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
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.
6. Roaring Meg
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!
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.
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:
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’.