Award Winning Wines
Famous for harvesting the notoriously difficult-to-grow Pinot Noir grape, Central Otago is the world's most southerly wine-making region. At up to 400m above sea-level, the vineyards here are also New Zealand's highest. One reason for the superior quality of wine produced here, is the distinct seasonal microclimate – a haven for growing grapes – and which contributes to the sheer variety of wines produced here. Visit in February, and you can indulge yourself at the annual food and wine festival, held by the shores of the beautiful Lake Wakitipu.
Most of the wineries conduct tours, so visitors can sample not only a few choice vintages, but also the stunning backdrops that spawned them. Of the various sub-regions, the largest is Cromwell Basin, home of the Bannockburn, Lowburn Ferry, Wanaka Road and Bendigo wineries. Further south, the drier Alexandra and Clyde Basins offer some of the country's oldest vineyards, which are framed by dramatic schist tors – distinctive features of the Central Otago landscape.
Otago Central Rail Trail
Running between the towns of Clyde and Middlemarch, the Otago Central Rail Trail takes the traveller on a 150km self-guided tour of New Zealand's most scenic, and historic, landscape. You can walk it, cycle it, or ride it on horseback, and immerse yourself in the romance and history of the railway and the gold rush.
The trail itself is mainly comprised of closely-packed gravel paths, with the odd bridge and tunnel thrown in (take a torch!). Mountain bike enthusiasts will be tempted by off-road opportunities to test their fitness and endurance, whilst recreational cyclists and walkers can enjoy the breathtaking scenery, avoiding any unwelcome steep hills.
Clyde Dam and Lake Dunstan
The largest of its kind in New Zealand, Clyde Dam is a concrete gravity dam whose construction also saw the creation of Lake Dunstan; 26 square kms of calm, crystal-clear waters, which make it a hit with rowers and kayakers. Guided fishing tours are also popular – the brown trout is a favourite catch. The lake also provides vital irrigation to the surrounding vineyards and orchards.
Central Otago Towns
Founded during the gold rush of the 1860s, Alexandra is the region’s business, cultural and political capital. It’s a good base from which to follow gold miners' trails into the hills, or to visit the wineries mentioned above. The town's Central Stories Museum houses detailed exhibits of Central Otago's geological, gold mining and farming history, whilst the annual Blossom Festival (each September) is a colourful date on the calendar.
The area also includes Earnscleugh Valley – once the home of one of New Zealand's largest sheep stations - and Fruitlands, both famous for their orchards and numerous fruit stalls scattered along the roads. Completing the 'Fruit Bowl Triangle' is Cromwell
(on Lake Dunstan); smaller than Alexandra, but equally as pretty, and home to an 18-hole championship golf course; one of eleven full-sized courses in the region.
Roxburgh, a small town on another artificial lake (of the same name), is another fruit-growing area and is famous for being the home of 'Jimmy's Pies'; a staple New Zealand take-away snack. Roxburgh also houses New Zealand's oldest working cinema.
Central Otago - Five Things To Do
| 1. Tour a winery to enjoy an award-winning Pinot Noir |
| 2. Cycle or walk the Otago Central Rail Trail |
| 3. Visit a picturesque gold mining town and discover the past |
| 4. Enjoy a round of golf in stunning, alpine scenery |
| 5. Experience the architectural wonder of Clyde Dam |
Many small towns in Central Otago do not have petrol stations, so be sure to fill your tank before visiting the more remote areas.
Central Otago Virtual Tour and Video
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