Awakening to the first glint of sunrise over Lake Dunstan and the sound of gently lapping water around my boatshed-style villa, is my idea of idyllic summer holiday bliss. Strung around the shoreline of Lake Dunstan at Pisa Moorings, Heritage Collection Lake Resort Cromwell is a head-turning boutique property, perfectly proportioned with a purpose-built marina. Hugging the lake’s edge, the elegant over-water villas are architecturally designed with a striking boatshed theme that breath easily with the lustrous setting. Light and shadow playfully bathe the spectacular, bronzed landscape where chiselled hillsides frame Lake Dunstan’s revitalising, blue splendour. The resort features its own waterway access to the lake, with moorings available by the accommodation, if you’re floating in! If you’re sizing up a blissed-out romantic escape, a one bedroom spa villa will float your boat perfectly. You’ll enjoy your own private facilities with full kitchen and lounge living opening on to a super-spacious over-water deck, separate sumptuous bedroom, plus the convenience of a laundry and drying facilities.
As the name would suggest, the spa suite also boasts a private spa bath, for extra-indulgence. Despite its intimate and boutique credentials, Heritage Lake Resort Cromwell is brilliantly adaptable, with contemporary conference and events facilities that can cater for up to 120 people. Also on site is the fabulous Moorings restaurant and bar, which offers divine eats and drinks from the crack of dawn to after dark. For dinner, I plumped for the spectacular Prime NZ Eye Fillet, which is served on a succulent tower of extravagance. At its base, the in-house bacon and potato crumble patties, complemented with cauliflower puree, blue cheese, seasonal mushrooms, honey glazed beetroot, baby carrots and rosemary jus. It’s a sensational dish not to be missed. https://www.heritagehotels.co.nz/lake-resort-cromwell
Heritage Collection Lake Resort Cromwell, is just a seven minute drive from the heart of Cromwell, but after taking in my fill of the on-site bucolic brilliance, which lustily celebrates the four seasons, I also checked out the Lake Dunstan Cycling & Walking Trail, which runs right past the property. Connecting Cromwell with Clyde on a 54km route, many sections of the beautiful wide lakeside trail are already open, creating a lot of buzz with the community. The most northern section runs from Smiths Way to the Cromwell Heritage Precinct (16km), before looping around Bannockburn and south to Cornish Point. The final section from Cornish Point to Clyde is on-track to be completed in a matter of weeks. The hotel will happily get you sorted with bike hire. Hello ebike! But alongside taking in the rolling medley of radiant widescreen scenery and the time-honoured totems to the Dunstan goldrush, the trail opens up enormous possibilities to hopscotch your way from one winery to the next, on two wheels. In a region richly endowed with world-beating cycle trails, this latest entrant is destined to be another rockstar in Central Otago’s cycling crown.
If you’re dashing through Cromwell, en-route to Queenstown, you could be mistaken for thinking Cromwell is just a modern service town. But its history stretches back to the heady gold rush days of the 1800s. This history is best experienced in the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, a banner visitor attraction. In the 1980's and 90's Cromwell underwent a major transformation with the construction of the Clyde Dam power station. When the dam was completed in 1992, the valley behind it was flooded to create the dam’s reservoir, Lake Dunstan. As a result, the main street of the original township at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers now lies at the bottom of the lake. I vividly recall as a child, on a family summer holiday, peering down at the dam construction site, just prior to the township’s dramatic staged flooding. Today, the precinct showcases a trove of character buildings and cottages that were salvaged before Noah’s flood. Many date back to the 1860s gold rush, some of which were dismantled and rebuilt in the historic precinct. Highlights include the Cromwell Post & Telegraph Office, Wisharts Blacksmith and Motor Garage, The Globe Hotel, D A Jolly & Sons and Stumbles.
Many have been repurposed as charming bijoux shops, cafes and galleries chock full of local artists’ accomplished work. Stumbles is now home to Zen Interiors & Lifestyle Store, while the Grain & Seed Café is occupied in the stone confines of Jolly & Sons. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, don’t miss Cromwell Farmers’ and Craft Market, staged within the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. I’d venture to suggest it’s one of New Zealand’s greatest farmers’ markets, because the slew of fresh local produce and artisan craft is beyond abundant, the stallholders informally double as authentic ambassadors for the region, as big-hearted and laidback as the mighty Cromwell Basin. Coupled with its sublime setting, this market is a multi-sensory delight and an abiding meeting place for the wider community.
Another Cromwell calling-card is undoubtedly its fruit – both fresh and fermented. Starting with the wine, Cromwell is a plentiful and picturesque wine-growing area, revered for its pinot noirs, crafted by the best of New Zealand’s winemakers. Central Otago boasts half a dozen distinct wine sub-regions, including the Gibbston Valley, Alexandra, Wanaka, Bannockburn and the Cromwell Basin. They can all be easily explored from Cromwell, but it's not just the variety of wines that makes the region unusual: it's also way ahead of other wine-growing areas in the country in adopting organic and biodynamic practices. Roughly a quarter of Central Otago’s vineyards are organic or are in the process of converting from conventional practices. That compares to the national average of around 5 per cent. The region lends itself to organic growing, being a very dry climate which lowers the risk of disease.
The Cromwell Basin has arguably become Central Otago’s most important wine-growing sub-region. The warm, semi-arid climate, schist soils and seasonal temperature extremes, conspire favourably for grape-growing and the industry is flourishing. Neighbouring Bannockburn is so spectacular, it’s deserving of its own standalone article, which will be upcoming. But here’s some other Cromwell wine destinations, that I’d recommend adding to your dance card. I love Rudi Bauer's Quartz Reef winery. Bauer, who was raised in Austria, is one of New Zealand’s pioneers of organic and biodynamic winemaking, co-founding Quartz Reef in 1996 and planting vines in Bendigo. While Quartz Reef is best known as a sparkling wine specialist – the only one in the region that is biodynamic – the pinot noirs are also superb.
Aurum Wines' cellar door is housed in the estate's original weatherboard cottage at Lowburn, open daily for tastings. Just past Aurum is Domaine-Thomson, which has vineyards in Pisa as well as in France's Cote-d'Or, producing pinot noirs that skew to the Burgundy style. The setting is magical. Domaine Thomson’s spectacular elevated site above the valley floor has 360-degree views of the Cromwell Basin and Lake Dunstan, framed by the Dunstan and Pisa Mountain ranges and the St Bathans Mountains further beyond. The 14-hectare vineyard’s gentle slopes overlooking Pisa Moorings lakeside settlement have been planted as four distinct blocks – each with its own special characteristics. Right across the road from Cromwell’s iconic fresh fruit sculpture, River Rock Estate vineyard is hyper-boutique, with the Cellar Door operating in the upstairs of the barn with dreamy views across the Cromwell Basin. They offer wine and honey tasting, with great olive oil on sale too.
Scott Base Vineyard is another cracker, uniquely perched on an elevated hillside with stunning views of the Pisa Range, the town of Cromwell and Lake Dunstan. The tasting room known as Space at the Base is a cosy and relaxed venue where you can enjoy award-winning wines from Scott Base, the Scott's Marlborough vineyards, and Moa Beer.
You’ll love Wooing Tree Vineyard. Taking its name from a beloved landmark; a tree where local couples historically headed to ‘woo’ their lovers (and remains today a popular location for marriage proposals), The Wooing Tree is a family-owned and run vineyard specialising in Pinot Noir—made with passion. Open daily, the cellar door boasts tastings and sales, along with gourmet platters and cheeses to enjoy as you soak in the panoramic views.
Opened two years ago, the Cloudy Bay Shed—is a far cry from the average rural shed, with floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking postcard-worthy views. Located in the heart of Cromwell, the cellar door caters for everything from wine tastings, wines by the glass, a select food menu, private group tastings and vineyard tours. Like its Marlborough mothership, it’s kitted out with a Jack’s Raw Bar, so you can quaff your pinot with some freshly shucked oysters. Sinfully good.
Over summer months, you will be captivated by the taste of sunshine locked in succulent cherries, peaches and apricots that the region’s orchard fruit stalls are famous for. Jones Family Fruit stall is one of Central Otago’s best, stocking a huge array of fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, honey products and vegetables. On a hot summer’s day, there is nothing beats a real fruit ice cream made to order. Why not stretch your legs in Mrs Jones beautiful English-style garden? The garden contains hundreds of roses and is open all year round.
Another stop is Jackson Orchards, a family owned and operated enterprise on the Cromwell-Luggate road. Hop on board Jackson Orchards’ yellow electric bus for a 45 minute fun, informative and educational insight into this working orchard, which is one of NZ’s largest apricot exporters. During summer months you get to sample lip-smacking fruit you’ve picked from the tree.
For adrenaline junkies, Highlands Motorsport Park offers passengers the thrill of travelling at speeds of 200 kilometres-an-hour while being driven by a race driver around the international standard race track. This world class facility boasts multiple ways to experience the circuit at speed from Ferrari’s to Porsches. Rides cost $179. It’s also home to the best outdoor go-kart circuit in the Southern Hemisphere. The on-site National Motorsport Museum includes New Zealand’s most expensive car. To celebrate Highlands third birthday in 2016, Tony Quinn splashed out on a 7-litre V12-powered Aston Martin Vulcan, one of only 24 in the world and the most expensive production car ever in New Zealand with a $4.2 million price tag. The Vulcan has a top speed of more than 320 kilometres per hour and a 0-100kmh time of 3 seconds and to date, hot laps in the Vulcan have raised over $160,000 for various charities. Home to the some of the rarest cars in NZ motorsport history, some of the hidden gems include an authentic American sheriff’s patrol car, Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Formula One car, a larger than life Transformer’s Bumblebee action figure on display and even several arcade driving games. www.cromwell.org.nz
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.