A Conversation about Stone Fruit: Central Otago Stone Fruit Growers
Cromwell, with its hard to miss giant fruit sculpture, is known as New Zealand’s fruit bowl. In order to learn a little more about Central Otago stone fruit growers and their way of life, I decided to talk to two of the key orchardist in the Cromwell area: Simon and Trudi Webb and Kevin Jackson. I discovered that each has a unique story to tell about how they came to be in orchardists; however, they all agree on exactly why Cromwell’s stone fruit is world-class.An ideal climate, modern technology, advances in soil science, more accurate weather prediction and the latest techniques in fruit growing combined to make Cromwell’s stone fruit both visually pleasing, and super tasty. A delicious taste of summer in every bite, Cromwell’s cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums are snapped up by high-end export markets, supermarkets nationwide and visitors who make a point of stopping off at any one of the many roadside stalls over the season.
Founded in 1914, Webb’s Orchard is now home to the fifth generation of fruit growers as Simon and Trudi’s children: Cameron, Brooke and Ariana all take part in the summer harvest. Webb’s is one of the few large orchards in the area that doesn’t grow cherries; instead they focus on producing apricots, peaches, apples, plums and pears. With over 26,000 trees on the 32 hectares of orchard, so they produce a lot of fruit!
We had an animated discussion about Cromwell’s climate and how the cool winters set the buds and long hot summers provide ideal fruit growing conditions. When I asked what was their biggest achievement was, Simon looked philosophical and said “Still being here,” and he wasn’t joking. Most businesses have to survive currency fluctuations and other economic challenges; however, orchardists have the weather gods, the possibility of pest infestations and tree diseases thrown into the equation as an added bonus. Like most fruit growing families, they make the most of the winter months as in summer constant pruning, picking, packing and frost fighting means the opportunities to get away are few and far between.
Kevin Jackson of Jackson’s Orchard story is quintessentially “Cromwell”, as his original orchard is now under Lake Dunstan. Originally set in the Gorge between Cromwell and Alexandra, like the Webb’s, his fruit growing story involves multiple generations. His great, great grandfather was an Anglican Minister who settled in Alexandra. At the start of the gold rush, the ministerial collar was thrown aside and post-gold rush being an orchardist seemed like a good idea.
Once he left his gorge orchard (famous for its award winning apricots) Kevin toyed with the idea of buying the Shotover Jet in Queenstown. When this idea fell through, he and his son Mark and daughter Kirsten investigated buying land in either Alexandra or Cromwell. The Jackson Orchard of today was originally a sheep station. The property was the first settled in the area by William (Barry) Jackson, a successful butcher who became the first Mayor of Cromwell in 1866. Set on a gentle slope, the key benefit of this land is that it is less affected by frosts unlike other orchards found down on the valley floor.
It took seven years to put in irrigation, prepare the soil and grow the first commercially viable crop on the 30-hectare orchard, and twelve years before the first cherries could be sold. Today, like the Webb’s, Kevin is proud of his fruit which is exported overseas and consumed all over New Zealand. The Jackson road side stall also swarms with tourists sampling fresh produce and enjoying real fruit ice creams.
Cromwell really is the epicentre of the Central Otago Stone Fruit world and behind the road side stalls there are sophisticated operations worth exploring. Although, like many things the real story is about the people, that live and work on the land. This was echoed by each of the orchardists, as they said the best thing about growing fruit in Cromwell was meeting people from all over the world who come to work in the summer and enjoy the Central Otago lifestyle. To find out more about Cromwell’s fruit stalls, or to book an orchard tour go to www.cromwell.org.nz.
All About Tarras: High Street Shopping, High Tea and Award Winning Wines
On a sweltering hot day, Tarras found on the Southern side of the Lindis Pass is a welcome sight. With its weatherboard buildings and well-tended gardens, this small settlement seems to whisper history. Long before the road was tarsealed it was home to gold miners, sheep farmers and those looking for a quieter life.Today, you can refuel your vehicle and purchase homeware and gifts from the Tarras General Store and then head to the Tarras Country Coffee Shop for your own sustenance. Natasha Wilson, the café’s resident chef explains that the scones are ever popular, especially when they are used as a base for eggs benedict. Sitting at one of the sprawling tables out front enjoying a coffee, you can’t help but feel that you have entered a new and greener District after the sprawling tussock plains in Mackenzie Country.
Next door, the Merino Shop is home to the usual range of warm and woolly merino clothing; however, out back there is an unexpected surprise for visitors. Christina Perriam has created a high end designer merino and angora range - ‘Perriam’. Set in a studio that rivals any “High Street” shopping experience in New Zealand, this well-tailored clothing line is both elegant and exquisitely soft to wear.
Behind the roadside buildings, the original Tarras School is a shrine of sorts, paying homage to the famous woolly hermit of Bendigo Station - “Shrek”. This wily merino wether (castrated male sheep) evaded musterers for six years. In 2004, after being shorn his fleece weighed 27kgs, six times the weight of an average fleece! You can buy a children’s picture book detailing Shrek’s exploits in The Merino Shop, or grab a copy of John Perriam’s book “Dust to Gold”, which details a more adult version of life on Bendigo station and the story behind its woolly icon Shrek.
A final story associated with Tarras that is definitely worth telling is that of Tarras Estate Vineyard. In 2002, Hayden Johnston bought 22 hectares high up on the Bendigo terraces from John Perriam. After planting over 9,000 organically grown vines on 4 hectares, ‘The Canyon’ was born. The first commercially viable vintage went to market in 2006 and since then Johnston’s wines have been winning awards worldwide. Described as “delivering outstanding expressions of a great Pinot Noir”, Tarras Vineyard wines are definitely worth sampling. Especially the Tarras Single Vineyard ‘The Canyon’ Pinot Noir 2009 which was judged not only best Pinot Noir in Show at the Decanter Asian Wine awards, it also won the International Pinot Noir Trophy. More recently, ‘The Canyon’ Pinot Noir 2014 won Pure Gold at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
Next time you are heading through the Lindis Pass, or decide to go exploring the Districts surrounding Cromwell, put a visit to Tarras on your ‘To Do’ list. Whether you are interested in scones and coffee, fine merino couture, or award winning wine there really is something for everyone. For more information go to www.cromwell.org.nz.
Lake Dunstan Boat Club: Team Revolver and the Need for Speed
Speed seems to be the prime ingredient in any motorsport; however, Team Revolver has taken Central Otago motorsport both lakeside and to the next level. They’ve created a special “need for speed” formula involving a power boat, two water skiers, a driver and spotter, all going like the proverbial “bat out of hell.” On Saturday 28th November, they will be representing Cromwell in the 2015 Bridge to Bridge National Water Skiing competition near Hamilton. Dan Rule is the boat’s driver and also the Vice Commodore of the Lake Dunstan Boat Club. He grew up in a family of “boaties” and powerboating was so ingrained “it’s almost a genetic mutation in my world,” he explains. Rule enjoys the atmosphere down at the Club, and there is always someone out on the water. Anyone who is interested in having a go at fishing, skiing or sailing is always welcome. However, the training for the Bridge to Bridge is anything but casual - he describes the race as “the most exciting thing you can do in a power boat and we’ll be up against the best skiers from New Zealand and Australia.”
According to Rule, the skiers are in charge, “they call the shots and the Bridge to Bridge is won or lost in the first few seconds.” Team Revolver is competing in the Standard Motor Open Cockpit (SMOC) with two skiers and also the novice class, which Jason Searle won with Revolver in 2014.
When racing each boat is allocated a start time in a line-up set at one-minute intervals. On command, the skiers get in the water, complete a deep water start and the boat takes off down the Waikato River for 82 kilometres - it’s basically a flat out sprint from Cambridge to Taupiri and back to Hamilton. This year Jason Searle is skiing in the Novice with team Infra Red team from Waihola and they hope to break the National Novice Speed Skiing record, which means reaching speeds of over 94 mph (over 150 kph). The observer for Infra Red is Colin Horsnell from Cromwell, one of the founding members of Lake Dunstan boat club.
The observer for Team Revolver is Mike Borthwick, he is charged with watching both skiers and looking out for navigational hazards. Both he and Rule need lightning fast reactions and excellent spatial awareness to keep the boat and skiers on the river. Rule is under no illusions, the skiers wear body armour and helmets, and he admits that “if something goes wrong it will be a quick trip to the hospital.”
Team Revolver is hugely grateful to all of the local sponsors that have made their racing a reality, these include: Kate Scott and Mike from Landpro, Paul and Debbie Wright from Mainfreight Cromwell, Paul Robertson and Nicky Robertson from Truss Tech, Doug Rayner and Nicola Ridd from NZ Composite Tech, Richard and the team from Continuous Group, Craig and Gary Lonsdale from MAXRaft and of course the awesome team at Straightline Roofing.
As the only two boats from the South Island, it’s not only Cromwell that will be hoping that team Revolver and Infra Red achieve podium finishes. For more information about the Bridge to Bridge and race results go to www.skirace.co.nz or check out team Revolver Racing on Facebook. Or, if you would like to have a go at power boating, Daniel and the rest of the team at Lake Dunstan Boat Club would love to see you out on the water this summer.
Giddy Up! It’s time for the Cromwell Christmas Races
Framed by the Pisa Range, the Cromwell Racecourse is perhaps the most scenic horse racing venue in New Zealand. On the 29th November 2015, thundering hooves will once be heard on site as the Otago Racing Club hosts the annual Cromwell Christmas Races. With over 8,000 people coming to town, this event is pegged as one of the best Christmas staff parties Central has on offer.
As the oldest racecourse in Central Otago, Cromwell harks back to an era when Wanaka, Queenstown and even the Cardrona valley their own track. ‘Gallops’ have been held here for over 150 years, and up to five generations of race goers have stood trackside - the suspicion that the weatherboard stands whisper history is not unfounded!
Charlotte Neilson, the Event Co-Ordinator explains how the race day, with the stands and corporate marquis, hung with Christmas themed ornaments is a racing institution in its own right. She believes that the race days hinges on the social atmosphere, with crowds of people returning year after year. “It all seems to be a bit more relaxed in Central. Everyone is there for a good day out and it’s definitely a key event on the racing calendar as people travel all over the South Island to be there,” explains Neilson.
The key races are the Queenstown Cup, sponsored by AWS Legal and the Wanaka Cup. Other races have been sponsored by local Cromwell businesses including Duncan Anderson Dental, Misha’s Vineyard and Cromwell Transport. For something a little different you can even bet on a flock of scurrying sheep.
Exactly which horses and jockeys will be racing won’t be announced until three days before the event. However, as the maxim prize money is $40,000 for first place and given that there will be two open handicap races (this means horses that haven’t raced before can compete for sizeable prize money) you can guarantee that the top names will be there.
For some the highlight of the day won’t have anything to do with thoroughbred horses, as the “Fashions on the Field” events are another big drawcard. This year's theme is "Animal" so everyone from the youngun's in their onesies, to the adults with a feather in their cap, can strut their stuff, hoot at the winners, growl at the losers and generally get in touch with their "inner animal". The team from Dunedin’s Refined Rig will be judging this year’s best-dressed competition and there are three large goody bags valued at $2000 up for grabs, along with a number of decadent spot prizes.
If guests get hungry there will be an array of food vendor’s onsite, alongside market stalls and an abundance of activities to keep the younger family members entertained. That is if they like bouncing castle, go karts and oversized games like chess and Jenga
Unfortunately, the corporate marquees were booked out months ago; however, if you want to try for a last minute cancellation contact Charlotte Nielson at email firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, adult entry is $15 and there are plenty of spaces to park a picnic rug or folding chair along the rails. All you need to do is put the 29th November 2015 in your calendar and go enjoy the sun-drenched community atmosphere at the Cromwell Christmas Races. For more information to: www.theraces.co.nz.
Decadent Christmas Shopping @ The Cromwell Festive Fete 2015
For those in the know, there is a “Fete Circuit” around the South Island and the Cromwell Festive Fete held on the 5th of December rates as one of the premier events - whether you are a stall holder or a guest. Children under the age of 14 can enter for free and for adults, simply pay your $10 entry fee, grab your complimentary signature shopping bag and explore the stalls tucked under the trees at the Cromwell Race Course. Enjoy hunting for Christmas treats that are both inspired and unique, while knowing that a range of activities will keep younger guests entertained.The Festive Fete’s success has a lot to do with Anthea Lawrence, the event organiser. After it was announced that the Queensberry Fete had reached the end of an error, she and her close friend Claire Harper created a new event designed to ensure that both guests and stall holders have a great day. Five years later she still finds stallholders selling products that are both high quality and mostly New Zealand made, or at least New Zealand designed. She also ensures that no one product is oversubscribed.
You will find everything on offer from Christmas decorations to adults and children’s clothes, homewares, hand-crafted children’s toys, deli produce, gardening products, paintings, prints outdoor furniture. Food and beverage stalls will provide sustenance for weary shoppers needing to refuel and live music will provide the day’s soundtrack. Wanaka’s very own country queen Jody Direen and jazz singer Vanessa Kelly accompanied by ‘The Fellas’ will all add to the atmosphere.
The event also helps community organisations do their own fundraising, the Cromwell Scouts will be on hand to help set up and take down stalls, and the Cromwell Barnardo’s fundraising committee will provide stallholders with morning tea. Cromwell Rangers will be working on the gates and helping out in the car park, and Pippins do a litter pick at the end of the day. St John ambulance staff are on site just in case and Wanaka’s Leo’s (Young Lions) will be carolling about the stalls.
If your Christmas present list is full of people that are hard to buy for, or you simply want to treat yourself to a relaxed day out before the full on festive season begins, head to the Cromwell Christmas Fete held on the 5th November at the Cromwell Racecourse. For more information go to www.festivefete.co.nz.
Dress in a Loud Shirt and Meet the Central Otago Winegrowing Community: Central Otago Wine Association
Cynics in the early 1970’s said that commercial grade wine could never be grown in Central Otago. Much like the little red hen that baked bread, a group of passionate wine enthusiasts decided to ignore the critics and prove that theory wrong, and they succeeded. The pioneering honours board in the Central Otago wine region include Burgesses of Blackridge, Hays Brothers from Chard Farm, Mills family who are based at Rippon, Ann Pinckney of Taramea Wines, and of course, Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines. Together they have all produced award winning wines.
Today, the Central Otago Wine Association (COWA) represents over a hundred successful businesses that are a part of the close-knit Central Otago wine growing community. The membership list has grown beyond the viticulturists and winemakers and now includes bottling, packaging, engineering firms and even netting operations that can be found in Cromwell, Alexandra, Queenstown and Wanaka.
For those new to the industry, a viticulturist has their hands in the soil and tends the vines to grow rotund grapes. The winemakers take the fruit into the wineries and perform their alchemy to create an award winning beverage. Depending on who you talk to, there is a great debate over who is more important; however, it’s fair to say that it is a symbiotic relationship involving a lot of science, a good dose of artistry and a bit of luck.
As the region’s genesis did not involve any of the more well-known New Zealand wine labels (and their international funding), the smaller operations have had to abide by a spirit of co-operation. As soon as Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines had his first commercial release of wine in 1987, COWA was formed. It quickly became a cohesive industry group where everyone would regularly get together to develop grape growing strategies for the region, ideas on how to optimise yields from the wineries and market their product around the world.
COWA’s key functions are national advocacy and hosting educational events for members. These events could focus on anything from vine root management or health and safety, through to discussing weather forecasting and climate change. The association produces the region’s Wine Map and has developed a plan for roadside signage. It supports both the Young Viticulturist and Young Winemaker of the Year Awards and thanks to the Mills family connections in France there is even a wine industry exchange to Burgundy.
With the inaugural Down to Earth Celebration, wine tourism has also become an area for future development. The main aim is to create personalised experiential activities that allow visitors to understand the narrative behind a wine label. The COWA member’s dinners are also worth mentioning as they appear to be a cross between a biblical “last supper” worshipping the latest vintage and a university loud shirt party.
Other recent newsworthy highlights include Glenys Coughlan moving from Venue Management for Absolutely Positively Wellington to be appointed in the CEO role for COWA and as of the 1st November 2015 Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd (the Region’s marketing organisation) and COWA are now operating under a unified Board of Governance.
For more information on wine-related tours and activities in the region go to www.cromwell.org.nz, and to learn more about the Central Otago Wine Association visit www.cowa.org.nz.
What Can You do in 24 Hours? Central Otago Adventure Racing
In fairy tales, as the clock strikes twelve - carriages turn into pumpkins, horses become mice and the heroine stands in rags. Not so at midnight on Friday 21st November, as adventure racers from all over New Zealand start the 2015 “24 Hour.” Lowburn Hall, just north of Cromwell will become the official base for Central Otago Adventure Racing and competitors will either: mount their bikes, paddle a kayak or head to the hills in running shoes (instead of glass slippers).
Bill Godsall organised the first 24-hour event in 2000 and since then it has been annually testing people’s physical and mental strength, as well as their ability to work as a team. Over 100 people are expected to enter this year’s race, which is hosted by the Southern Lakes Multisport Club. It has been designed as an entry level adventure race that anyone can afford to do, as long as they have the right gear and have done some training.
Teams are made up of either two or four people, and can be all male, all female, or mixed. The competitors must stay within 100 metres of their team mates throughout the race which is divided into sections that must be completed in sequence. Each section is an “Out & Back” leg which creates a clover leaf circuit around the main base and transition area. Each section can include kayaking, rafting, trekking, navigation, abseiling, or mountain biking.
When asked why do people do it? this year’s Race Director Malcolm McLeod said, “I don’t know really, I guess we’re all a bit mad...” McLeod who has competed in numerous multi-sport and adventure racing events over the years (including this month’s Pub to Pub Bannockburn Gutbuster) is almost annoyingly understated. Especially when you think of the massive challenge associated paddling, cycling, abseiling and hiking the day away in an increasingly sleep-deprived state.
McLeod admitted later that some teams use the race as part of their training build up for other events such as the GodZone, while others are keen to see if they can “just finish”. You can only assume that the geographic adventure associated with not knowing where you are going pre-race, and the journey into your own mind to see if you can “just keep going” also has something to do with it.
If you want to volunteer or enter the event you can find out more about Central Otago Adventure Racing and the 24 Hour event go to www.southernlakesmultisportclub.com.
Jazzing up the Old Town: Old Cromwell Heritage Precinct Fireworks Night
When viewed for the first time, the Old Cromwell Heritage Precinct looks more like a Country and Western set from Universal Studios. You could almost imagine the Lone Ranger riding in to save the day and sweeping a damsel off her feet. With such an atmospheric backdrop, the idea of a night market, and jazzed up fireworks display to welcome people to the “Highlands 101” weekend on Friday, November 13th 2015 seems like a no-brainer.
With the creation of the Clyde dam in 1990, Cromwell’s original main street disappeared under the depths of Lake Dunstan. However, local craftspeople banded together and carefully relocated and rebuilt selected buildings and conserved others that still stand on their original sites. Many of these buildings date back to the 1860’s and halcyon days of the Otago gold rush.
In the Lower Precinct, you can experience what it would be like to visit a gold mining metropolis with its very own butchers, bakery, grocers, and boarding houses. Each building has its own history and some even tell the story of how businesses evolved to survive through the decades. Built in 1880, Wisharts Blacksmith and Motor Garage tells the story of how a trained blacksmith and farrier became a car mechanic. You can see where Robert Wishart had his original forge and then housed the town’s first acetone welding plant.
In the Upper Precinct, you can explore a Cobb & Co Storeroom complete with Ned the horse and historic riding tack, and see lovingly restored examples of mud-brick and schist residential buildings, before wandering through the McNulty heritage orchard. To find out more about the buildings and their historic usage go to www.cromwellheritageprecinct.co.nz.
In more modern times, instead of purchasing a copy of the Argus (the original local newspaper) or buying raw meat, on a normal trading day, the Main Street is now home to art galleries and specialist gift shops, while various artisans and jewelers have their workshops in the Upper Precinct. You can even decide to stop for lunch or grab a quick coffee at either Armando’s Italian Café or the Grain and Seed Café.
For something a little different, from 6 pm on the 13th November 2015, not only will the shops and galleries be open, the Historic Precinct will come alive with a night market and live music. What better way to spend a Friday evening than sampling local fare, sipping fine wine and listening to local Jazz musician Les Richardson and his band? The extra special grand finale will be a professional fireworks display sponsored by the Cromwell Town and Country Club and The Trusts Community Foundation.
If you know someone who is visiting Cromwell for the Highlands 101 weekend or simply want to see something a little unique happening in the Old Cromwell Heritage Precinct, be sure to grab your family, rug up warm and head on down to Melmore Terrace for an evening that will end with a bang. For more information go to Cromwell Fireworks Facebook Event page.