Exploring Central Otago: Day one
Lonely Planet’s latest edition of Wine Trails Australia & New Zealand has essentially become our wine, food and travel bucket list. Having explored the Tamar Valley last year, this time we’re venturing further offshore to see if Central Otago lives up to its reputation as New Zealand’s most beautiful wine region.
Upon reflection, this might just be one of the most difficult travel writing projects I’ve attempted. This place is breathtaking, awe-inspiring and thoroughly enchanting. Where the splendour of the landscape is matched by the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. If you’re planning a weekend in Queenstown, extend your stay, you’re going to need more time. But if a few days is all you have, brace yourself for sensory overload and prepare for three of the most exciting and indulgent days you’ll have this side of Christmas.
Adventure tourism here is well established but we’re tending more towards adventures of the epicurean variety. Most of the activities in and around Queenstown require you to sign a waiver, strap on a harness and hang on. On this adventure however, you’ll most likely need to loosen your belt buckle and let go. Let’s tuck into day one...
09:00 – Breakfast at The Chop Shop
Head straight to Arrowtown for breakfast where there are a few good options – Chop Shop being the pick of the bunch. It features a creative fit-out, the coffee is strong and the Turkish eggs are deliciously buttery. After brekky, pretend you’re exercising and take a walk around town, it won’t take you long. This place is cute, very cute. It may as well be a film set – there’s even a hitching post for your horse outside the liquor store directly across the narrow street from the Coachmans Hall. Giddy up!
11:00 – Bungy at Kawarau Gorge
If you’re going to do it you may as well do it here at AJ Hackett Bungy where it all began. There are bigger, higher, more extreme bungy experiences but this one is a handy 20 minute drive from Queenstown and it’s still a terrifying but exciting adrenaline rush. If bungy isn’t on your bucket list, the viewing platform provides plenty of opportunity to watch people throw themselves and good money off the bridge.
12:00 – Lunch at Wild Earth
Further along the Gibbston Hwy is Wild Earth. The road follows the Kawarau river which has slowly carved out a steep gorge over the years making for some pretty dramatic scenery and insta-worthy footage from the passenger seat. There’s a sense of commitment as you walk across the suspension bridge from the carpark towards Wild Earth. It’s a mixed-use space; the restaurant and cellar door shares the same building as the Goldfields Mining Centre.
Grab a spot on the grass and the team will tailor a tasting for you. Lunch will be cooked in a ‘Stoaker’ – retired pinot noir wine barrels which have been converted into smokers by Wild Earth founder, the intrepid Quintin Quider. Order the ‘Stave’ – a five course selection of local meats and produce paired with wines, served on an oak stave. If you’re game, go all-in and order the Butcher Platter.
14:00 – Tasting at Mt Difficulty
If it’s too early for lunch at Wild Earth, this is another option in Bannockburn. The restaurant is up the hill just behind the tasting room and with its elevated position affords views over the Cromwell basin. It’s nestled amongst the old gold sluicings and from here you can spot the various vineyards and sub-regions from which Mt Difficulty source their fruit. Of course the pinots are magnificent, but it was the ‘Ghost Town’ syrah from Bendigo which was a highlight. Apparently there’s only one other syrah being made from the region, for this is pinot country but if this wine is anything to go by, that won’t be for long.
16:30 – On your way home...
The ice-cream at Jackson Orchards is worth a stop. And keep an eye out for The Otago Buzz – a vintage caravan that’s been converted into a souvenir shop. A few days a week, it’s parked right next to the big fruit at Cromwell (you can’t miss that). Karin has invested a lot of love into this little shop and there are plenty of local crafts to take back home with you.
18:00 - Pre dinner drinks
There are plenty of places to grab a drink in the sunshine before dinner, or under the heater, depending on the weather. On Ballarat St you’ll find The Pig and Whistle which is right next door to 1876 – both good options for a beer if the sun is shining. Across the road is Speights Ale House and Brazz, both perfect for a locally brewed frothy. Closer to the lake, try any of the cafes and restaurants at the waterfront or Sundeck which is upstairs at Attiqa.
20:00 – Dinner at Sherwood
This locals’ favourite it easy to overlook. It’s a bit confusing initially – is it accommodation, a yoga and wellness retreat, a bar, restaurant? And what’s with the teepee? It’s all of the above and somehow it manages to pull it off. The food is outstanding and the wine list features more of the interesting, smaller producers and natural wines and the way they’re presented as a constellation on the wine list is brilliant. Staff are welcoming and can guide you through the list as you sit up at a shared table near the fire or tuck yourself away in the slightly more formal dining area. Expect to find live music one night and a poetry slam the next.
Where to stay...
There are plenty of hotels and AirBnB options to choose from. This is a resort town, people come here to holiday and to play and so houses are fitted out for guests. We stayed in a 4 x bed house from Air BnB on the hill right above Sherwood (the teepee was booked out). If you are looking for something serviced however, Villa del Lago was well appointed and had a prime location overlooking to Lake Wakatipu.
One of the more indulgent experiences is to immerse yourself in the splendour that is Millbrook Resort. It’s a golf resort but you don’t need to swing a club to enjoy what this impeccably manicured property has to offer. Views of rolling greens and snow capped mountains are sweeping and rooms are private and spacious. With a health spa, restaurants and plenty of recreational activities available within a short golf cart shuttle, you won’t want to leave.