Central Otago

Cromwell Travel Guide

Why go to Cromwell?

Cromwell, less than an hour from both Queenstown and Wanaka, is a quiet alternative to those busy tourist towns. Cromwell’s main claim to fame is its brilliantly restored old town featuring many buildings from the 1800s. Another reason to visit Cromwell is to explore the many bays and beaches of Lake Dunstan, a gleaming mass of water surrounded by rocky hills. Keep reading our Cromwell travel guide for all the information you’ll need on one of New Zealand’s best historic towns.

Cromwell Travel Guide: What to See and Do

Walk Around the Old Town (Historic Precinct)

Central Otago was once a magnet for people looking to strike it rich in the goldfields. The gold rush is long over but there are many historic towns leftover, and Cromwell is one of the best preserved ones. It was actually rebuilt after the area was flooded by the Clyde Dam in 1975. These days the old town, also known as the Historic Precinct, is pretty small and it’s full of quaint old buildings which house art galleries, boutique stores and cafes.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: The old townCromwell travel guide, New Zealand: The Historic PrecinctCromwell travel guide, New Zealand: An historic church

Visit the Sunday Market

Every Sunday, from early October until late March, there’s a small market in the old town. There’s live music, artisanal cuisine and all manner of hipsterish goods for sale.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: The Sunday Farmers Market

Go for a Swim in the Lake

Lake Dunstan is a great place to swim — on a warm afternoon you’ll spot plenty of locals down by the water. It’s also a popular spot for waterskiing and boating. Probably the best place to swim in Cromwell is between the old town and the big bridge leading into town. There are some calm bays and the water is clear and shallow.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: swimming in Lake DunstanCromwell travel guide, New Zealand: A pier at Lake Dunstan

Nearby hikes

A walk around the lake is one of the best things to do in Cromwell. You can walk for a few minutes or a few hours and walks in either direction offer up some beautiful scenery. The track to Lowburn (starting in the old town) is very scenic, especially in summer (when the flowers are out) and autumn (when you’ll see colourful leaves).

The hike to Bannockburn and then on to Kawarau Gorge is also an excellent walk near Cromwell. It passes by vineyards, stunning lake scenery and remnants of old gold sluicings.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: a view of Lake Dunstan, Central OtagoCromwell travel guide, New Zealand: beautiful Lake DunstanCromwell travel guide, New Zealand: Lake Dunstan in spring

Eat Fruit and Drink Wine

Cromwell, and Central Otago in general, is getting a solid reputation for its wine. I’m no expert (maybe my taste buds haven’t matured yet…?) but there are lots of vineyards around and some do tastings. I haven’t been to any yet but I’ve heard Mt Difficulty is good (and it has a great name!).

Fruit is also big business in Cromwell. In the summer (December to March) you can find peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries (and plenty more I’m sure). Cromwell’s symbol / main landmark is a big bunch of fruit, so you know it’s a big deal in these parts.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: a Central Otago vineyard

Where to Sleep and Eat in Cromwell

There are some cafes in the old town but most of the cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as most of the shops, can be found at the “The Mall”, an outdoor shopping centre. There’s also a New World supermarket nearby if you want to eat on a budget.

There are plenty of places to stay in Cromwell, from camping grounds to luxury boutique hotels. Cromwell is popular with New Zealanders and it can get a bit overrun during the Christmas / New Year holiday period — book ahead during these times.

Cromwell travel guide, New Zealand: a football pitch with a view

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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