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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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