The uninspiring service town of CROMWELL, 60km east of Queenstown via the Gibbston wine region, does its best to celebrate its gold-mining roots while hopping on the back of the region’s food and wine renaissance. Sadly, almost all of Cromwell’s historic core is waterlogged below the shimmering surface of the Lake Dunstan reservoir, formed by the Clyde Dam, 20km downstream (see The Wineries). But the immediate surrounds are beginning to find their place on the tourist map, thanks to the cluster of quality wineries, fruit orchards and old gold diggings.

Cromwell may only be 120km from the coast, but this is as far from the sea as you can get in New Zealand, something that gives the area something of a continental climate that’s perfect for fruit growing. A 13m-high, fibreglass fruit sculpture beside the highway highlights the long-time importance of nectarines, peaches, apples and pears, though these days cherries and grapes are probably more important.

Brief history

Soon after Hartley and Reilly’s 1862 discovery of gold beside the Clutha River, a settlement sprouted at “The Junction” at the fork of the Kawarau and Clutha rivers. Local stories tell that it was later renamed when a government survey party dubbed it Cromwell to spite local Irish immigrant workers. Miners low on provisions planted the first fruit trees in the region, little expecting Cromwell to become the centre of the Otago stone fruit orchard belt.