Heading to this Central Otago town, you’ll be struck by fruit….fruit growing in the fields around you, fruit at the roadside stalls you pass, and then the most enormous fruit when you hit the town. Here’s Cromwell, the fruit bowl of the south - and a town with a really interesting history of striking gold and of moving town.
Born with a boom
Cromwell - named after a soldier and statesman, England’s Oliver Cromwell - was born with a boom, after Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly discovered gold in 1862 where the Kawarau and Clutha rivers meet. After mining passed, Cromwell became a service town - at the junction of highways and rivers, with farming and fruit growing land.
It’s a dry land, for that fruit. You’re inland. In a country surrounded by water, we’re told that a point near Cromwell lies 119 kilometres from the sea, the farthest from the sea anywhere in New Zealand. But don’t forget the lakes and rivers.
Speaking of lakes and rivers, there came another boom, in the 1980s when the Clyde dam was built, down river on the Clutha. Cromwell became home to most of the dam workers for the 10 years it took to build New Zealand’s largest hydro-electric dam. And that’s when the moving town comes in.
An old town still with new….
When the Clyde dam build was completed, the valley behind it was flooded to create Lake Dunstan. And so Cromwell’s main street disappeared under the lake. That’s right, the original site of Cromwell's historic business district, at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, now lies at the bottom of the lake.
But, before the lake was created, many of the town's historic buildings, dating back to the gold boom, were carefully removed to higher ground - saved or rebuilt - creating Cromwell Old Town. Now you can step back in time to the gold rush and explore heritage buildings, alongside lovely Lake Dunstan. Look for the butcher, the baker, perhaps a candlestick maker? The old town, and the golden era back to the 1860s, lives on.
And that’s where you can stroll today - and find food treasures lakeside. We’re particularly fond of a traditional cottage flying an Italian flag there right now, a northern Italian’s kitchen offering delicious authentic Italian food, from local Central Otago sources, and overlooking the lake. Tremendous.
To the makeshift kitchen
A picnic lakeside is always a winner. Stonefruit is the mainstay of Cromwell. And grapes for wine. But, right about now, it’s apples and pears that we remember of the fruit bowl of the south. For something fruity, to add to the picnic collection or for back at home base, check out our baked pears (with lots more) idea.
Your road trip companion….
To find more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and food producers, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments to check out on your next New Zealand trip, including some Cromwell Old Town and fruit treasures, download The FoodPath NZ’s food trail guide (for mobile) here.