Central Otago

From Dunedin we turned inland to visit Central Otago. We had two things we wanted to do there – drown our sorrows after the rugby result with some of the world’s best Pinot Noir in the vineyards and cycle the 150km long Central Otago Rail Trail.

The cycling came first as we headed to Alexandra and Clyde at the west end of the route. We’d already been in contact with a company that does rentals and organises logistics but without having a firm idea of our plans we couldn’t book in advance. We didn’t think it would be an issue just showing up and setting off the next day – but we hadn’t factored in it being the Waitangi Day public holiday weekend. My only previous contact with that had been cycling through hoards of Kiwis on the lash celebrating it in West London on the way back from Richmond Park one time. Unfortunately the public holiday meant that the accommodation en route was booked solid (aside from some stuff at $200 a night) so reluctantly we knocked the idea on the head and moved on to Cromwell in the heart of the vineyards. We may revisit the rail trail as we come close to it on the way back north.

On arriving in Cromwell the lady at the tourist office told us that the town was very busy due to a Speedway meet at the local track and there may not be any powered caravan sites left in town. Not a big deal as we can survive without a power (cooker and hot water work without it), but it makes life more pleasant. We decided to try the biggest one in town anyway – to find it was a 30 acre site and whilst busy, nowhere near full. In fact, when we asked what time check out was the lady on reception said “Whenever you want. We’re not full, have a lie in!”

Next day we started at Cromwell Old Town – a collection of buildings from the old town that was flooded when the nearby Clyde Gorge dam was built. Quaint, but a bit disappointing that they’d all been filled with tourist tat shops.

Central Otago is famous for Pinot Noir and the white varieties (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer) you usually find in Alsace – some of my favourites. A lot of the vineyards are small production and so don’t make it to the UK very often – when they do they’re pretty pricey, so I was really looking forward to getting the chance to try stuff you can’t find at home.

We’d found out that the main vineyard we wanted to visit (Ata Mara) didn’t have a cellar door or do tastings however we’d been recommended a few others by Tim Aitkin (a well known UK wine critic) who’d just been in town the previous week. He’s well worth following on Twitter if you’re into your wine.

Headed to Mount Difficulty (excellent and available at Waitrose and Majestic in the UK, mainly under their Roaring Meg label) to start the day, then Wild Earth where we had a tasting and had lunch. They had BBQ smokers that they’d made out of old wine barrels which I HAVE to work out how to replicate when we get back to the UK. On the way out of town we also came across the world’s best street 🙂

The two Tim Aitken recommendations that we visited were further along the road in Gibbston – Brennan (fantastic Pinot Noirs – less impressed with the whites) and Mount Edward, a smaller vineyard that doesn’t usually open at the weekend. I gave them a call on the off chance and luckily the owner Duncan had a tasting going on at lunchtime and said he’d fit us in at the end of that. Well worth the phone call as Duncan’s a great character that makes fantastic wines (you can get this one that he “own labels” for M&S in the UK) as well as his own parma-style ham. He’s a Riesling specialist – who comes up with these semi-disturbing cartoons…

We called it quits there and retired to a camp site near Queenstown to sample a bottle or two of our purchases after a very productive day. Once again the scenery on the drive today was stunning – seems to be a recurring theme in the land of Fush ‘n Chups.