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Scenic Drives in New Zealand: Wanaka to Mt.Cook National Park
This spectacular drive takes you from the lakeside town of Wanaka into the heart of Mount Cook National Park. From remote farmland to brilliant turquoise canals, lakes and alpine meadows — this road offers huge scenic contrasts and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
You’ll travel over the Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie Basin before passing through the small towns of Omarama and Twizel.
Beginning in Wanaka, continue a short distance to the quaint farming town of Tarras. Known for its merino wool, high country sheep stations and vineyards, we recommend stopping at coffee shop on your way through.
As you leave Tarras you’ll begin the climb over the Lindis Pass — the in New Zealand at 971 metres, or just over 3,000 feet. With sculptured hillsides, prominent rocky outcrops and sub-alpine tussocks, the landscape is barren - but that’s actually what makes this drive so interesting.
Descending the pass you’ll reach the town of Omarama, a small community nestled between vast alpine plains and high mountains. Stop in at the Wrinkly Ram for a must-see sheep shearing demonstration before continuing on. From Omarama, make your way past the wide canals and lakes of Twizel to arrive at the edge of Lake Pukaki.
A distinctive turquoise colour caused by mineral substances in the water — Lake Pukaki is fed by the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers, and provides spectacular views of the Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. There are many short walks around this area, and stopping to take one of these is well worth your time. Only 30 minutes further, traversing the shores of lake Pukaki you’ll arrive at your destination, Mount Cook.
At 199 kilometres this drive takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. However, we recommend taking at least half a day to make the most of the many photo stops and walks on offer.
Photo Stops and Must-do Side Trips
- Tarras. The first community you arrive at after leaving Wanaka, stop in Tarras to learn about its merino sheep farming history and enjoy great coffee at the country cafe.
- Omarama. Renowned as gliding and fishing mecca, this tiny town has a great sheep shearing demonstration at the Wrinkly Ram.
- Lake Ruataniwha. An artificial lake just outside of Twizel, Lake Ruataniwha was created as part of the Waitaki hydroelectric project and is an interesting place to stretch your legs.
- Lake Pukaki. The largest of three alpine lakes, Pukaki is a distinctive turquoise color caused by glacial flour - finely ground rock particles from the Southern Alps many receding glaciers.
Contact one of our tour planners, for ideas on how to include this New Zealand scenic drive in your NZ itinerary.