If you’re heading south and plan to explore central Otago, then you’ll want to check out these great ways to enjoy Cromwell with the kids.
If I could wake up every morning and drink coffee overlooking Lake Dunstan, scenic trails at my doorstep, adventurous kids at the ready and vineyards calling with their delicious vintage and nibbles, I think I would… and we did!
On our Otago accommodation wishlist was a place close to the hustle and bustle of Queenstown and Wanaka, but not right in it. Easy parking, a peaceful vibe, great food and access to all the adventure we desired.
Less than an hour’s drive east of Queenstown, Cromwell was the perfect spot. Lying beneath rugged mountains and at the meeting point of two rivers, Cromwell often flies under the radar. But this area’s rich history and family activities makes it a must-see.
After a seamless Jetstar flight from Auckland to Queenstown, we picked up our hire car began our southern adventure.
Tip: With three teens and an enormous amount of luggage, we decided to hire a ute from Go Rental using their App, and let me tell you – this is the best hack ever! The hard top tray carried sooo many bags, skis and boots, easily went up snowy mountains, was a comfortable drive and had a good stereo system.
Spring in Cromwell: Land of fruit and fun!
Sitting on the shores of Lake Dunstan in Pisa Moorings, this boatshed-themed resort has so much to offer families. Being right on the lake, you can moor your boat and kayak at your room’s front deck, swim in the lake villa-side, or enjoy the beautiful central Otago outlook. Younger kids are kept entertained by the mini-putt course and an adventure playground. For ski-bunnies and wine-lovers, Heritage Lake Resort Cromwell has easy access to Cardrona, Treble Cone, Coronet or the Remarkables, and is close to the area’s much talked about vineyards. Fancy a bike ride? The Lake Dunstan Trail runs past your door, so you can literally jump on your bike and go. There is nothing not to love about this resort; it’s modern and warm and even in cooler months there’s cosy outdoor spaces – and a big copper bath to soak in after an adventurous day. Speaking of comfort, Heritage Lake Resort Cromwell’s in-house restaurant, Moorings, offers hearty meals like ribs and steak pie to refuel the whole family.
Now this place is a fun, world-class facility. The no-expense-spared racing track and museum is your go-to for Go Kart Racing. The car enthusiast museum has sensory challenges for everyone and a café with a large terrace overlooking the tracks. With three teens, this was our top stop. No one loves hooning around that track more than a teenager, and beating their mother was a cakewalk. Dad – not so much. He’s like the cat that got the cream after his well-earned win. Oh – and the loos with views are stupendous and they’ll have you screaming with joy! (You simply must go and see for yourself) Watch the video here.
3. Ski Fields at your Doorstep
It doesn’t matter which of the four nearby snow mountains you’re heading to, it’s only going to take around 45-55 minutes to get there. For us this was key, because we love skiing and we are always keen to mix it up. Try Treble Cone for small queues and epic powder on the Saddle. Cardrona for kids’ lessons and fabulous groomed runs with amazing fun-park action to watch and loads of eating options. The Remarkables offer plenty of powder, a boutique field vibe and eight fun-park options (yes really!). You can’t go past Coronet Peak for all those wonderful valleys of snow to explore, early bird and late night options and easier road access.
We all love cycling in our family, and if you’re in Cromwell why not explore the region on wheels. Even if you only do part of the trail, it’s one of Aotearoa’s best. Snaking around picturesque Lake Dunstan via a floating coffee boat, suspension bridge and a soon-to-open Carrick Winery pizza menu, you’ll soon forget you’re on a bike. Take in the stunning views from clip on bridges, pedal past vineyards, the Clyde Dam, and for kids who love showing off their bike skills, there are plenty of little off-trail hills and jumps.
We rode bikes from Central Cycle Trail – a business owned by Dave and Pip Thomspon who also offer tour packages and hospitality options. They suggested we try E-Bikes (electric bikes for kids and adults) because, in the words of their son Jules, “they’re a game-changer”. How right he was, we’re total E-Bike converts. The pedal-assist motors give you as little or as much of a boost as you need, taking away the worry, the hills and any head-wind.
If your family is like ours, holidays can sometimes feel like a food tour – and that’s a good thing! Bannockburn Hotel Wine Country Restaurant came recommended by the locals. “Don’t miss the experience, and make sure you book because it’s busy,” they said. The menu suits a tasting platter style of eating, but that isn’t a must if you prefer your own plate. We feasted on homemade Cumberland sausage, sardines, triple-roasted potatoes with tarragon mayo, Te Mana lamb ribs, saucy cauliflower… and so much more. The food and service was outstanding and your family will love it too.
Whether you make a visit when on the Lake Dunstan cycle trail, or have a lazy stroll around at your pleasure to enjoy the cafes and artisan stores, this is a lovely historic part of town. The stone buildings are old-worldly, and are reminiscent of the old gold mining days. The village was rebuilt on higher ground in the nineties after the Clyde Dam completion drowned the original main street of Cromwell. Here’s what our kids loved:
– Finding the five hidden doors in the old buildings
– Buying takeaway hot chocolates and lunch and playing on the shoreline
– Learning about the gold mining town ahead of the visit so they understood
– Riding around the town and the lake on their e-bikes.
There are so many delicious winery options near Cromwell, but if you want to hit them on foot, then take The 4 Barrels Walking Wine Trail. This self-paced, free walking tour takes in The Scott Base Tasting Room, Misha’s Vineyard, Aurum Wines and The Wooing Tree Vineyard. It’ll take you about 90 minutes to do the circuit, but of course you need to add time for tasting stops, kids activities and lunch. Given that many people are enjoying the same loop, you’ll bump into other families on and off all day. By the end of the walking tour, you’re basically besties.
Hot tip: Plan to be at Misha’s Vineyard at lunchtime, because it’s right beside The Stoaker Room – a rustic café specialising in smoked meats (and delicious vegetable options too). Set in a toasty warm marquee nearby the smoke house. So if you love seeing how food is prepared, the friendly chef loves to chat while he prepares your meal. This place is a real treat, so much so that we returned to sample more tasty dishes.
Jetstar flies several times each day from Auckland to Queenstown and three times a week from Wellington to Queenstown. Fares start from $64 one way from Auckland and $57 one way from Wellington. Visit jetstar.com for more information and to book.
By Aana Marinovich: big thanks to all of the amazing activities and places to stay in the cromwell area, for hosting our stay and showing us the fun and beauty of your town.