I'm surrounded by mountains – on the edge of a stunning lake – and find myself in close proximity to ski fields, loads of great food, luxury accommodation, wineries and adventure activities.
It sounds like I could be in Queenstown or Wānaka – but I'm in a little town that is exploding in popularity: Cromwell.
Before Covid-19, there was bubbling resentment that Queenstown and even Wānaka had got too busy, and many longed for simpler times. Well, I may have found it in Cromwell – here are seven reasons I think it's New Zealand’s next big mountain town.
There is a new kind of gold rush in town, and this one involves red (edible) nuggets. Cromwell is New Zealand's Garden of Eden when it comes to stonefruit, and in particular cherries. If you love fresh fruit, summer is the time to visit.
Some growers have long been unhappy with the price they end up getting for export fruit and combined with Covid-19 labour shortages, have decided to let customers have direct access – opening their orchards for a "Pick Your Own" experience.
One of the most popular orchards for this is Cheeki Cherries – where you have around 2000 trees full of export-grade cherries to pick from. Grab a yellow bucket, and head out on a safari for the taste buds – there are 20 varieties to choose from, and you're able to taste the odd one as you make your way around.
A Cycling Mecca
Cromwell is home to one of 2021's biggest tourism openings: the Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail, which will form a new section of the Otago Rail Trail. This spectacular day ride starts in Cromwell and ends in Clyde (or vice versa), following the remarkably steep Cromwell Gorge. I've had a preview of the track, and it is sensational – it'll surely be named New Zealand's best day ride.
The breathtaking route follows the side of the lake along dramatic cliffs. Parts of the gorge look like an impossible place to put a cycle trail – but engineers have got around that by building impressive cantilevered platforms hanging from sheer rock.
There's also a massive new suspension bridge as part of the trail, and pundits are already saying it will be the best section of the Otago Rail Trail. A firm opening date is yet to be set, but track builders are hoping for late summer.
In the meantime, a large portion of the Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail is already open, which takes you past wineries and idyllic little lakeside communities. It's a great appetiser for what will open later in the year.
The Marlborough of the Deep South
The arid hills around Cromwell are flush with vineyards; it's the epicentre of the Central Otago wine region – the southernmost commercial wine region in the world. And it's also at the forefront of organics – with around 25 per cent of the region's vines farmed with organic or biodynamic practices.
While there is no shortage of cellar doors to choose from, one of the best ways to get a taste for the region is on foot. The 4 Barrels Walking Wine Trail is an eight-kilometre loop that takes in four exceptional wineries: Misha's Vineyard, Aurum Wines, Scott Base and Wooing Tree Vineyard. The loop should take you at least four hours, depending on your thirst.
Read the full article by Brook Sabin on Stuff.co.nz