Traditionally regarded as the poor cousin of nearby Queenstown and Wanaka, Cromwell was an unexpected gem when visited on a beautiful early spring day. Home to nearly 7,000 people, it has grown considerably in recent years as people have been priced out of it’s more glamorous near neighbours. Named after Oliver Cromwell, it started life in the 1860s after gold was discovered, turning into an agricultural hub once the gold was exhausted.
Bruce Jackson Lookout is a good spot to get a feel for the town, sitting at the junction of the Clutha / Mata-Au and the Kawarau Rivers.
The Clutha River was dammed in the early 1990s further upstream at Clyde, resulting in the creation of Lake Dunstan. This was particularly scenic and reflective on a calm day with snow on the mountains. There are plenty of lookouts along by the lake to take in the views.
Part way along by the lake, a short walk goes up to Quartz Reef Point, the best preserved example of herring bone tailings in the country. Stones and rocks were stacked to channel water to a sluice channel to separate gold from gravel. The views of Lake Dunstan from the site were also pretty good.
When the Clyde dam was completed the new Lake Dunstan swallowed Cromwell’s original main street. Thankfully a number of historic buildings dating back to the founding of the town were saved by relocating them to the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. This is a fabulous place, with a mix of shops, cafes, and museums.
Some of the old buildings remain in their original locations, now half submerged…
The 1900 era Masonic Hall still looked smart, built out of local stone, and continues to be used.
The nearby Stone Temple is a 140 year old stone Gothic church which has been converted into flash accommodation.
The Mary Immaculate and the Irish Martyrs Catholic Church is one of the most prominent in Cromwell, with a 20m high orange tiled belltower topping the attractive 1909 building.
Cromwell Museum was worth a visit, being far more extensive than it appeared from outside, with a particularly interesting exhibition on the Clyde Dam and creation of Lake Dunstan.
The shopping area outside the museum is probably one of the nicest I’ve seen in New Zealand, with running water and lots of colourful bedding.
On the outskirts of town, Cromwell Cemetery had plenty of historic graves dating back to the 1860s.
Heading out of Cromwell toward Queenstown Kawarau Gorge is one of the most impressive gorges with roads in the country.
A photogenic bridge spans the gorge out to Goldfields Mining Centre. I didn’t have time to visit it but it looks like a fascinating place for anyone interested in gold rush era heritage.
To finish toward the Queenstown end of the gorge with Roaring Meg, a small hydro scheme fed by the Roaring Meg Dam.
To finish with an aerial shot of Cromwell from the flight home from Queenstown.