Destinations Cities

What to do in Central Otago

Here are our top picks for what to do in New Zealand's picturesque Central Otago region.

By Sarah-Kate Lynch

Mountain vistas, flowing rivers, glistening lakes and, at this time of the year, snow-covered ski fields – Central Otago has it all, even if you’re not heading to the slopes.

1. Queenstown

While it has two ski fields, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak, for those of us who prefer warm, dry land, Queenstown is also known for its busy downtown and beautiful scenery. Generally, I head to Kappa in the Mall for sushi or Madam Woo, followed by ice cream from my favourite chocolatier, Patagonia Chocolates, on the waterfront.

Last visit, I tried out the restaurant at the Sherwood Hotel between Queenstown and Frankton, which was hip and delicious – half a chicken with cucumber yoghurt? I’m in. My favourite all-year-round walks are Lake Hayes and the Mt Crichton Loop, known by locals as Sam Summers Track.

2. Clyde

I was born in Clyde, so I always expect a ticker tape parade upon arrival, although it is yet to happen. These days, the town is famous for being the start and end point of the famed Otago Rail Trail, an absolute must if you can pick the weather, which is suitable for all ages. Olivers is the famed historic lodge and restaurant in town, but in the street behind, Paulina’s is a light, bright alternative serving up delicious, fresh fare.

Also in Naylor Street, the Clyde Cinema’s a good spot to while away a winter afternoon and a few doors down, make sure you pop into Folklore Store, owned by photographers Sarah and Todd Sisson, which has cushions to die for, among many other lovely things.

3. Wanaka

In my constant search for the country’s best cheese scone, I’ve had reason on many occasions to rock up to Federal Diner in downtown Wanaka. At 7am, on your way to Cardrona or Treble Cone ski fields, a piping-hot one of those dripping in butter is just the ticket.

There’s now a Fedeli too, which will be number one on my list of places to check out when I visit over the winter. Number two will be Francesca’s Kitchen, where Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey hung out when they were in the ’hood. Number three will be the fab Rubys Bar and Cinema on the road out of town.

4. Cromwell

When we lived in Central many moons ago, Cromwell was under what is now Lake Dunstan, formed with the completion of the Clyde Dam in 1993. The old town was drowned, but some of the historic buildings dating back to the gold rush were saved or rebuilt on higher ground, creating the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, now housing shops, cafés, galleries and a farmers’ market in the summer. For something with more testosterone, there’s always Highlands Motorsport Park should the desire to do a few hot laps in a McLaren 650S take hold. It gets rave reviews.

5. Tipple time

If you’re a committed wine drinker, it’s impossible to be in this neck of the woods without doing a spot of pinot noir tasting. Rippon in Wanaka is a lovely spot with views over the lake and Mt Difficulty in Bannockburn (near Cromwell) also has a primo position. Amisfield, near Arrowtown, has a rather splendid restaurant attached, although it’s not open for dinner. But many a fine afternoon can be whiled away either inside or out staring at the snow-capped mountains and grape vines.

In the Cardrona Valley, the famous old pub’s been doing a roaring trade for years, but I’m happy to see there’s now a distillery in the valley too making gin, vodka and liqueur – just what you need after a day on the slopes. Or before.

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