Wanaka to Queenstown
The journey from Wanaka to Queenstown takes travellers past the Albert Town bridge over the Clutha River, then Cardrona River, past the small township of Luggate, the Wellwood Gallery – to reach the local government boundary of Queenstown Lakes District Council and Central Otago District Council. Glimpses of the entrenched Clutha River may be seen especially in the vicinity of Queensberry, but then the river disappears from view.
At Queensberry, travellers will notice ‘Queensberry Inn’, a small B&B set in a historic stone stable and cottage; and come across the Lazy Dog Café – a recent addition to the otherwise pastoral scene. Continuing southwards, the farmland gradually becomes more intensive with vineyards, cherry orchards and lifestyle blocks becoming more dominant with views of Lake Dunstan and, across the lake, the Bendigo vineyards providing interest.
The Lake Dunstan lakeshore from the head of the lake at Bendigo to Pisa Moorings was left in it original state and comprises farmland and some extensive grape growing areas, complete with new residences. These vineyards extend out from Cromwell alongside Wanaka Road (State highway 6) and may be owned by large companies or form part of lifestyle blocks. The reason why grapes are a new and popular investment is the upsurge in wine use generally, the high 'growing degree days' in this vicinity, availability of irrigation because of Lake Dunstan, and the suitability for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Approaching Lowburn you will view the large terrace slopes. These are known as the Lowburn glacial outwash terraces and are the best example of fluvio (water) glacial outwash terraces in the country. They are also present in the Bendigo area and represent a sequence of widely spaced and extremely well defined landforms. The local Central Otago District Council has initiated moves to preserve these terrace slopes, or risers. Near Clark Road there has been a large cherry orchard development on top of the terrace (but out of view from the highway) - this export-related orchard has been developed by a Canadian cherry grower, Hugh Dendy.
Adjacent to the Pisa Moorings – Clark Road intersections, is the entranceway into Pisa Moorings Village and the new development of Perriam Cove. The Perriam Cove subdivision is clearly visible from the highway and comprises some 70 residential sections located adjacent to a preformed marina; as well as a further planned 24 managed apartments overlooking the marina, with room for residents to moor their boats beneath. A restaurant, bar, conference rooms, and grocery store are also planned in the marina subdivision and will ultimately service the complete Pisa Moorings-Perriam Cove residential area.
The Lake Dunstan lakeshore extending from the Lowburn Collie Dog Club grounds to south of Cromwell was preformed before lake filling. Generally the beach slopes have all been created at slopes of 1:8, or in potential erosion areas, 1:10. The shoreline is extremely popular in summer for boating, sailing, fishing, picnicking and passive recreation.
Nearing Lowburn, travellers pass the 45th Parallel monument that was erected by the Cromwell Promotion Group.
The Lake Dunstan Boat Club has been built at McNulty Inlet (slightly visible from highway), as has the Cromwell College Aquatic Centre which trains people in most aspects of boating. Because of its small size, Lake Dunstan is seen to be the safest lake in the country.
A controversial aspect of the lake formation has been the growth of lakeweed, Lagarosiphon major. This South African oxygen weed is present in most North Island lakes and makes recreation such as swimming unpleasant. Before lake formation was started it was predicted that the weed would colonise Lake Dunstan as it was already present in Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River system. It does have a positive effect in that trout populations like the cover, and good fishermen have learned to appreciate that fact. Some $50,000 per year is spent on spraying the weed away from the most used recreational areas of Lake Dunstan.
Cromwell has been called 'the newest town in New Zealand' since major changes swept through the small community in the mid 1970's. It is no longer a sleepy little post-gold rush town that was comfortable as a service centre for the surrounding orchards and farming community. With 450 new homes that were used to house hydro workers, the town has been revitalised and now boasts as being a small town with large town facilities. New subdivisions, schools, a Polytechnic, sports and cultural facilities, and infrastructure such as water, power and sewerage system, has created a modern bustling and vibrant town. The presence of Lake Dunstan and the expanding wine industry have acted as major attractions for new property owners and developers.
The Cromwell Fruit Sculpture was erected by the Rotary Club of Cromwell and has become the town's icon. Built in 1989, the four fruit (pear, apple, nectarine and apricot) weigh over nine tonne, are 13 metres high, and have been repainted three times.
Looking south from adjacent to the Cromwell Racecourse, travellers will be able to see the major grape growing area of Bannockburn. This was the first area to be developed following the formation of Lake Dunstan and the raising of the water that allowed for greater irrigation opportunities in this 400mm per annum rainfall country. Bannockburn is quickly becoming the best quality Pinot Noir growing area in the country, if not the world.
Passing the Cromwell Racecourse travellers view the relatively new orchard development that specialises in summerfruits (cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches and apples). The loss of orchards because of the Clyde Dam have more than been replaced by modern orchard syndicates growing new varieties for export. With existing and proposed developments, Cromwell is quickly becoming the 'Cherry Capital of New Zealand'. Important stop-off points are The Big Picture - an Essential Wine Experience, the adjacent Gallery Fare on 6 Café, and the Jones Family Fruit Stall.
Passing out of the Cromwell basin, travellers enter the Kawarau Gorge on their way to Queenstown. The highway travels through a spectacular steep gorge notable for the volume and fast flowing nature of its water. The Kawarau Gorge is continually being modified by landslides and extensive work is required to maintain the narrow and twisting highway. Features in the gorge include the Goldfields Mining Centre (note that the geological Pisa Fault is visible just before the Centre's car park), and the small historic Roaring Meg power station (there is also an Upper Meg power station). Motorists should be aware of the dangerous conditions with frost and black ice during the winter months.