William Fox’s unwitting discovery of gold at Arrowtown in 1862 quickly brought prospectors along the Crown Range and into the Cardrona Valley, where gold was discovered later that year. Five years on, the Europeans legged it to new fields on the West Coast, leaving the dregs to Chinese immigrants, who themselves had drifted away by 1870.
Tiny CARDRONA, 25km south of Wanaka, comprises little more than a few cottages, a long-forgotten cemetery, the Cardrona Hotel and the similarly ancient former post office and store.
South from here, the road twists over the Crown Range Road (SH89), the quickest and most direct route from Wanaka to Queenstown, though it is tortuous enough in places to discourage anyone towing a caravan or trailer. Reaching an altitude of 1076m, it is one of New Zealand’s highest public roads and is sometimes closed by snow in winter. Nonetheless, on a fine day the drive past the detritus of the valley’s gold-mining heyday is a rewarding one, with views across bald, mica-studded hills to the tussock high country beyond. At the pass, a great viewpoint overlooks Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, before it switchbacks down towards SH6 and Queenstown.