It’s the tail end of ski season and I’ve ventured far from the snow bunnies who roam the streets of Queenstown on a “rest day” and headed east into real, fair dinkum Central Otago.
The Central Otago that is known world-wide for its amazing pinot noir (I had to try some just to be sure), the Otago Rail Trail and some incredible lakes that play host to all manner of summer water sports. It’s still freezing (I’m told) in summer, so you won’t be splashing around for long as these pure New Zealand lakes are fed by glacial streams. Brrr!
But it’s also a sensible place to base yourself if the accom in Queenstown is just a little too steep. Here’s why…
Wineries on the way
Heading out of Queenstown you’ll have to make a call about where you’re going to stop. This trip I chose these two:
If you drive up the dirt road and look down you’ll see the Kawarau bungy jumpers leaping through their fears. Then pop in for a taste with Pauline, the charismatic host and fanciful story teller of Chard Farm’s wines. She’ll start you on an unoaked chardonnay and if you’re a sauvignon blanc drinker like me, you will be pleasantly surprised. But it’s the reds everyone comes for. I’m not going to steal her stories, but suffice to say if you pick up the phone and order a Saturday nighter, they’ll know what you mean.
This is a huge restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a large cellar door and a gift shop and cheesery on site. It’s frequented by big groups and drop ins like us – although if you want to eat, it’d pay to make a booking. We sat on a couch with a coffee to eat our lunch. Probably the most iconic wine maker in the region.
If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll remember Cromwell as the town that was partially flooded in the early 90s for the creation of the Clutha Dam. It was controversial at the time, but they’ve gotten over it now as this region gets such little rain fall. I remember coming through here on a family holiday when I was in my teens and being very concerned that they would get the people out before they flooded the town. Apparently they did, but word is there are still cars and buildings under the water.
But historic Cromwell is as cute as a button with a few little gift stores and cafes for you to browse in. The rest of the town, well….
What to do in Cromwell
But don’t get me wrong, Cromwell is a great hub to base yourself in the summer for all the events and activities that happen on the lake, the nearby wineries of Bannockburn and Lowburn (including Carrick and Mt Difficulty).
You’re also only 45 minutes away from Queenstown in one direction and Wanaka in the other, so a great base to play in both towns for skiing, shopping, and exploring.
Wineries surround you and an afternoon in the historic village of Clyde is well worth it. In fact, stay for dinner at Oliver’s. You’ll thank me later! (A separate post on Clyde is underway).
But one of the coolest things to do in Cromwell is spend a few hours at Highlands Motorsport Park. I was lucky enough to join a pro race car driver and did a couple of fast laps (ridiculously fast laps which I wrote about and videoed here) in a McLaren race car (worth about half a million dollars).
Where to stay in Cromwell
Actually drive 7km out of Cromwell to Pisa Moorings where the Heritage Boutique Lake Resort is located literally over the calm and clear waters of Lake Dunstan with your own Jacuzzi downstairs under the veranda and ducks drifting and chattering around beside you. It’s apartment style accommodation so tie your boat up at your own jetty and with a fully equipped kitchen and large dining and living area, it’s a home away from home.
This five-star property on a purpose built marina is just seven minutes’ drive from Cromwell and 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown.
The architecturally designed over-water villas have been constructed to look like boat sheds. Hugging the lake’s edge, the elegant villas can sleep up to eight people and are separable in to one, two and three bedroom configurations with magnificent lake and mountain views.
They are fully self-contained with high spec interiors and outdoor hot tubs in some of the villas. Oh and you can bring your own boat, jet-ski or kayak to moor next to your villa in summer.
For dining, there is on-site is The Mooring restaurant and bar and just completed is a wedding and conference venue for up to 120 people.
I was hosted by the fab team at Heritage Boutique Collection at the Lake Resort Cromwell and can totally recommend you try it.