Cromwell is less than an hour from both Queenstown and Wanaka and 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 for all our favourite things to do in Cromwell!
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. One of the best things to do in Cromwell is just to spend a couple of hours exploring the old town, eating some great food and going for a stroll by the water!
Visit the Sunday Market
Every Sunday, from early October until late March, there’s a small market in the old town on Sundays. There’s live music, artisan cuisine and all manner of hipsterish goods for sale.
Go to the Beach
There are some nice beach areas scattered around the shores of Lake Dunstan / Kawarau River. The lake is also a popular spot for water skiing and boating. Probably the best bit of beach 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.
Walk Around Lake Dunstan
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). Our favourite part is from close to the big bridge all the way to the Goldfields Mining Centre, which is on the road to Queenstown. We did that when we didn’t have a car (we got someone to pick us up at the end) and it was an awesome way to see the area.
The Bannockburn Sluicings Scenic Reserve is a short drive (or long walk) from downtown Cromwell and is one of the best places to hike close to town. You’ll see evidence of the gold mining activities which dominated this region in the late 1800s and you’ll also get a nice elevated view of the vineyards and rocky hills of the Central Otago countryside. There’s a loop track that takes you to a couple of ruined buildings, which should take you 90 minutes, or there are longer walks available.
Bendigo Historic Reserve
Abandoned stone cottages are some of the most striking symbols of Central Otago. It’s tough to imagine life in such a basic dwelling, especially when you know how this region gets in winter! One of the best places to see them is the Bendigo Historic Reserve. There you’ll find the ruins of two settlements — Logantown and Welshtown. It’s a fun place to look around and there are some decent sized hikes if you want to explore a little further.
Visit A Vineyard
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. We recently visited Mount Difficulty (it’s Gia’s favourite) and it’s an awesome place for a meal and some wine tasting — definitely some of the best views you’ll get at a vineyard in Central Otago!
Eat Some 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. I lost my photo of the big fruit statue, so you’ll just have to imagine what it looks like (or visit yourself!).
Bruce Jackson Lookout
You’ll drive right past this lookout if coming from Alexandra / Clyde / Dunedin and it’s always worth a quick stop. It’s just a big car park but on a nice day (especially first thing in the morning) the views over Cromwell, and the surrounding mountains is pretty special. There’s also a track which starts just up the road (on the other side) which takes you further up the hill behind the lookout — we’ll be doing it next time!
Goldfields Mining Centre
This place is just outside Cromwell (on the road to Queenstown) and is a decent place to stop if you want to see a nice gorge / river view. You can also organise a jet boating trip through the gorge or explore the mining history and do some gold panning.
Other Things to Do in Cromwell
There’s a world-class racing motor track in Cromwell, so if you’re lucky you might catch something interesting to watch. Aside from that, there isn’t too much else going on in Cromwell. There’s a little outdoor mall thing that could be worth a look and a golf course (although most towns in New Zealand have these).
There are heaps of other things to do near Cromwell though, and it makes for a great base for exploring Central Otago. Highlights include St Bathans (don’t miss the Blue Lake hike), the various dams (Poolburn Dam, Fraser Dam, Conroys Dam and Butchers Dam) and some nice walks (Flat Top Hill, Clyde to Alexandra River Track) and of course the nearby tourism giants Queenstown and Wanaka.
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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