Photo credit: QT Creative
Sitting in the heart of the Central Otago region, Cromwell lies 119km away from the sea – the farthest inland town in New Zealand.
Gold was discovered in Cromwell by American Horatio Hartley and Irishman Christopher Reilly in 1862. The 87-pound weight of gold earned them £2,000 including a reward for the discovery of a new goldfield.
After Hartley and Reilly’s discovery, most of Dunedin’s male population rushed to the area, which lay at the confluence of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers. Originally known as ‘The Junction’ the area was later renamed Cromwell after the English military and political leader Oliver Cromwell.
As the gold began to disappear in the 1950s, entrepreneurial residents began to realise Cromwell’s potential for growing fruit. Cold winters and long hot summers provide the perfect climate for cherries, peaches, nectarines and some grape varieties. Cromwell is now famous for its fruit orchards and has a much-photographed giant statue of fruit in its centre.
Cromwell is also known for the nearby Clyde Dam. This hydroelectric dam was built between 1982 and 1993, is the third largest in New Zealand and produces around 2,100 GWh annually. There was considerable controversy during the dam’s planning as it flooded many houses and orchards in Cromwell.
The town centre was relocated and approximately one third of the town was rebuilt onto higher ground. Several buildings from the old main street were lovingly preserved or reconstructed, this now forms the popular Cromwell Heritage Precinct. The precinct’s galleries, shops and cafes enable visitors to experience part of Cromwell’s fascinating history.
Those interested in gold rush history should visit the nearby Goldfields Mining Centre, a historic reserve offering a glimpse into the lives of the early miners. The old mines and miners’ huts can still be seen and visitors can even have a go at sluicing for their own gold.
A new kind of ‘rush’ can be found in modern Cromwell at the Highlands Motorsport Park. As well as hosting special events throughout the year, Highlands offers a huge range of experiences on the park’s own track and showcases rare and special cars from New Zealand’s illustrious motor racing history.