Drive through Central Otago, NZ

March 5, 2014

Central Otago-1-14

Woke to a morning of heavy fog and drizzle with little of chance of clearing until late in the evening. Being not the most pleasant day for exploring Dunedin or the Otaga Peninsula, we decided instead to bag our previous plans and head inland for some potential sun.

Otago Wine Region

The wine region of central Otago, while in the same administrative region as Dunedin, is really at the opposite end, making it much more accessible from Queenstown than Dunedin. Cromwell, at the heart of the wine region, best known for its dark and brooding pinots, is about a 30 minute drive from the former and a 2 and a half to 3 hours from the later.

Drive from Dunedin to Cromwell via route 8

Drive from Dunedin to Cromwell via route 8 Drive from Dunedin to Cromwell via route 8

Nonetheless we were in search of sun and found it about an hour up and over the sheep covered rugged pasture lands, which start out a brilliant green – you’d hardly know it was late summer – and gradually change to gold. The sheep don’t seem to mind the change and eat whatever they find at their feet.

Drive from Dunedin to Cromwell via route 8

Central Otago is also known for its fruit orchards, producing an impressive variety of stone fruits as well as apples and pears.

Outside of Cromwell

Cromwell

Cromwell

Otago Wine Region - Wild Earth Cellar Door

The hills around Cromwell present a stark landscape with little vegetation except for the planted vineyards and orchards. The blue waters of Lake Dunstan and the Kawarau River that flow through the gorge of the same name are stunning against the rocky desolate terrain.

Cromwell to Dunedin via route 85

venison

venison

Cromwell to Dunedin via route 85 Cromwell to Dunedin via route 85

If the drive from Cromwell via Route 8 wasn’t long enough we took the even longer route back via 85, looping around the north side of the region and adding another 30 minutes to the drive. No fruit orchards here, just rugged hills and more sheep. On a clear day the distant snowy peaks would be visible. With the low clouds we were allowed only the occasional tease of what the views could be.

Lunch at Wild Earth Wines located outside of Cromwell along the Kawarau Gorge.

Otago Wine Region - Wild Earth Cellar Door

A fun thematic lunch where meats and vegetables are cooked in a stave, or wine barrel, cooker and served small plate style in the casual dining room of the cellar door (tasting room). The stave for two is a sampling of 5 meats ($59) which can be paired with five wines for an additional $20.

Otago Wine Region - Wild Earth Cellar Door

Mussels with saffron aioli paired with a 2011 Riesling

Hare confit with parsnip mash paired with a 2013 Pinot Gris

Teriyaki glazed salmon with burnt pineapple paired with a 2013 Rosé

Pork belly with plum BBQ sauce paired with a 2011 Deep Cove Pinot Noir

Lamb rump with caponata sauce paired with a 2010 Pinot Noir

While the serving of the dishes on a long stave with the wines similarly presented is impressive, and the quality of the dishes is good and definitely worth trying if you are into that sort of thing, it is not, however, exceptional. Really more of a novelty experience than something that I would do again. Dishes are not cooked to order and are served on the tepid side of warm. The wines are, for the most part, aromatic and delightful. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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