I grew up 2 hours drive from this part of New Zealand, and spent a lot of time there as a teenager and again at University when I was studying Geography at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
The area has changed a lot since the wild thyme and rabbits that I remember from school camps when I was a kid, with the landscape often now defined by the vines that Central Otago Pinot and Riesling have made the region famous for.
Many people know Central Otago particularly for the thrill seeking activities you can find around Queenstown, but I prefer to think of it as the same kind of place as Napa or Sonoma in California, Orange or Mudgee in New South Wales, Australia, and the Kelowna or Okanagan wine region in Canada. The mountains and lakes around Queenstown and the schist geology of Cromwell offer such a stunningly dynamic landscape, and personally I think one of the best ways to explore the lower part of the region and really take everything in is via the Central Otago Rail Trail.
We didn’t have enough time to cycle on this trip, flying into Queenstown for one night before heading further south to Coastal Otago, so instead chose to focus on wine. After a walk around Lake Wakitipu our first evening, we had a lovely dinner at Amisfield Winery and the next day joined Jim Ashe for a day trip to visit wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Bannockburn. Jim has worked in the Central Otago wine industry as a grower and wine maker for many years and really knows his stuff. We visited Peregrine, Aurum, The Wooing Tree, Domain Road, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Mt Difficulty.
Stayed at: Queenstown Hilton, Kawarau, Queenstown and Plum Tree Cottage, Clyde
Ate at: Amisfield Bistro, Lake Hayes; Mt Difficulty, Cromwell; and Olivers, Clyde
Explored: Central Otago Vineyards with Pinot Thyme Wine Tours
Region Highlights: Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Bannockburn, Clyde, St Bathans