Looking for a winter scenic drive on State Highway 85 in Central Otago offering views of snow on trees, mountains, and farmland?

The entire State Highway 85 is approximately 160 km (99 mi) in length and runs from Alexandra in Central Otago to Palmerston just north of Dunedin.

The scenic drive described in this article is approximately 67 km (42 mi) in length and covers the first half of State Highway 85 running from Springvale Road to just past a turnoff to Oturehua.

Driving at about 80 to 100 km/h (50 to 62 mph) – the maximum speed limit on highways in New Zealand is 100 km/h (62 mph) – it would take approximately 2 hours to drive from Alexandra to Palmerston via State Highway 85.

But be aware that the road is not entirely straight, especially on the last stretch toward Palmerston, so allow for more time if you want to drive the entire route.

Hawkdun Range route

The stretch of road coming from Alexandra is pretty straight and goes up and down hills. It is a fairly easy drive. When I drove this road in winter in New Zealand, there was no snow on the road itself, but some parts had ice.

There isn’t much to see on SH 85, but it is very scenic nonetheless with wide open spaces outside of the few small towns that you’ll be passing through.

The wide open plains may be completely snow-covered in winter after a big dumping of snow and Hawkdun Range is always a joy to look at.

Other than that, there are two other places you could visit while driving towards Hawkdun Range, but you would have to leave the main highway and drive on minor or dirt roads to get to these locations.

St. Bathans Blue Lake

The first place is St. Bathans Blue Lake, which is a man-made lake and well-signposted from SH 85. You can get to it from two sides.

When coming from Alexandra, I’d recommend you take the first turnoff you see for St. Bathans, since it is a paved road. The second turnoff is a little further up SH 85 and is a dirt road.

This dirt road leads to the second place you could visit, which is Falls Dam. Since the road that leads to Falls Dam (Fiddlers Flat Road) can be pretty rough, it is recommended to visit it with a 4WD vehicle.

But I’ve visited Falls Dam with a 2WD car and then walked the final stretch of road to get to the dam, so it is doable without a 4WD. The road to Falls Dam may not be suitable to be driven in winter, so use caution if you decide to go there.

High above State Highway 85

How To Get To State Highway 85 In Central Otago

There are two ways to get to SH 85 from the west. You can either get onto it from Alexandra in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand or you can take a shortcut (via Springvale Road) from State Highway 8 near Clyde.

State Highway 8 can be reached while driving from Queenstown to Cromwell via the Kawarau Gorge road or you can drive from Christchurch to Tekapo and then further down through Lindis Pass before you reach Cromwell and then Clyde or Alexandra.

If you’re coming from the east, you can drive north from Dunedin on State Highway 1 and then at Palmerston get onto State Highway 85.

Or if you’re coming from Christchurch, you can drive south to Palmerston via State Highway 1, and then get onto State Highway 85.

Kawarau Bridge and bungy

Basic Info For The Scenic Drive On State Highway 85

Driving distance:67 km (42 mi)
Driving time:40 – 45 minutes
Road type:Sealed (paved) highways
Road condition:Good; mostly smooth driving
Best time to drive:Afternoon
What you’ll see:Mountains, Hawkdun Range, farmland, small towns

Click here to see a map for this scenic drive from the junction of State Highway 85 and Springvale Road to just past the junction of State Highway 85 and the road to Oturehua in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand.