Travel: Central Otago open for Autumn

By Mike Yardley

As the sun dips on the horizon and the nights draw in, nature is busy recasting our southern vistas in a blaze of gold. How fitting, how poetic, that the cradle of our gold-rush heritage, Central Otago, stages New Zealand's most blazing autumn colour show.

If you're planning a sojourn down south, "Central" is best experienced when cloaked in its autumn finery.

With fewer than 18,000 people populating its vast expanse, Central Otago is quite the holiday playground.

The region spans the heartland between Wanaka and Dunedin. It's big sky country, home to schist-laden landscapes, award-winning wineries and orchards, fast-running rivers, turquoise lakes, historic gold-mining towns and outdoor pursuits from curling to the Rail Trail.

If it's wine that's on your mind, head for Cromwell. Nestled on the banks of Lake Dunstan, Cromwell, renowned for its sun-ripened stone fruit, is my favourite launch-pad, particularly for walking, history and wine. You'll know you have arrived in Cromwell courtesy of the giant fruit salad sculpture adorning the main road. Load up with delicious fresh produce from the roadside stalls. The apricots, nectarines, peaches and cherries are to die for.

History buffs should follow the signposts to Old Cromwell Town. Twenty years ago, the Clyde Dam Project flooded the former town centre, so many of the historic buildings were moved further uphill in advance and restored.

From Cromwell, more than 30 wineries and vineyards are within easy reach, feted for their production of pinot noir.

In addition to its rock-star performer, Central Otago also produces outstanding pinot gris and sauvignon blanc.

My pick is the Bannockburn growing district, which flanks the Kawerau River, just south of Cromwell. Call into Akarua, the largest privately owned single estate vineyard in Central Otago. Its prized wine is the gold medal winning-Akarua Reserve Pinot Noir 2009. A superlative wine.

Winery and vineyard tours are available and the Lazy Dog Cafe and Wine Bar complete the Akarua experience.

One of the most beautifully situated Bannockburn vineyards is Mt Difficulty.

My other picks are Rockburn in Cromwell and Carrick, a slick, modern winery producing a range of whites, with lovely vistas of the Carrick Range.

- Hamilton News

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