12 Hours Central Otago

Mt Difficulty vineyard.

Dramatic landscapes and enchanting seasons abound in Central Otago. If you only have a short time to enjoy it, here’s the best way to spend 12 hours.

Central Otago is packed with powerful mountains, flowing rivers, historic towns and buildings, and renowned fruit growing, not to mention locals who are super friendly and welcoming. Whether you’re an adventurous being who loves getting out into nature or someone whose idea of enjoying nature is appreciating the beauty from the patio of one of the many wineries that are found in this part of the country, Central Otago will wow you.


7.30am: Old Reservoir Walk

Cromwell-Clyde Road

Get the blood pumping and oxygen flowing with a morning walk that takes in one of the region’s most spectacular sights: Lake Dunstan. This walking track climbs uphill and takes you to a former Cromwell reservoir (hence the name) that was built above the lake back in 1875 following an outbreak of typhus fever. There are two options to tackle the track; the longer loop takes no more than an hour, but no matter which one you choose you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Cromwell basin and the mountains beyond.

Photo: Tim Bardsley Smith

8.30am: Breakfast at Fusee Rouge

64B The Mall, Cromwell

You will have worked up a serious appetite after your walk, so do as the locals do and head to Fusee Rouge café for great coffee, great food, and great vibes. With the honour of being the first espresso machine and café in Cromwell, Fusee has been keeping locals caffeinated, using Supreme beans, since 2003.

When it comes to food choices, picture an endlessly changing selection of cabinet food, championing locally grown produce. Their Cromwell apple crumble muffins, seasonal soups, pulled pork wraps, and jam-filled donuts are just some of the items that could greet you upon entry. There are always plenty of locals hanging around, so it’s a good spot to hear what’s happening in town or glean some advice if you’re a tourist.

9.30am: Culture at Cromwell Heritage Precinct

Melmore Terrace, Cromwell

One of the best-kept secrets of Cromwell, and even Central Otago, is the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. Located on the shores of Lake Dunstan, this unique heritage attraction is a mix of original and reconstructed buildings dating back to the gold rush of the 1860s. Nowadays, artisan businesses populate some of the buildings and restored museum heritage offerings occupy the others.

A must-visit among the galleries, shops, and cafés is OCTA Gallery, located in the Belfast Store Building. OCTA showcases limited edition original prints and works by a mix of local and national artists, all curated by Chris de Jong. Chris will happily share with you his vast knowledge about the artists and his history in printmaking. If you happen to be around on the weekend, make sure you check out the Cromwell Farmers' and Craft Market held there every Sunday from 9am-1pm. 

Photo: James Jubb

11am: Wine tasting at Carrick Wines

247 Cairnmuir Road, Bannockburn

It wouldn’t be a trip to Central Otago without visiting a winery, and while it’s hard to fit very many in 12 hours, it is important to experience the region's crowning glory—pinot noir. For a relaxed, boutique experience, visit Carrick Wines. Founded in 2000, Carrick Wines is a small winery with a focus on quality pinot noir and organic farming.

Specialising in small production, organically-certified wine, Carrick is about creating wines that are expressive of the land and season. With several tasting options on offer, it’s highly advisable to book ahead to be sure you won't miss out.

Make sure you have a designated driver or other transportation sorted to then make your way to Alexandra for lunch.

Hands holding a deep dish with a pulled meat burger on it.

1pm: Lunch at The Courthouse Café

8 Centennial Avenue, Alexandra

A bit of an institution in Alexandra is The Courthouse Café, set in Alexandra’s original courthouse built in 1876. Reopened and refreshed in 2009, this café is all about comfort food done well in a relaxed dining atmosphere. They offer an array of delicious in-house baked goods and menu items like brisket burger, chicken and leek pie, and pork spare ribs. You certainly won’t leave hungry!


2.30pm: Shaky Bridge short walk

Shaky Bridge

Leaving the township, this short walk to the iconic Alexandra clock, which has served the town since 1968, is a great way to walk off lunch and take in the local sights. It also crosses over the historic Shaky Bridge—the name says it all—and then passes through vineyards before heading up the hill. The return journey should take around one hour, although, as you started the day with a good dose of exercise, only go as far as your legs want.

Now it’s time to make your way to Clyde.

3.30pm: Wander the historic streets of Clyde


Moving on to the historic and beautiful small town of Clyde, take your time wandering the streets and exploring the rich gold mining heritage and historic buildings. As well as being known for its gold, Clyde is also home to a number of stone fruit orchards, vineyards, and a backdrop of the Clutha River.

There are a number of cafes, retail stores, and galleries to peruse too, including Folklore Fine Goods which opened in 2016 and continues to inspire customers with a range of artisan quality home goods and accessories, sourced from makers both local and around the world. A stone's throw away is Eade Gallery, a space that represents mainly Central Otago artists, with a focus on the beauty of this region's landscape. As well as paintings, the gallery showcases jewellery, ceramics, photography, and more. 


6pm: Dinner at Olivers Restaurant

34 Sunderland Street, Clyde

Occupying the original Victoria Store, which dates back to 1863, Olivers Restaurant is one of three businesses, including Merchant of Clyde—a café-bakery-delicatessen—and The Victoria Store Brewery, that inhabit this historic spot. The restaurant is set between the original stone walls, and the roaring fire and delicious dishes created by head chef James Waite with local produce are hard to beat on a chilly Central Otago night. To wash it all down, try one of the craft beers from the custom-built The Victoria Store Brewery just next door. 

7.30pm: Culture at Clyde Cinema

6a Naylor Street, Clyde

To finish off what has been an epic day, head to Clyde Cinema and sit back and relax with a drink in hand. Catch one of the latest flicks playing at this boutique 42-seater cinema that dates back to the more recent times of 2013. The perfect end to a whirlwind of a day.