One of Central Otago’s best kept secrets, the Cromwell Heritage Precinct exudes historic charm with its warm stone walls, cottage gardens, lakeside location and character-filled stores.
Created by volunteers 27 years ago when the rising waters of man-made Lake Dunstan began lapping at Cromwell’s former main street, the historic village continues to grow. It is not only a delightful and free visitor attraction with interactive historical displays and beautifully restored buildings, but also a hub for artists and craftspeople.
The schist stone cottages and shops are tenanted by an arts collective, master printmaker, renowned goldsmith, highly original wire sculptor and bone carver The goldsmith, Les Riddell, has been plying his ancient trade for over 25 years, the talented Canadian reworking family heirlooms as well as crafting new pieces. Wire sculptor Marie Velenski’s work is as original and quirky as it is intricate and plant expert and maker of herbal creams and perfumes, Karen Rhind, also adds unique character to the precinct.
Unique imported and New Zealand-made giftware is found in Jan Hawkin’s ever-changing treasure-trove of a store, Sequioa. Italian cuisine including delicious gelato at Armando’s Kitchen is one option for great eating, the other is the delightful Grain & Seed Café where visitor’s sip coffee from vintage crockery.
Named last year as one of New Zealand’s best ‘hidden gems’ by AA Directions Magazine, the precinct is gradually being discovered by overseas visitors, Kiwi families, and locals.
Historical displays tell the story of the frantic 1860s gold rush when sparsely populated Central Otago was suddenly inundated with thousands of prospectors. Children love the talking ‘locals’ who tell the yarns, life-size horses and secret alleyways, as well as the ducks, fishing wharf and picnic areas.
Located on Melmore Terrace, the Precinct hosts the Cromwell Farmers Market every Sunday from November to March. The market incorporates crafts now too and is great place to grab a coffee some fresh baking and catch up with friends.
Original and Innovative Arts at Hullabaloo and OCTA Gallery
Quality art work of international standard can be found at both the Hullabaloo Art Space and Old Cromwell Town Art Galleries.
The majority of the 15 professional artists that make up the Hullabaloo collective have been recognised in the art world with awards and other accolades.
The success of the gallery, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is attributed to the group’s focus of maintaining high standards of work that is constantly being refreshed.
“The gallery is rehung each month with new work and we exhibit a wide range of artistic disciplines. It’s an artist-run initiative so there is always one of us on hand to discuss the works with visitors,” collective member Lynne Wilson said.
At OCTA gallery, master printmaker Chris de Jong displays fine works by international and national artists, some of whom are his former pupils. Before he and his artist wife Gail moved to Central Otago to pursue their artist careers fulltime, Chris was principal lecturer at the School of Art in Dunedin. Gail’s stunning landscapes, often depicting the ruggedly beautiful terrain around Bannockburn, can be found in both galleries.
Out of Africa to Flying High in NZ: The Story Behind Team Heliview
Many Cromwellians have come to know Richard, Jolanda and Safi Foale as the community-minded team behind Heliview Flights who specialise in scenic helicopter flights, alpine snow landings and heli-bike adventures around the Cromwell Basin. However, the story behind their move to Cromwell is just as interesting as the view from their “office” soaring high over Central Otago.
Richard and Jolanda both grew up in Kenya. Richard was introduced to fixed wing flying from an early age thanks to his father, so a six-year stint flying helicopters for the British Army Air Corp seemed almost inevitable. As a ‘young colonial’ he enjoyed his officer training school days and another highlight was a one-year deployment to Canada. After completing his service, he was ready to return to Africa and look for a different challenge.
Richard didn’t pick an easy option as he ended up managing an airfield in Somalia for an American organisation that sub-contracted to the United Nations. This was during “Black Hawk Down” days and overseeing the main airfield in Mogadishu definitely had its challenges. He was in charge of making sure that all non-military personnel and resources arrived and departed on time Occasionally, this also meant stopping enemy forces from stealing UN aid supplies and just staying alive were more important than normal airfield objectives.
The call to take to the air again saw Richard sitting his fixed wing licence before he began flying UN personnel and VIPs in a Cessna Caravan around Somalia and East Africa. This endeavour was short-lived; however, as the United Nations pulled out of Somalia, so it was back to Kenya and helicopters.
Kenya not only re-ignited his joy of helicopters he also got back into rally car driving as he often undertook fly-in supply and support runs for motorsport rallies. It was on a trip to Timau where he was driving his own rally car that he met Jolanda, where she was busy doing three-day eventing. Richard insists that he and his mates went to see the equestrian prowess; Jolanda thinks it was more about watching ‘girls in jodhpurs.’
Born in Switzerland, Jolanda and her family moved to Kenya when she was four years old. She became an accomplished horsewoman at a young age and by the time Richard met her she could hold her own on the East African eventing circuit. She also proved her mental fortitude beyond the equestrian world by completing her BSc in International Tourism and Hospitality Management from Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland.
The Foales moved to New Zealand in 2001. Richard’s sister had married a kiwi and Aotearoa seemed like the place to be. Richard had a short stint flying private charters and scenic flights out of Mechanics Bay in Auckland before they moved to New Plymouth and began flying for the rescue helicopter.
After flying around Taranaki’s mountainous maritime climate for a few years, Richard and Jolanda started Heliview Flights in New Plymouth in December 2003. More recently, operating in a more temperate climate seemed like a good idea. On average, Cromwell has the sunniest, most flyable days of anywhere in Central Otago so they moved down south in 2014. When asked what they like best about Cromwell, the answer was simple according to Jolanda, ‘It’s the people. We’ve always made great friends wherever we’ve been, but the Cromwell community really is welcoming and fun to be a part of.”
Next time you decide you want to get a different perspective of Cromwell (from the air that is) know that the team behind your aerial Central Otago adventure is both experienced when it comes to everything involving helicopters, and extremely proud to be based in Cromwell. For more information on Heliview Flights go to www.heliview.co.nz.
Food and Wine Walking Tour: A Taste of Cromwell
A cornucopia is an abundant supply of good things of a specific kind. Cromwell has always been known as the fruit bowl of Central Otago and has gained a reputation as one of the world’s leading pinot noir wine growing areas. In 2015, the Lonely Planet even named Central Otago in the top 10 list for the most intriguing places to drink wine. Calling the Cromwell Basin a cornucopia for stone fruit and fine wine definitely seems appropriate and one of the benefits of walking, is you can burn off your indulgent calories along the way.
As with any walk in Central Otago, you need to dress for the weather. In summer sturdy shoes, a sun hat, sunscreen and lots of water are a must. And, a backpack to carry home any goodies that you decide to purchase along the way.
Please Note: as part of this walk you will be required to cross two State Highways, please take extra care and obey the New Zealand road rules at all times.
Start: The Giant Fruit Carpark off Murray Terrace: 0 metres
Look for the carpark next to the Cromwell Mini Golf & Entertainment Centre, secure your vehicle and take the obligatory “I Was Here” shot. Built in 1989, you’ll find yourself standing under an apricot, apple, pear and nectarine that stand nearly eight metres high. The fruit sculpture was designed and built thanks to Cromwell Rotary and was officially presented to the town on the 3rd of February 1990.
Wooing Tree via Shortcut Road: 750 metres
Walk towards the Golden Gate Lodge, cross Barry Avenue (the main road through town that bisects “Old” and “New” Cromwell) and look for the concrete path that will lead you to a specially designated point to cross over the State Highway 6B. Head down Shortcut Road towards Lake Dunstan and you will find the Wooing Tree on your left.
Wooing Tree Vineyard
Named after a majestic tree where sweethearts have wooed their lovers for generations, this vineyard is both north facing and relatively flat, which is ideal for growing juicy grapes. The Wooing Tree is owned by Stephen and Thea Farquharson, and Stephen's sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Geoff Bews. The expertise of viticulturist Robin Dicey originally helped develop the land and in 2010, Peter Bartle took over as Chief Winemaker.
The first vines were planted in 2002, with the first vintage being produced in 2005. They have been winning awards ever since, including the Cathay Pacific HKIWS Trophy awarded to the Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2013. On a hot day, you can’t go wrong with a glass of their Pinot Noir or ‘Blondie’. Although, for those who are in the know, when it comes to fine wines, the Pinot Gris, BeetleJuice and Sandstorm Reserve are also coveted. If you don’t want to sample the wine, a coffee or soft drinks are also on offer.
The Cellar Door is open 7 days from 10 am to 5 pm. You can even enjoy a platter with your wine tasting and the site is child-friendly with a fully fenced grassy area to run around on, sandpit and slide for young adventurers.
Wooing Tree to Lake Dunstan Boat Club: 1.3 km
Follow the footpath down Shortcut Road, which becomes Partridge Road until you see the Cromwell College Aquatic Centre. From here you can follow wooden posts with yellow tops around McNulty’s Inlet to the Lake Dunstan Boat Club.
From the Boat Club you can take panoramic photos of Lake Dunstan looking towards Bendigo and Tarras. The Boat Club is busy all year round and both yachties and power boat enthusiasts are welcome to say hello and use the facilities. There are public toilets on the edge of the Inlet if you need a pit stop along the way.
Lake Dunstan Boat Club to Aurum Winery & Vineyard: 750 m
Walk past the Boat Club, along the lake shore under the willow trees until you come to the carpark at State Highway 6. On a hot day, this is a favourite swimming spot amongst the locals and the yellow buoys mark out an area for swimmers only. Turn left, and walk along the State Highway back towards Cromwell, and you will quickly see an olive grove and the entrance to Aurum Wines on your left.
This vineyard is definitely a sustainable family operation. Joan and Tony Lawrence planted their first vines at Pisa Flats in 1997. Since then they have developed Te Wairere Vineyard and their son Brook and daughter-in-law Lucie joined them as winemakers in their winery that was built in 2006.
Brook and Lucie have both worked in Australia, France and around New Zealand before returning to Cromwell. Today, Lucie is the Chief Winemaker and Brook keeps his hands in the dirt with the viticultural side of the vineyard.
Beyond producing exceptional wines, Aurum’s key claim to fame is that from its inception in 1997 their operation has been committed to environmentally sustainable grape growing and wine making. Their dedication to treading lightly on the environment has been officially rewarded as they have achieved Biogro Organic NZ certification.
Two of their Pinot Noirs have been named after Brook and Lucie’s daughters Mathilde and Madeleine and you can also sample their Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris Rosé or Blanc de Blancs. For something else a little different their Port Molyneux is a liquid experience in a class of its own.
Aurum Wines to Jackson Orchard: 750 m
On leaving Aurum Wines, turn left and again head towards Cromwell and you'll find Jackson’s Orchard roadside stall is only a short walk away. If you cross State Highway 6 by Burn Cottage Road you can walk down the grass verge beside the apricot trees. You may even find the sprinkler system provides light relief in the summer heat.
The story of Kevin Jackson and his Orchard is quintessentially Cromwell, as his original orchard in the Cromwell Gorge is now under Lake Dunstan. The Jackson Orchard of today was once a sheep station that was the first settled by William (Barry) Jackson in 1866. Set on a gentle slope, the key benefit of this land is that it is less affected by frosts, unlike other orchards on the valley floor.
It’s hard to miss the white and bright pink building that houses Jackson’s roadside stall. Here you can indulge in a real fruit ice cream and purchase some of the juiciest cherries in town. If you have the time an orchard tour is well worth doing – you can learn about how an orchard this size operates and pick your own fruit. After your ice cream or orchard tour you can make use of the toilets on the Wanaka side of the main building.
Jackson’s Orchard to Webb & Sons Orchard: 500 m
Continue down State Highway 6 toward Cromwell and you will soon see Webb’s Orchard and roadside stall.
Founded in 1914, Webb’s Orchard is now home to the fifth generation of Webb fruit growers as Simon and Trudi Webb’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 don’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 they produce a lot of fruit! You will find large bags of stone fruit ready to go into your backpack at their brand new roadside stall.
Webb’s Orchard to Space @ The Base (Scott Base Tasting Room) 600m
Walk along State Highway 6 and turn right into McNab Road. Walk up the gravel road until you see the Scott Base, ‘Space @ The Base’ sign framed by the Pisa Range. The short slog up the hill to the cellar door is worth it; especially when you can have your wine tasting at a long table overlooking Cromwell.
Scott Base & Space @ The Base
Allan Scott has spent over forty years in the winemaking business and he has worked for both Montana and Corbans. He and his wife Cathy purchased land in Marlborough in 1975 and became contract growers before launching their own label in 1990.
Scott Base Central Otago was named in honour of Captain Robert Falcon Scott who, apart from being passionate about Antarctica also had a longstanding love for Central Otago. The team at Scott Base focus on producing single vineyard wines that fully express the Central Otago regional characteristics. You can also sample wines from Allan Scott’s Marlborough vineyards including the Prestige Range and Methode Traditionnelle bubbles.
Space @ The Base is open Wednesday – Saturday 10 am - 4 pm and like the Wooing Tree is child-friendly. There is a leafy tree with child-sized chairs and a table under it and a sandpit for young adventurers to play in while the older members of the group enjoy their wine samples.
Space @ The Base to the Big Fruit Sculpture: 1 km
Walk back down the hill and past the main turn off so you only have to cross State Highway 6 once to get back to the Big Fruit car park. During your Cromwell Walking Tour you will have travelled just over five kilometres and enjoyed a small sample of all the good things the Cromwell Basin has to offer.
If you are feeling hungry you could always visit one of the nearby café’s or bars to celebrate your adventure. The following eateries are either in the Cromwell Mall or a short walk away.
Your 2016 Cromwell Wine and Food Festival Survival Guide
The Cromwell Wine and Food Festival is being held in McNulty’s Garden in the Old Cromwell Heritage Precinct on Saturday the 2nd January from 3pm -8pm. If you are a foodie fanatic or lover of vino, this is the event for you. Forget the lycra and cycles brigade! This event is all about dusting off your picnic blanket and sun umbrella and settling in for a good dose of gastronomic happiness. In order to gain full enjoyment from your Festival experience, once you have paid your $15 entry fee and acquired your complimentary wine glass it is important that you scrutinise the event map. Over a dozen of Cromwell’s best boutique vineyards will be there and some don’t have a cellar door. So, this is your annual opportunity to sample the best of Central Otago’s distinctive Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and other speciality wines.
Each winery has its own story to tell, some have been around for decades while others are still in their infancy. Some have branched out into different beverages such as port or liquor and some producers have even achieved Biogro Organic NZ certification. The new addition to the line-up this year is the team from Scott Base who have recently re-opened their tasting room Space @ The Base.
Foodie purists will not be disappointed with the range of edible delights on offer. You will be able to find everything from café food and professionally poured coffee to sushi and pita bread. The littlest members of the community can have an ice cream from Mr Whippy and enjoy their own face painting experience.
If you haven’t already, it’s definitely time to find your picnic chairs, blanket and sun umbrella and get your tribe ready for this year’s Cromwell Wine and Food Festival on the 2nd of January. For more information, go to www.cormwell.org.nz/events.
Time to get Hoicking for a Central Otago Community Event! Are you on form for the 2016 Cromwell Cherry Festival?
Visiting the Old Cromwell Historic Precinct is a bit like being transported back to the gold rush days of the 1870’s. Today, the historic gold mining precinct boasts modern eateries, craft and gift shops spread along the lake shore. Every Sunday from Labour Weekend through to Easter the historic precinct also hosts the Central Otago Farmers & Crafts Market. As an added bonus on the first weekend in January, it will also be game on for the cherry spitting and pie eating competitions at 2016 Cromwell Cherry Festival, a Central Otago community event that is not to be missed.
Cheese fiends and those foodies who like things a little gourmet will not be disappointed as they wander around the McNulty family estate and shops at the back of the Old Cromwell. Candy floss and ingeniously twisted chips (made from a power drill and roasted potatoes) will also be on offer amongst the crafty gifts and clothing stalls for those who like something a little sweeter or well-engineered.
After exploring the market, be sure to bring a picnic rug so you can nest under a historic fruit tree and watch the cherry challenges and extremely competitive cherry spitting events. Cherrystone spitting is honestly an athletic past time. The event is always a family affair, with all age groups are well represented and a variety of spitting techniques deployed. Ranging from a wound up huffing squat and jump, through to a whiplash-inducing hoicking neck thrust spitting, the little stones seem to go a superhuman distance and regardless of the chosen method of propulsion.
Last year each of the contestants stepped up to the board with all the concentration of Valerie Adams going for Olympic gold. Nathaniel Napier, 19, won the 2015 event title with a spit of 11.67 metres - definitely the winner on the day, but not quite the record-breaking 12.09 metres achieved in previous years.
The pie eating competition is also worth a look. In 2015, it was surprising that North Canterbury's Mike Benny (the winner of the adult competition) didn’t need the Heimlich manoeuvre post - competition as the pie was inhaled that quickly!
This is definitely a Central Otago community event that is not to be missed, and even if you are just passing through on your way to Wanaka or Queenstown, Old Cromwell Town will definitely be worth visiting on the 3rd of January 2016. For more information go to www.cromwell.org.nz/events.
Discovering Central Otago Goldfields: What do mining, jet boating and Wild Earth wine have in common?
Just South of Cromwell Township at the start of the Kawarau Gorge, the Goldfields Mining site has revolved around gold mining activities for over 130 years. Today, in addition to discovering how to extract precious metal from Central Otago’s landscapes, visitors can also enjoy a jet boat ride through the Kawarau Gorge and a tasty meal at Wild Earth Wines.
There is something especially spectacular about speeding over snow melted water through a rocky canyon, dotted with historic miner’s cottages. The Kawarau River is fed by Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu and if you fancy a forty-minute ride through the Kawarau Gorge in a boat with a V8 engine and Hamilton 273 jet unit, the team at Goldfields Jet are happy to oblige.
You’ll be given a raincoat and a lifejacket before you head down to the dock, and if you want to stay dry, don’t choose the seat at the rear of the boat directly behind the driver. Off course, I chose the wet seat! The tour heads down river towards Bannockburn first so everyone gets a chance to acclimatise to high-speed turns before heading into the high walled gorge.
Back on dry land, I had an ear to ear gorilla grin thanks to my jet boat induced adrenalin rush. Finding a quiet spot under a willow tree and enjoying a Wild Earth lunch overlooking the river was just what I needed. If you have the time a tasting of Wild Earth Wines is also highly recommended.
The final part of my visit involved a walking tour led by our ‘gold fevered’ guide Geoff. I can honestly say there are not many people out there that know as much about gold and gold mining as Geoff does. He was able to describe the human history, engineering and science behind gold extraction in Central Otago.
The Clutha gold rush started in August 1862 and according to official records over75,000 ounces of alluvial gold was deposited in Dunedin banks by the end of that year. Gold mining didn’t seem to be the most salubrious occupation at the time. Rates of crime were high and if you didn’t catch typhoid, tuberculosis or scurvy, hypothermia and drowning helped hundreds of people into an early grave.
Perhaps that’s why the miners used to escape to one of the 32 hotels that could be found in Cromwell in the 1870's, or gain the favours from the fairer sex within minutes of their arrival by stage coach. Geoff detailed the plight of early hoteliers who were forever frustrated by the lack of barmaids as most women were married within a week of arriving!
For me, the highlight of the tour was seeing the stamper battery in action and the California sluice gun powering water across the landscape. The stamper battery was still being used in the early 1940’s and the Department of Conservation relocated it from Glenorchy to its current site in the early 1970’s.
To finish our afternoon group also tried gold panning and explored the Gee’s Flat Central Otago gold mining relics on the one-hour loop walk. If you are interested in either stepping back in time, getting a fully-fledged Goldfields jet boat adrenalin rush or sampling some fine wine and food at Wild Earth go to www.goldfieldsmining.co.nz.
Going a bit nutty in Cromwell: Otto and his Central Otago Walnuts
Would you start a business if you knew it could take fifteen years to sell your first product and even longer before you could cover your annual expenses? On paper, the answer inevitably is no. However, when you meet Otto Muller, you begin to understand that his Central Otago walnut orchard was founded on innovative engineering spirit and a lifelong dream to live on a farm not the numbers in a ledger.
The journey to producing a commercially viable crop has had all the drama of a soap opera crossed with a game of snakes and ladders. The Muller’s planted their first trees on their 80-hectare block on Pearson Road, near Bannockburn in 1986, however, Otto's journey to owning an orchard started decades before that.
The Muller’s chose walnuts because of the flexible crop management requirements, the wood from mature trees is highly prized and the nuts are high in nutritional value. Otto has a background in mechanical engineering and thermodynamics. He grew up in Switzerland not far from Zurich, and studied agriculture and engineering. His innovative approach to food processing and manufacturing was realised early when he proved himself to be a bit of a “Willy Wonka” when it came to creating magical machines that achieved seemingly impossible engineering feats. He can remember turning worthless “misty wine” into high-quality vinegar through a refrigeration and evaporation process.
Between Switzerland and arriving in New Zealand, he and his first wife had a ten-year detour to India, where he was part of a multinational senior management team. He put his fluency in six languages to good use managing a multicultural workforce and oversaw operations ranging from coffee, cotton and vitamin production through to industrial steel foundries.
Happenstance saw a close friend of Otto’s move to New Zealand in the early 1980’s and send him a copy of the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture and Auckland Weekly. The thought of realising his childhood dream of living on a farm outweighed the perks and pay packet associated with his expatriate Indian lifestyle and the family soon moved to New Zealand.
He spent time working as an engineering consultant and engineering sales rep to determine the best farming location and whilst demonstrating frost fighting with water at Webb’s orchard found and purchased the land in Cromwell. He established a pig farm - many of Cromwell’s fruit growers first met Otto when he came to source wind-blown fruit to feed his pigs. He recalls taking his bacon to market and having the abattoir complain the pigs were inebriated - he had accidently fed them fermented apricots that had been stored in wine barrels! The farm was leased when he later moved to Dunedin for the children's education and his wife's health needs.
Otto’s regional claim to fame is that he was an integral part of the team that designed the heating and ventilation system in the Dunedin Hospital and he had a lot to do with a number of large-scale irrigation projects throughout Otago and Canterbury.
After 7 years he shifted back to Cromwell to start the orchard. Otto knew that Cromwell’s climate was ideal for growing walnuts and there was the Kawarau River and an underground channel providing a bountiful water source. They originally planted a research orchard of 250 trees that had been sourced from North America and Europe. However, in 1992, the wheel of fortune turned and they went “down the snake” as their trees and machinery shed were destroyed by fire. They were able to salvage some scion wood from their original trees and began the painfully slow process of replanting their orchard.
The growing of walnut trees is really only half the story. Over the years, Otto put his innovative spirit into engineering new machines to optimise walnut harvesting. Traditionally it has taken three machines to shake the trees, sweep and harvest the walnuts. Otto’s machine puts out “wings” that look like an inverted umbrella under a walnut tree and then vibrates the tree to release the nuts. The walnuts are the funnelled into collection bins. The machine was especially invaluable when Otto broke nearly all the small bones in one of his hands out the back of his workshop and Valda had to bring in an entire harvest on her own!
Otto also gets a little like a twinkly-eyed walnut Santa Clause when he talks about his shelling machine. Otto travelled to France to discover that the best machines could only process 9kg of nuts per hour. Otto decided that this was “absolutely not good enough,” and created a machine that could not only process 300 kg’s of walnuts an hour, it could also work wonders with almonds, and pecans.
Today there are over 1,300 trees and they are still planting. Otto reckons this is quite an achievement for someone in their 90’s. This just goes to show that for Otto it is all about the lifestyle and their walnut orchard patience leaves the cheese makers in the dust when it comes to “good things take time!” If you would like to sample some of the Muller’s Central Otago walnuts you can purchase them at Dunedin’s weekly farmers market or order online at Nznut1@xtra.co.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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.