Central Otago: Cromwell, Amisfield, Rockburn Wines
Nestled in the shadow of The Remarkables mountain range on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown combines scenes of breathtaking natural beauty with moments of exhilarating excitement. Queenstown – providing everything from easy scenic tracks to backcountry trails, road rides to heli-biking, activities such as bungee jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking and river rafting all year round. The surrounding Central Otago region is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards as well.
Everything had a touch of snow in the air. Snow flurries were common; well, it is not quite spring yet in the high country, even though the ski fields had closed for the season the day before. Today we'd be visiting Wanaka, Cromwell, and maybe Amisfield Vineyards for a leisurely lunch. In a scenic setting as always, the backdrop against blue skies and awesome mountains, we were wrapped up warm. The temperature had dropped significantly when we came out of the hotel, little drifts of snow visible in nested shady pockets ...
We drove a short way to Lake Hayes. Reflecting the majestic mountains of the Wakatipu Basin and the earthy tones of the landscape, Lake Hayes is a mirror lake, still, calm, beautiful, and possible the most photographed lake in NZ. It is possible to do a cycling circuit; a bike ride, walk or cycling tour through the greater Queenstown area takes you along the spectacular shores. Exquisite mountain and lake vistas, a boardwalk protecting local wildlife, historic cottages and it is also the home of award-winning Amisfield Winery and Bistro.
Amisfield is a specialist producer of pinot noir and aromatic white wines sourced from fruit grown on its Estate vineyard beneath the Pisa mountain range in the Cromwell Basin. Located 15 minutes drive from central Queenstown, overlooking Lake Hayes and back-dropped by The Remarkables mountain range, is the iconic stone building which houses Amisfield's Bistro and Cellar Door, where more than 60,000 New Zealand and international guests sample the range of vintages every year. It was spectacular setting.
The cellar door is manned by, what looked like two guards: an unspeakably-dour-gruff duo, 10-foot tall statues at Amisfield. This bigger-than-life Central Otago winery integrates with the landscape through the combining of copper roofing and recycled hardwood timber. The lofty, schist-clad building, quite austere on the outside, once you enter the portals, welcomes you with quiet elegance. There were beautiful high ceilings, picture windows looking out to Coronet Peak; roaring open fire as we entered the restaurant.
Choosing the Trust the Chef degustation Menu, the team-up of wines and food was exquisite. Five courses were a delight to the senses, as one delectable offering after another was served. We even got the Cellar Master to autograph the Amisfield book we bought – perfect.
An afternoon of wine-tasting and lunch whether it be in the vine-covered courtyard or the elegantly-appointed dining hall, is a deliciously-decadent way to slow down and enjoy the ambiance. Amisfield's private vineyard and winery experience was billed as ''go behind the scenes'' allows guests to gain unique insights into how their wines are produced - self-drive or travel in luxury with Queenstown's premiere helicopter company Over The Top - The Helicopter Company. Then complement your winery experience with lunch or dinner at the Amisfield Bistro. Perhaps we might consider that next time.
Next up, Wanaka, where the lake is fed by rivers off the surrounding mountains, wineries, amazing dining and endless activities, all existing within a distinctive climate of long hot summers, snowy winters, golden autumns and a clear, calm spring. Wanaka is another picturesque resort town in the Central Otago region, but markedly different to Queenstown. The expanse of space, of mystic, when the clouds hang low and mists rolls in, you might imagine giant eagles proud, strong and noble-hearted. Perhaps menacing, black towers, craggy mountains, see the backdrop used for Gandalf’s flight to Rohan with Gwaihir after his rescue from Orthanc. Middle Earth; Lord of the Rings was filmed here, and places around close by.
Its' a spectacular setting - it is also an environment of peace, love and tranquillity. The gift store we popped into, said that Wanaka is 'blue sky country'. Well they might be right. It was certainly cold, but, the sky was bluer than blue, and the humidity low. The mirror-like lake reflecting a wide open sky. Mist hovers above rivers and emerald-coloured moss clings to rocky banks - the real Middle-earth. Queenstown has many Lord of the Ring’s based activities, tours, which must be fascinating. With my gait (see: stroke) they aren't do-able at this time, but perhaps in a couple of years’ time.
Moving on, next up the old historic town of Cromwell, as opposed to the newer Cromwell. It was well hidden – and an eerily, quiet place. Preserving the history and reconstructing buildings from Cromwell’s past served to create a unique attraction, a setting for local artisans and cottage industries . Cromwell is the only major historic gold town to have been largely submerged under the waters of the Clutha River, only to have part of the old Cromwell town centre actually survive. It was very cold again, snow was in the air and we had spits of sleet. We wandered about the town, a general merchant's store, a grain store, a printing press, frozen in time. I espied a little tea shoppe, great – with or without cognac, hot chocolates all around please to warm the frozen bones.
Last but not least, Rockburn Estate Wines, before we made tracks to return to Queenstown. Rockburn Estate is in Central Otago, which has a climate similar to Burgundy in France, the great Pinot Noir producing region of the world. This NZ region experiences greater daily and seasonal extremes of temperature unknown elsewhere in New Zealand, thus producing premium wines of intense varietal character.
And it's a foodie paradise and vinous destination as well. The perfect antidote to city living, in sensational surrounds. This area deserves to be visited more than once.