At Cromwell’s longest-running tourism business, the lure of finding gold, going jetboating, horse riding, and enjoying fabulous food provides a winning combination.
The rugged goldmining site in the Kawarau Gorge has drawn people in, across its narrow footbridge, for 28 years.
Local guides entertain with gold mining stories from the not-to-distant past and couples can helicopter in to be married at Goldfield’s elegant wedding venue - beautiful rustic stables.
Heather Egerton still enjoys going to work at her unique Central Otago business.
“There was nothing here when we began 28 years ago, no buildings or anything. Now we have people fly in by helicopter.”
She said international tourists and Kiwis enjoyed the guided tours through the Goldfields every day.
“As well there are interesting walks through Chinatown past the old shafts, tunnels and tailings which are included in the experience.”
Guide Geoff Hewson said mining took place at the site from the early 1860s right up until 1969 and visitors still find gold today.
The first diggings followed the great Otago 1860’s gold rush with the Chinese arriving later. The small patch of hillside at Goldfields, which was known as Gee’s Flat, was home to about 100 miners.
“There were 32 hotels in the Cromwell area at the peak and thousands of miners. And we are still finding gold just down the road here.”
Geoff says visitors often got a bit of colour in their pan.
“We had 30 school students here recently, 29 of them got absolutely nothing and one found a good nugget so you never know.”
Trek the Goldfields on Horseback
Five rather fortunate standardbred horses are the star attraction of Goldfield’s newest business.
The Mining Centre is now home for the ex-trotters and pacers, whose job is carrying tourists through the DOC reserve.
Standardbreds were well suited to trekking due to their gentle nature and reliability, she said.
“They sometimes retire them from racing at only 5 years old. It’s nice to be able to give them a good home, they have a pretty great life here. We can put beginners on them because they are so chilled.”
Karolin moved to Cromwell two years ago from Germany and is enjoying sharing the area’s goldmining history with visitors.
“People experience the landscape very differently by horseback, it’s quite a special thing for many visitors that might not have ever ridden.”
The Cromwell Basin is strengthening its position as a wine destination after the recent opening of a new batch of tasting rooms and the launch of a unique wine walking tour.
It was a natural progression, Graeme Crosbie of Domain Road Vineyard, says, to open a seven-day-a-week, purpose-built tasting space.
It’s been 15 years since he and wife Gillian began their wine adventure, doing things their way and working hard to establish a customer base nationally and internationally.
He says for Central Otago producers, geography helps provide the x-factor that make the region’s wines so good, but also puts up the biggest hurdle to success.
“We are so far away from our markets, it’s hard getting our wines out there because people want to see someone from the vineyard itself. You just have to travel.”
Domain Road now had a solid fan base in Australia, the UK and Europe and to a lesser degree the US and Asia.
“The Swedes have been drinking our rose for years, they love it.”
When the industry was going through a slow patch some years ago, the couple decided to go against the flow and expand.
This is the third harvest off their aptly named Defiance Vineyard, the site of their modern and quirky new Cellar Door. Constructed from shipping containers, it juts out from the hillside giving tasters a cosy, elevated perch from which to soak up the scenery.
Also opening in mid-January was Quest Vineyard’s Cellar Door, in the Freeway Orchard complex off the main highway into Cromwell.
Mark Mason likes to do things his own way too, living off the grid on Quest’s 145ha working farm and vineyard.
The east-west lying plantings –predominantly Pinot Noir – are at Parkburn on the Luggate-Cromwell Road.
Mark says the tasting room was all about building relationships with customers – meeting the people and sharing the Quest story.
“It was kind of a quest to find what the land would lend itself to. How it would respond and it was pretty rough before we started. We’ve got mostly Pinot Noir, a tiny bit of Pinot Gris and we make a white pinot so we called that Albino Pinot.”
He hopes to soon be offering Parkburn honey along with the wines.
Cromwell’s newest addition to the tasting room tour is Mishas Vineyard, next door to Quest at Freeway.
Vineyard owners Andy and Misha Wilkinson have a 57-hectare estate on the edge of Lake Dunstan at Bendigo near Tarras, but felt a more centrally located tasting room would be easier for guests to access.
“We had a very successful launch of our Tasting Room last week. It’s been a long time in the planning but we finally have a place we can call ‘home’ – for our wines that is. We are excited to now have an office and tasting room together and to be embarking on this new phase of our business at a time when the region and the town of Cromwell is growing,” Misha said
With 20 export markets established and 10 vintages completed, the couple felt it was the right time to open a tasting room.
“We frequently receive calls from overseas visitors who know our brand and want to visit,” Andy says. “We are also seeing increased tourism, with Central Otago growing its reputation as a wine and food destination.”
According to Tourism New Zealand, 20% of tourists arriving in the country take part in a ‘wine experience’, up from 13% in 2014. An estimated 2.9 million people visit nearby Queenstown each year. Destination Queenstown’s latest Visitor Experience Survey shows that ‘wine’ or ‘visiting wineries’ is one reason why both domestic and international visitors chose to visit the resort.
The Wilkinsons designed their new facility with the wine tourist in mind, Andy says.
“We wanted to bring the atmosphere of the vineyard into the tasting room so three walls have large-scale photographic murals by renowned photographer Tim Hawkins, who has been photographing Misha’s Vineyard since the ground-breaking ceremony in 2004.
Walking the Talk with 4 Barrels
The couple have teamed up with Scott Base, Wooing Tree and Aurum Wines to offer a four-tasting room walking tour, right in the heart of Cromwell. Visitors and local alike are delighting in wandering through the vines and along the lake shore, taking in the scenery and stretching their legs between tastings.
The total walking time on the trail is approximately 90 minutes and can be completed in 3.5 hours assuming 30-minute stops at each tasting room. The trail time may be extended if including a lunch break along the way. At three of the tasting rooms there are lunch and/or platters available or there is the option of bringing one’s own picnic and finding a scenic spot.
“Together we offer an incredibly diverse range of wines which really showcases the depth and diversity of this amazing winegrowing region” Misha says.
As well as being able to taste Central Otago’s famous pinot noir, wine selections include pinot gris, rosé, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, riesling, sparkling and dessert style wines, port, and even a beer option at one of the Tasting Rooms.
The Heart of the Desert
Desert Heart owner Denny Downie said their new tasting facility at Bannockburn would be opening six days weekly. It was built due to the development of their new vineyard at the far end of the now-famous Felton Road.
Back in town, Wine Solutions in Cromwell’s industrial area have a resident winemaker and cellar door and up the highway at Tarras, Maori Point Vineyard have completed a new facility to continue their offerings for tastings on-site. Part-owner Matt Evans says tastings have already been happening over summer seven days a week.
Remarkable Wines owner Richard Guthrey said their new cellar door at Cairnmuir Road, Bannockburn would allow him to be based everyday at the vineyard rather than travelling to Gibbston to the vineyard’s other property.
“We have a large barn here and we have converted part of that for the new cellar door. It means I can be on the vineyard working and be around for tastings here in Bannockburn.”
High on the hill at nearby Bendigo, Hayden Johnson is working to ready his new wine and function venue at Tarras Vineyard and across the valley at Queensbury, Archangel Vineyard, have also built an attractive tasting room and venue, offering various ways to sample wine and food amongst the vines or indoors.