In spite of the fact that I’m a proud kiwi, I’ve realised that I haven’t written much about my homeland. Aotearoa: land of the long white cloud. It’s true that I don’t go home very often, preferring to spend what annual leave I have travelling to far off places. But, early last year I had good reason to go home: my little sister’s wedding! So I decided to make the most of the trip, spending two and a half weeks in Central Otago with my family.
In the lead up to the wedding it was fairly busy. What with haircuts and dress fittings, a hen’s do, venue prep, and family reunions. But once the celebrations were done, and we’d all caught our respective breaths, it was lovely to spend so much time back home.
The peak of summer, in one of the most beautiful regions of New Zealand? I can’t think of too many better places to be.
Here are some of the highlights.
And, if you want a more detailed introduction to each of the Central Otago towns listed, check out my South Island post, as most of them are featured there, too.
Postcards from Central Otago
On the banks of the picturesque Lake Hayes — a 15-minute drive from Queenstown — you’ll find Amisfield Winery. We spent my sister’s hen’s here, and it was just so lovely. The weather was perfect with blue skies and sunshine, the food was incredible, and the venue is just stunning.
I’m definitely a burger and fries kind of gal, very rarely partaking in fine dining experiences. So, this all felt very fancy to me. Every dish was phenomenal – from the plating to the eating. And if you’re after a good white, look no further than the Lowburn Terrace Reisling. Divine!
For me, Queenstown is one of those places that’s great to visit or for a short stay. It is a very touristy place, made famous for extreme sports such as bungee jumping, jet boating, and sky diving. The town itself has some great boutiques and chain stores, amazing food, and a pretty good atmosphere, but it always feels so busy. If you can find a spot for a picnic by the lake, though – it’s lovely.
My folks live in a cute wee town called Cromwell, which is about a 40-minute drive from Queenstown. The drive between the two is gorgeous, with rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and snow-capped mountains.
We used to visit Cromwell every year for the Christmas holidays. We’d camp at Bannockburn, which is just over the bridge (about 10 minutes away) and often popped into town for supplies, to swim in the lake, or to visit my Auntie and Uncle. I still love going back there – it brings back so many wonderful memories of warm summer days, splashing in the cold lake, barbeques every night, and staying up late. Nowadays the campground doesn’t quite hold the charm it once did – I mean, was it always that small?! But I was so pleased when my folks decided to move to Cromwell a few years ago, as it’s such a nice place to relax and unwind.
Old Reservoir Walking Track
If you’re up for a bit of a hike and some incredible views of Cromwell, then I highly recommend the Old Reservoir Walking Track. You don’t have to walk too far to be rewarded with these stunning views of both the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers. I think this is a walk I will add to my itinerary every time I go home now.
In my opinion, Lake Dunstan has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand. In the South Island, at least. I couldn’t resist getting snap happy at the mirrored reflections. Swoon!
Situated along Lake Dunstan is a charming area called Pisa Moorings. A fairly new residential hub, it boasts an awesome restaurant and luxury hotel facilities, and gorgeous views of Lake Dunstan. These photos were taken along one of the inlets in the area. Stunning!
Highlands Motorsport & Tourism Park
The name speaks for itself, really. I’m not huge on karting (I take the corners like an old lady), so I sat this one out, but it was so fun to watch my siblings, nieces, cousins, Auntie and Uncle try to take each other out to be the ultimate Highlands champion. The park itself is really scenic though – worth a visit.
My sister was married at the Bannockburn church, and had her ‘first look’ photos done at a friend of the family’s house nearby that had amazing views of the Cromwell area. Can you imagine waking up to this every day?! Seriously, where do I sign up?
Another walk to add to my Cromwell must-do’s is the Bannockburn Sluicings. I can’t believe I’d never been here before, but it was such a cool walk! Basically left untouched since the gold mining days, the landscape is rugged and harsh, and you can even find caves and water tracks left behind. The main track takes you all the way to Historic Stewart Town, but we took a shorter route: a round-trip to the stone cottage and back again.
Another great walk in the Central Otago area is the Riverside Trail in Alexandra. You’ll get great views of the historic bridge, and there are a lot of hidden gems along the way, including a miniature cricket club and Hobbiton village!
What’s for Eating in Central Otago?
There are seriously SO MANY great places to eat in Central Otago – you’re really spoiled for choice! At the time, I didn’t think we’d eaten out all that much, but now that I look back, it seems like we were constantly hitting up the local eateries!
We came to the Bannockburn Hotel for a wedding eve dinner, after we’d finished setting up the venue for the big day. We ordered a bunch of sharing plates. The food was so good, the views were stunning – watching the sun set – and the staff were amazing. Top notch.
A gorgeous little eatery in the quaint town of Clyde, Paulina’s was delicious! I stopped in here with my folks for a late lunch, and ordered the dumplings. So good.
Armando’s Kitchen, Old Cromwell
A family favourite, we always come to Armando’s whenever I’m home. Their cinnamon scrolls are to die! And they make great coffee.
Nichol’s Garden Café
Nichol’s is actually a garden centre! But they do have a café that my Mum quite likes, so we popped in for coffee and cake. Nothing fancy, but it hit the spot nicely.
The Moorings, Mount Pisa
Whether you’re after a coffee and hot chips, or a full blown feast (we came for both), The Moorings is ideal. Awesome location, and amazing food.
I can’t remember what I ordered at Frank’s (am thinking it was the pancakes, though), but I do know it was delicious! And the coffee was great, too.
With a gorgeous venue and stunning food, Amisfield was the perfect place for my sister’s hens. Fab, fab, fab!!
Attiqa Bar, The Mall
My sisters and I went to Attiqa for drinks and snacks last time I was home, in the dining area. It was super cosy and the food was delish. This time it was purely for hen’s drinks, so we went straight upstairs to the deck. Amazing views and cocktails, but unfortunately the smokers ruined it for me a bit. And you know you’re getting old when you want the DJ to turn the music down!
Public Kitchen + Bar, Steamer Wharf
We stopped at the Public for a bite to eat – quite expensive, but that’s par for the course in Queenstown. Views are stunning though.
Toro Kitchen + Bar, The Mall
We came here for brunch – I ordered the porridge and it was SO GOOD. Coffee was spot on, too. Highly recommend!
Coming home to Central Otago
Overall, it was such a wonderful time with my family, in the awesome Central Otago sunshine, surrounded by lakes and mountains. If the South Island isn’t already on your bucket list, it really should be.
And I’m only partially biased…