Central Otago is the place to truly experience four different seasons, in a setting of big skies, mountains, lakes and massive landscapes.
Summers here are hot! But it’s a dry heat…. And in winter, so cold, and snowy. These extremes help produce famous wines, with Central Otago Pinot Noir rated as some of the best in the world. There’s also wonderful fruit, including cherries apricots, peaches and apples. In summer it’s a superb place for fishing, boating or biking. In winter, it’s renowned for sports such as curling, and easy access to ski fields.
During the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s, thousands of prospectors, from Britain, China, and the goldfields of Australia and California, flocked to this region. That pioneering spirit lives on a little, and the historic remains of that time can still be seen in mud-brick cottages, old stone bridges, mine shafts, herringbone tailings, and water races.
Cromwell accommodation and activities
On the shores of Lake Dunstan, from http://www.bookabach.co.nz/24461
Cromwell lay at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha rivers. When gold was discovered here in 1862, thousands of miners headed to the area. Once gold ran out, Cromwell became the centre for the farming and stone fruit industries - celebrated by a giant, much-photographed fruit sculpture outside town. One of Muldoon’s “Think Big” projects, the hydroelectric Clyde Dam, was constructed on the Clutha River between 1982 and 1990, creating lovely Lake Dunstan. Controversially, the dam involved flooding the Cromwell Gorge, and many houses and orchards. The old town centre was relocated, and is now the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, a picturesque place to visit on the shore of Lake Dunstan. It’s home to the Cromwell Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings, between Labour Day and Easter: stock up on stone fruit, local cheeses and merino cuts.
There’s lots to do around Cromwell: try the renowned Central Otago pinot noir, at local cellar doors such as the very popular Mt Difficulty, visit the Goldfields Mining Centre, or get some speed thrills at Highlands Motorsport Park. Visitors can play a round of golf on the championship links course at Cromwell Golf Club. Deliciously, you can pick your own cherries at Cheekicherries. Cromwell is 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown or 35 to Wanaka, making it easy to explore those towns, and the surrounding ski-fields in winter. You’ll find all sorts of accommodation around Cromwell, from character cottages in Old Cromwell Town, to modern holiday houses on the marina at Lake Dunstan.
Clyde accommodation and Otago Central Rail Trail
Peekskill in Clyde, http://www.bookabach.co.nz/24869
Clyde sprang into being during the gold rush of 1862, and you’ll find buildings from the early days preserved in the Historic Precinct. This small town sits on the banks of the Clutha River, with the huge Clyde Dam just upstream. Enjoy the famous local fruit, wander around the beautifully preserved old town and museums, sample the exceptional local wines or ride on the iconic Otago Central Rail Trail - Clyde is the western end of this famous bike route. Stretching 152 kms off-road from Clyde to Middlemarch, Otago Central Rail Trail follows the old railway line, with tunnels, stone bridges, gold rush remains and mudbrick cottages along the way. Allow at least four days to ride the whole trail, or pick off a section for a great day’s ride, run or walk. Bookabach accommodation around Clyde ranges from historic stone buildings in the old town to vineyard cottages, and lodges along the Rail Trail.
Vineyard views at Weaver Estate, http://www.bookabach.co.nz/34647
Alexandra is the regional centre, sitting pretty, where the Manuherikia River joins the Clutha. Summer is perfect for exploring the orchards, local arts and historic towns, walking or bike trails, and fishing or swimming in the rivers.
The mighty Clutha River, Alexandra, http://www.bookabach.co.nz/39191
In autumn the golden foliage is spectacular. From June to August, Alexandra becomes a winery wonderland. Try the Olympic size rink for ice-skating, hockey and curling.
Autumn colours in Alexandra, http://www.bookabach.co.nz/39191
Naseby: curling and accommodation
Think “Naseby” and curling springs to mind. The town’s Indoor Curling Rink is the only one in the southern hemisphere, and is open all year, so go slide those stones! For an adrenaline rush in winter, hurtle down the Ice Luge, open June to August. In summer, explore walking and biking tracks in Naseby Forest, go fishing, cool down in the swimming dam, play golf or tennis. Accommodation in this old gold-mining town ranges from historic cottages to modern cribs, and some holiday homes offer bikes for guests to use.
There are big blue skies, stunning mountains, and historic sites around the Maniototo, with gold mining history and a Scottish influence. You’ll find art deco buildings in Ranfurly, and sled-dog adventures. In St Bathans, swim in the Blue Lake, and have a pint at the historic Vulcan Hotel - keep an eye out for ghosts.
Roxburgh Gorge Track, photo: http://www.bookabach.co.nz/21796
The small town of Roxburgh sits on the banks of the Clutha. With a gold mining past, it’s now famous for its apples, cherries and apricots. It’s a great place to stay if you want to bike the Roxburgh Gorge Cycle Trail, a one day ride from Alexandra to Lake Roxburgh Dam, or the Clutha Gold Trail, a two day ride, from Lake Roxburgh Dam to Lawrence.
What to do
- Tour the vineyards and sample the world famous wines of Central Otago
- Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail
- Pick your own cherries
- Discover heritage sites from the gold rush and fossick for gold
- In summer, try water skiing or canoeing on Lake Dunstan
- In Naseby, try curling, and in winter, whizz down the ice luge.
- Have lunch and a pint at one of Central Otago’s historic hotels