St Bathans to Queenstown Road Trip


“Bugger!” exclaims Bob in the morning, mimicking a shearer from the bar. “I fell asleep straight away.”

After a light continental breakfast and an hour spent basking in the sun at the lake, we follow SH85 through numerous tiny settlements to Alexandra where we enjoy an early lunch at the Shaky Bridge Café beside William Hill Vineyard. High above on the rocky schist hillside overlooking the town, the Alexandra Clock beckons and so after lunch we follow a steep track through rocky schist, where the sweet aroma of wild thyme fills the air, to the lookout for views of the clock and town.

Then we drive across the magnificent Alexandra Bridge over the Clutha River, with its banks smothered in willows and poplar trees. A three-hour hike follows the river to Clyde but we take the back road, stopping at Black Ridge Vineyard where we meet Sue Edwards and her partner Verdun Burgess. This intrepid pair pioneered wine in the region when they planted their vines in 1981. “It wasn’t fashionable then,” said Sue, pouring us a tasting of their well-known pinot noir and gewürztraminer. The pinot noir was so successful others invested and today there are many vineyards in this, the world’s southernmost winemaking region. We purchase a couple of bottles to join our burgeoning collection in the boot, then call into nearby Touch Yarns to admire Marnie Kelly’s handiwork: designer garments made from her own dyed wools that reflect the vivid shades of Central Otago’s great outdoors. I buy a gorgeous mohair hat, the exact shade of autumnal poplars, before we drive to the old gold mining tailings beside the river.

“It’s hard to believe that they moved all this rock,” says Bob as we walk over literally mountains of gravel and rock to reach the river, passing mountain bikers crisscrossing on well-formed tracks.

We return to Cromwell where I stop and make a purchase while Bob awaits my return in the car. On the outskirts of town we come to a halt outside The Gold Fields Mining Centre. Bob turns to beam at me. “Fill your boots!” I say waving my newly purchased book, “There’s three hours until they close.”