Summer Road Trip Series: Kawarau Gorge

Pinot, Craft Beer,  Superb Garden to Plate Platters, Activities, Bungy and Stunning Scenery!

Just twenty minutes from Queenstown you’ll find Gibbston Valley and the start of Central Otago’s wine-producing district. Scattered along State Highway 6 is an impressive selection of wineries, breweries, restaurants and cellar doors. Sample famous Central Otago Pinot Noirs as well as white varieties such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Showcasing the very best of scenic Queenstown, the landscape of the gorge is in striking contrast to the vast lake and mountain views of the Wakatipu Basin.  Vineyards are sandwiched, sometimes precariously, between rugged schist mountains and the rocky Kawarau River gorge.  Beyond Gibbston Valley and through Nevis Bluff, you will start to catch a glimpse of the Kawarau River below. The Kawarau River is Lake Wakatipu’s only outlet making it a powerful body of water with a number of rapids. The deep green waters of the river flow in an easterly direction toward Cromwell where it flows into Lake Dunstan and onwards to wards Clyde

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Our best advice?  Don’t rush! Our recommendation is make a day out of it and make a few stops in the gorge along the way. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Bungy Jumping or Canyon Swing

2. Wine and Beer Tours

3. Dining + Wine + Beer

4. Walking or Cycling the cycle route

5. Water Activities

6. Roaring Meg

7. Gold Mining Historic Village

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Driving the Kawarau Gorge

The drive from Queenstown to Cromwell is 60km (37 miles). The road is single lane with only a few passing lanes along the way, so please, from all of us at Spinnaker Bay, relax, take your time but be mindful of other commuters on the road and be prepared to pull over and allow others to overtake you safely.  For passengers who may suffer from car sickness, allow a little extra time for mini breaks - the view is spectacular anyway so well worth the stop!

As the road snakes its way through the gorge, you’ll notice the scenery steps up a notch as well. You are now entering an area that 150 years ago was bustling with gold miners seeking their fortune. 

Wine & Beer Tours + Dining

Self Drive or tour, the choice is yours.  There are so many vineyards and beer breweries to explore it could take the whole day!  But please, we urge you to take a guided tour if you intend to sample the wines.  Our roads are windy and can be hazardous for foreign drivers.  Please don't dink and drive.  Tour and taste and arrive home safely.  Check out our article on who we ranked he top 5 wine tour companies in Gibbston Valley.  

In terms of dinning, well there is a lot to choose from - from long lunches to evening dining - but across the board almost all vineyards will offer a scrumptious signature platter of home made, locally gown and sourced foods.

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If world-class wineries are not enough to excite you then increase the adrenaline factor with a stop at the AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge. Jumping 43 metres from the historic Kawarau Bridge into the fast-flowing waters of the Kawarau River may be just the kick-start your day needs.


There are plenty of opportunities for the adventurous types on the Kawarau River. In the Kawarau Gorge section of the river, there are a number of options for river surfing the mighty waters. River surfing is all about catching the current of the river and floating, swimming and ‘surfing’ your way downstream. If you fancy something a little more gentle (and drier), there are some viewing spots along the river, including a viewing platform at Roaring Meg where you can observe the river surfers passing below.

Gold Mining & Gold Panning 

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of the area, we highly recommend a stop at the Goldfields Mining Centre. IT was the lure of GOLD that brought the first settlers into Central Otago and today there are few reminders of this history as well preserved as GoldFields Mining.  Here you can take a one-hour guided tour around the centre or a self-guided tour to explore the 25-hectare property and a huge amount of gold mining history including sluicing sites, mines and tunnels. You can have a go on the sluice gun and pan for gold.

One of the highlights of Goldfields is the Wild Earth Winery & Restaurant. Be warned, this is much more than the standard café you would expect to find at a tourist stop. Wild Earth is an award-winning winery restaurant where you can feast on gourmet lunches of local, seasonal fare matched with delicious Wild Earth wines.

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Cycling + Walking

For the independently minded, there is a cycle / walking trail on the edge of the roaring Kawarau River with the stunning vineyards as a backdrop..  Its a beautiful walk /cycle which allows the traveller to deviate and visit wineries along the way. For bike hire try:

Roaring Meg

As you approach the Goldfields Mining Centre from the Queenstown side, you’ll notice a rushing body of water pouring into the Kawarau River. This is Roaring Meg, and today is part of the Roaring Meg Hydro Scheme. But back in the days of the gold rush, the name Roaring Meg meant something quite different. During the gold rush, there were thousands of single men in the area. And where there are single men, there will also be enterprising young women. Roaring Meg was described as one of the more high-spirited and fun-loving ‘ladies of the night’. During a journey through the Kawarau Gorge, Meg made such a fuss about crossing the stream that it was named after her. Her travelling companion made less of a fuss, so the next stream was named after her –‘Gentle Annie’.