March 20, 2020

I’m feeling bonnie in Clyde!

What a gorgeous little village Central Otago’s Clyde is!

I pretty much stumbled upon it when staying in nearby Cromwell after husband and I decided to tootle off for a drive with words of Clyde echoing in our ears.

Being a bit of an engineering nerd (oh I love me a manmade wonder!) we made a stop at the lookout of the Clyde Dam, which I remember hearing about as a teenager when then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and his Think Big projects of the late 80s/early 90s decided to reroute the river and flood part of Cromwell.

I remember being quite alarmed at the time that the people might not get out. But apparently it didn’t befall the town like a natural disaster and no one drowned.

Instead the controversial dam has become a lifeline for one of the driest regions in New Zealand.

Clyde dam
Clyde, dam! (As @JesseMulligan helpfully suggested!)

But after seeing the huge concrete structure spanning the river, I later learned (that afternoon when nattering to a local) that unbeknown at the time the dam was built on a major fault line so the budget was blown out by double as they had to add sensors and strengthening to make it earthquake proof. (Due diligence much?)

We followed the river down the road and arrived in the gorgeous main street of Clyde, a former historic gold rush town that was largely disregarded in favour of nearby Alexandra as the hub of local business and commerce over the years.

This ironically was its salvation as the wood and stone buildings that make you click your camera in every direction remain restored and intact. Unlike Alex.

After my first impression of Clyde’s cute old buildings lining the main street still bearing a few original shop names and signage, the next thing I noticed was how chatty the people are. It’s like everyone from builders to retailers are in on the game that tourism is to be celebrated and even enticed here.

Clyde Central Otago
Clyde main street
Main street Clyde
Touch Yarns gift and wool shop, Main Street, Clyde

What to do in Clyde

If you’re into knitting, pop into Touch Yarns for wool (and gifts) and you’ll be lucky if you get out of there without purchasing! The very convincing Eve managed to get me to put down my Spotlight-bought acrylic wool that I was labouring over knitting a poncho, for her possum and merino wool and a much easier poncho pattern.

Update: two years and a metre-long circular needle later and I finished my navy poncho in the beautiful lightweight wool!

We wandered down the street a bit further and bumped into a couple from Tekapo who had driven through for the day. Turns out I had stayed at one of the properties they manage over there under Tekapo Holiday Homes, so we nattered away. (Have a look here if you plan a road trip and want somewhere gorgeous to stay in Tekapo)

Across the road is Olivers Restaurant and a day time cafe in a beautiful schist stone building with wooden floors. It had been highly recommended by Pauline who served our wine tasting at Chard Farm.

Formerly owned by Fleur Sullivan, one of New Zealand’s highly sought after chefs who now runs Fleurs Cafe in Moeraki, its reputation is as good as ever, and as people are just so flippin friendly.

I was also able to get Andrea, the owner of the historic house and cottages behind the restaurant, to show me around the former lodge and stables, now 4+-star accommodation.

Eating out in Clyde
Olivers restaurant and cafe
Clyde accommodation
Inside one of the stables rooms at Olivers

We made a reservation to come back for dinner and continued our wanderings.

Behind Olivers was the newly opened Paulinas, a tapas style restaurant opened by Chilean New Zealander Paulina Corvalan. She came here 12 years and was previously well known for her cuisine in nearby Arrowtown.

It’s next door to the little cinema and we would have gone for a movie, except the only playing was Chasing Great about our All Black captain Richie McCaw and we’d just seen it it in the boutique Dorothy Brown’s cinema in Arrowtown.

Across the road was yet another lovely stone building with Gallery written on it, that lured me in. In residence was even chattier artist Jan Rassmussen who was working on a commission.

She doesn’t get out of bed for less than $3000 and her work is sold in galleries all over the South Island – and beyond. But if you wander in she’ll be more than happy to put her brushes down and have a natter.

Clyde gallery
Jan Rassmussen working on a painting in her gallery

We still had a couple of hours to kill before dinner, so as Eve and Jan had both mentioned New Zealand actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks winery nearby, we decided to hunt for the Wilderpeople and head out of town about ten minutes and go see him!

We didn’t really know where we were going, just having vague directions from locals, but we found it. There was a sign on the gate asking people to phone ahead for tastings, so we sat in the driveway and phoned. Jenny picked up and said she was just about to scoot off, but we could come on up and she’d wait.

She only had one bottle open for us to taste and Sam wasn’t in, but she did show us some of his collected art work in the hallway (the picture below was drawn by director of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Taika Waititi and was going to be thrown out until Sam said he wanted it) and we purchased a 2007 pinot noir for the bargain price of $60, so a good trip all round really.

Two paddocks
This picture was drawn by Taika Waititi for Hunt for the Wilderpeople

If you’re planning a Central Otago visit, make sure Clyde is on the itinerary, it’s worth it!SaveSave

About Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

"I’m feeling bonnie in Clyde!" - What do you think?

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