The Central Otago region – including the towns of Bannockburn and Cromwell – produces award winning Pinot Noirs and is home to over eighty wineries.
An introduction to Central Otago
The Central Otago region has its origins in gold mining. That history can be revisited at The Bannockburn Sluicings, Bendigo Goldfields, Carrick Goldfields, or other locales.
For a high octane experience, visit Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell. Here you can take a ride in a professional race car to get your adrenaline pumping.
Although you can’t drive the race car there, the town of Wanaka is just 50km north whilst Queenstown is 60km to the west.
If you arrive from this direction stop at the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bungy Center for another high adrenaline experience. This historic ten-story bridge built in 1880 is the birthplace of bungy jumping. If you’re not up for a jump yourself you’ll still experience a rush watching others.
Another stop if you arrive in Cromwell from the west is the Roaring Meg Lookout and its hydroelectric plant.
If you arrive in the Cromwell region from the northeast (Omarama or Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park areas), you’ll have driven through the spectacular scenery of Lindis Pass Scenic Reserve. Be sure to stop and soak in the views.
Although the most inland point of New Zealand, at 119 km from the sea, is situated near Cromwell, there are still plenty of water sport opportunities. Surrounding much of the town is the man-made Lake Dunstan.
In modern times, the region is best known for its viticulture and fresh produce. With so many wineries and open cellar doors, you’ll need time to sample everything the region has to offer. So, break up the booze by devouring some local food and fresh produce. Cromwell is nicknamed “The Fruit Bowl of the South”.
We sampled wines (and beers) at three wineries in Bannockburn and Cromwell and had a fantastic meal at a small restaurant as part of our New Zealand campervan adventure.
Eating and Drinking our way through Bannockburn and Cromwell
The Cellar Door at Mt. Difficulty is perched atop a hill in Bannockburn offering views of the Cromwell Basin and Lake Dunstan. Sit and stay awhile to enjoy the samples you selected for your tasting and perhaps even a meal. We found the staff to be friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable. Two thumbs up!
Carrick Wines was not our favorite destination. The staff were not as welcoming and it seemed to cater to a tour bus crowd. The winery offers a complete dining menu as well as wine tastings. Overall impression was that it was more expensive and stuffy; not our style.
Space at the Base has something for everyone in a modern but casual atmosphere. There are not only wine tastings but also beer tastings. The wines are both those of Allan Scotts’ vineyards in Marlborough as well as the wines from the Scott Base. The craft beers are from Moa Beer; also a Scott venture. The shared plates – especially the cheese plate – were scrumptious. There is covered outdoor seating, as well as child play areas, overlooking the town of Cromwell. A special place with great staff that we’d highly recommend.
The Stoaker Room was a dinner recommendation from the staff at Space at the Base. The food is prepared – steamed, baked, grilled, or smoked – outdoors in a barrel. They call it “Barrel Cuisine”. The cookers are French Oak Pinot Noir barrels that have been converted into a cooking system. We didn’t know what to expect but quickly settled into the small, cozy dining room at the back of the fruit stand/grocer. Outdoor seating is available but the weather when we visited was terribly rainy and windy. We enjoyed a shared meat plate with wine pairing. The food was both interesting and delicious, with each item well described by our server. We’d recommend it!
UPDATE: We enjoyed The Stoaker Room Bistro & Bar so much that we had dinner here a second time on another visit to Cromwell in 2020. Our second visit included dining in a lovely outdoor tent area and we enjoyed it just as much as the first time!
Camping near Bannockburn and Cromwell
We suggest using the information and bountiful reviews in the CamperMate app to find campsites suitable for your situation and inline with your expectations. This is the freedom campsite we stayed at near Cromwell:
Lowburn Harbour Campervan Parking, Lowburn
TIP: Similar to the Lowburn Harbour setup, a bit further north on the other side of Lake Dunstan is the freedom campsite Bendigo Campervan Parking in Northburn. We got the impression that Lowburn Harbour was less trafficked but that may not always be the case.
New Zealand Planning and Resources
If you’re planning for your vacation or holiday in New Zealand, more resources – including our trip map with points of interest and camping spots – can be found in our New Zealand planning and resources post.
travel dates: February 3 – 5, 2020 & July 11 – 12, 2020
last updated: 03-Jun-2021