and caves amongst the rocky canyon walls.
Activities in the Kawarau Gorge
If you want to know more about the fascinating history of the area, we highly recommend a stop at the Goldfields Mining Centre. Here you can take a one-hour guided tour around the centre or a self-guided tour to explore the 25-hectare property and a huge amount of gold mining history including sluicing sites, mines and tunnels. You can have a go on the sluice gun and pan for gold.
One of the highlights of Goldfields is the Wild Earth Winery & Restaurant. Be warned, this is much more than the standard café you would expect to find at a tourist stop. Wild Earth is an award-winning winery restaurant where you can feast on gourmet lunches of local, seasonal fare matched with delicious Wild Earth wines.
As you approach the Goldfields Mining Centre from the Queenstown side, you’ll notice a rushing body of water pouring into the Kawarau River. This is Roaring Meg, and today is part of the Roaring Meg Hydro Scheme. But back in the days of the gold rush, the name Roaring Meg meant something quite different. During the gold rush, there were thousands of single men in the area. And where there are single men, there will also be enterprising young women. Roaring Meg was described as one of the more high-spirited and fun-loving ‘ladies of the night’. During a journey through the Kawarau Gorge, Meg made such a fuss about crossing the stream that it was named after her. Her travelling companion made less of a fuss, so the next stream was named after her –‘Gentle Annie’.
Driving the Kawarau Gorge
The drive from Queenstown to Cromwell is 60km (37 miles). The road is single lane with only a few passing lanes along the way. If you’re travelling slowly to take in the scenery, make sure you allow traffic behind you to overtake safely. Because of its low altitude, the Kawarau Gorge road is not often affected by snow. But the road can get icy, so if you’re making the journey in winter, check the road conditions before heading off.