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It’s no secret that New Zealand is a wonderland of gorgeous nature, thrilling adventure, and unparalleled relaxation. And when it comes to all three, Cromwell is just the place!
Nestled right in the heart of Central Otago’s wine and cherry country, Cromwell is a hidden South Island gem with a flair all of its own. The town draws thousands of travelers in summer and autumn, who come to the area for seasonal work in the vineyards and orchards. Cromwell is situated between two of New Zealand’s most popular tourist towns and on a road trip from Queenstown to Wanaka, it’s a popular stop. Cromwell is a modest town that’s still just a stone’s throw from all the hustle and bustle.
However small Cromwell may be though, there’s no shortage of things to do! Whether you’re an adventurer, an explorer, or a wine connoisseur, this modest suburban town boasts quite a bit of lively activity. With something-for-everyone by day and by night, you’re sure to find just the thing to keep you busy.
In this handy guide, I’ve put together my top list of 17 things to do in Cromwell, New Zealand.
Heading to Cromwell from Queenstown? Read my blog about the best stops on the drive from Queenstown to Cromwell!
Cromwell, New Zealand FAQs
Fun Things to do in Cromwell
1. Take aim at Paintball Central
Do you enjoy a good afternoon adrenaline rush?
If you’re up for a bit of thrill (and don’t mind a bit of a sting!), grab a paintball gun and go on the hunt! Paintball Central is Cromwell’s outdoor paintball palace, offering 10 acres of open grounds and exhilaration to folks of all ages. They even provide safety gear and appropriate clothing – so you can get covered in color without smudging your clothes. It’s easily one of the best activities in Cromwell!
Marketing themselves as “10 acres of pure adrenaline!”, you know you’re in for some excitement. Paintball Central hosts groups of up to 50 (advance booking required)- so you can bring the whole gang! Because there’s nothing that brings people together like a bit of stiff competition out there in the field. Test your aim and have some good (not so clean) fun!
A few generous rounds of paintball is also a great way to get exercise, as it’s a chase or be chased! So, grab some goggles and get in on the fun.
A basic game with 100 paintballs costs $40 NZD but there are bigger packages available. Remember to always wear appropriate safety gear and footwear, and to adhere to the rules of the game to avoid any injuries. Safety first!
2. Go-karts at Highlands Motorsport Park
What better way to have some awesome afternoon fun than a few laps in a speedy go-kart? Bring your friends and have a drive around one of New Zealand’s most famous go-kart race tracks at Highlands Motorsport Park.
Only 45 minutes from Queenstown, Highlands has attracted a great deal of tourism to Cromwell’s local economy for almost a decade. Providing speedy thrills to locals since 2013, Highlands is where people of all ages can jump into high-speed go-karts and race around a challenging track of twists and turns!
On any given day, you can even take a few exhilarating laps around the world-class race track in the hallmark Highlands Taxi – a Porsche Cayenne Turbo! You’ll feel some serious g-force as you reach speeds of up to 180 kph (112 mph) in this heart-racing thrill ride to remember. In this experience you’ll be driven by a professional.
However, if you want to drive yourself, then you’re in luck! This u-drive experience allows you to race around the track in a formula one racecar! With a professional next to you giving instructions, you’ll get to drive seven exhilerating laps around the track.
Also featured on the grounds are a world-class full-speed racing track, cafe, sculpture park, and museum. It’s also a great place to check out professional races and get a show-stopping view of Cromwell’s magnificent desert landscape. The facility also hosts special events, including business functions and birthday parties for any size group.
3. Miniature golf with a view
Did you know that you can have a putt right in the center of Cromwell? That’s right, Cromwell has its very own miniature golf course complete with mountain views and vineyard backdrops.
Instantly turn any rainy day into a family day out or fun date at this nostalgic family-run golf course. At Cromwell Mini Golf, you’ll encounter 18 holes of tricky angles, head-scratching curves, and skill-testing slopes.
Test your putting skills at this cute, well-maintained course right in the center of town. Afterward, you can walk right across the road for ice cream or a bite to eat in the local shops. And since miniature golf is suitable for all ages, you can even bring the family along. Just make sure not to lose your ball over the fence!
A round of golf costs $9 NZD for adults and $6 for children and there are also family discounts available.
Related Read: Playing regular golf is also popular in Otago. In our blog, the best things to do in Arrowtown, we mention 3 golf courses you can play at in Otago.
4. Visit the Big Fruit
No trip to Cromwell would be complete without a visit to its famous Big Fruit sculpture. The hard-to-miss, well-lit sculpture proudly adorns the very center of town with a giant apple, apricot, peach, and pear! Taking a photo here is one of the most iconic things to do in Cromwell.
A nod to the days of old, the must-see sculpture signifies a time when certain fruit crops were the most abundant part of Cromwell’s local economy. Stretching for miles, there were apple, pear, and apricot orchards that provided much of New Zealand’s fruit supply countrywide.
Nowadays, apples and apricots have been replaced by grapevines and cherry trees. In the viticulture community, Cromwell and greater Central Otago are known for boasting the country’s second-largest amount of grapevines, with 137 regional vineyards and growing.
New Zealand is also known for its big, juicy cherries – most of which come from Cromwell. Each year, hundreds of hectares of cherry trees are added to the region. Cromwell is home to New Zealand’s largest cherry producer, 45 South, which by itself accounts for 30% of the country’s overall cherry export yield. That’s a massive operation!
But how does this come through in Cromwell’s most famous landmark?
In keeping up with the times, there’s been talk in the local media about adding cherries and grapes to the Big Fruit sculpture. Either way, you’ll definitely want to grab some fruity photos at Cromwell’s iconic landmark.
5. Wine tasting
There’s no doubt that sampling some amazing wine is one of the best things to do in New Zealand. And if you’re a wine connoisseur of any measure, Cromwell is definitely the place for you.
In any season, it’s easy to walk from winery to winery in Cromwell. You and your best mates can have a “wine crawl” along the 4 Barrels Wine Trail, which leads you through some of the best and brightest that Cromwell has to offer.
Boasting a vibrant spectrum of organic, biodynamic, and conventional wines, the region is known in particular for its Pinot Noir. Because of Cromwell’s dry, arid landscape, the pinot noir vine does particularly well, and wines from this area are quite distinctive.
Whether it’s fruity and aromatic wine you’re after, or if you prefer earthy undertones and notes of dark fruit – capture it all inside your glass in Cromwell.
Dotted all around Lake Dunstan is a series of unique boutique wineries. And in between are a series of lush vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. All in one afternoon, you can visit Wooing Tree, Misha’s Vineyard, Georgetown, Aurum Wines, Scott Base, Domaine-Thompson, and more.
Of course, if visiting on your own sounds like more stress than fun, you can also join a wine tour from Cromwell. These cost around $300 NZD and on the tour, you’ll visit around 4 wineries and have all tasting fees and transport included.
Related Read: Wine touring the Otago wine region is also one of the best things to do in Queenstown!
6. Have a BBQ on Lake Dunstan
There’s nothing more enjoyable than a home-cooked meal with a fantastic view. Why not inhale the mesquite scent of fresh food sizzling on the barbie while you take in a gorgeous lake?
Lake Dunstan offers numerous barbecue facilities that are available for public use. No booking ahead either – just show up, take out your hamburger buns, and get started.
Another perk? Each BBQ area is situated near its own wharf, so you can easily jump or dive off right into the water before your smokey feast. Time to fire up those yummy summer treats!
And while you do, you’re never far off from Cromwell’s historic precinct, an area boasting Cromwell’s rich gold mining history, charming 19th-century architecture, and cultural relics of the town. That brings us to the next best thing to do in Cromwell…
7. Visit Old Cromwell (the Historic Precinct)
If picturesque, historic architecture sounds like your thing, you won’t want to miss the beautiful Old Cromwell. Sitting right beside Lake Dunstan, it’s the perfect place to have a stroll as you take a look back into centuries gone by.
With Mt. Nevis and the Remarkables as your backdrop, you can walk down what used to be Cromwell’s bustling main street back in the late 1800s. You’ll find old stone buildings, barns, stables, and shops that have been preserved in their original condition. It really is a blast from the past!
Cromwell’s Historic Precinct is open all year round. What once was the center of the town’s trading, blacksmithing, and gold mining is now brimming with chic cafes, taverns, and boutique restaurants.
The serene landscape of Old Cromwell also makes it a popular spot for walks and picnics. Keen for a hike or a place to walk your pup? You can even enjoy a hearty stretch of trail around Lake Dunstan, as the Cromwell-Bannockburn Walkway runs right through the heart of the Heritage Precinct. There’s no denying this is one of the best things to do while you’re visiting Cromwell!
8. Sunday Farmers & Craft Market (October through April)
No trip to Cromwell would be complete without a proper sampling of its fine local food. Every Sunday, the Old Cromwell area boasts a top-shelf selection of local merchants, farmers, and bespoke gourmet treats to try out.
Hungry for some samples? As you walk around the Sunday Farmers & Craft Market, try out some honey, olive oils, artisanal cheeses, jams, and a whole host of other local favorites. There’s even fresh produce, organic herbs, homemade candles, jewelry, clothing, and handmade woven goods up for grabs.
Each week, the market features live music from local artists. And if variety is your thing, the market’s vendors continuously change, so there’s always a great rotation of fresh foods to try. Even if you’re keen to sample the staples of Cromwell, there is always a core group of local vendors who never miss the Sunday market.
It truly is one of New Zealand’s most coveted farmer’s markets! Offering a casual atmosphere, you can have a stroll, enjoy some coffee and live music, and peruse a wide selection of locally-sourced favorites.
9. Slip and slide at the brand new Kiwi Water Park
As New Zealand’s largest water park and Cromwell’s newest addition, this hot attraction is all the buzz! That’s right – it’s a massive slip-and-slide water park!
We’ve all imagined it: cooling off on a hot summer day by zipping down a giant inflatable slide as we get sprayed with cool water. That’ll get you in touch with your inner summer-loving child in no time!
Situated right on Lake Dunstan just a short drive from the town center, Kiwi Water Park is the place where folks of all ages can enjoy a bounce, slide, jump, and swim on an array of inflatable rafts and slides. What better way to spend a sunny summer afternoon?
And since Cromwell is one of the sunniest towns in all of New Zealand (it also holds the highest record temperatures in the whole country!), it made all too much sense to place a water park right on the outskirts of town.
Take a break from the summer heat and cool off with the whole family!
Related Read: Visiting Otago in the summer? Check out my guide to the best summer activities in Queenstown.
10. Enjoy a short hike with a view
Want to get your hiking boots dirty? Then saddle up – Cromwell and its surrounding Central Otago area are rich with an array of walking trails suitable for any skill or fitness level.
Each trail in the series is unique in its own way. Whether you’d like to lay tracks on a relaxed day hike or a longer path, Cromwell’s got you covered.
One of the shortest hikes in Cromwell is the Old Reservoir Trail. Just a short walk from the town center, it’ll take you only 20 minutes to get to the summit. And while it’s a reasonably steep climb on rocky paths, it is short, and the views are incredibly rewarding. At the top, you’ll catch a glimpse of the whole town with a backdrop of the stunning Pisa Range.
A bit north of Cromwell is Bendigo, an abandoned 19th-century gold-mining town set in amongst the dry, arid landscape of the Central Otago desert. Hike along a series of spiderwebbed trails as you come across old gold mining shafts, battery terminals, and the remains of old stone homes of settlers in the area.
For a bit of a workout, check out the 45th Parallel Trail, named for its close proximity to the line of 45 degrees south latitude. You can make your ascent up the giant staircase along the state highway side, or choose a more gradual approach by walking up from the Lowburn end of the track. Either way, the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking.
11. Enjoy a Scenic Flight
Have you ever wanted to fly over one of the most scenic parts of the world? Well, now you can!
Over the last decade, a number of helicopter companies have emerged in Cromwell to offer flights over the Cromwell basin and the surrounding region. One such business, Heliview Flights, is a family-run boutique helicopter company located right in the heart of Cromwell, and it has been operating scenic helicopter flights since 2014. Their basin helicopter fight with alpine landing tour looks absolutely amazing – imagine, wine at a remote alpine location where you were dropped off by helicopter!
Or for the more daring among us, Cromwell even features hang gliding and paragliding flights! Even the boldest of adrenaline junkies can enjoy breathtaking views of the South Island’s dramatic snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear rivers, and pristine lakes.
Sky Trek Hang Gliding offers exciting hang gliding and paragliding experiences to the bold and daring! They’re based in Queenstown and will also take you on the scenic drive to Cromwell through the world-famous Gibbston Valley and Kawarau Gorge. You may even see a Lord of the Rings filming location or two on the way!
12. Attend the Cromwell Classic Car & Hot Rod Festival
In Cromwell, warm summer nights remind me of one thing – vintage car shows!
Everyone loves a good blast from the past, especially when it comes to classic and vintage cars from over the decades! In this old-world Cromwell relic, you’ll get to see everything from exotic sports cars to retro classics dating all the way back from the early 1900s.
Every summer, Cromwell hosts a massive car show that attracts onlookers and families from across the area. In 2021, over 740 cars were on display! And at the conclusion of the show, many of the car owners hit the roads for a drive through town, waving to bystanders as they show off their wheels.
It’s a nostalgic and quite special event if you can attend while you’re in town. The Cromwell Classic Car & Hot Rod Festival typically happens in late January or early February each year.
Related Read: For more info on activities and things to do seasonally, read my blog about the best time to visit New Zealand!
13. Stroll through a dreamy rose garden at Anderson Park
As if New Zealand weren’t already full of incredible sights to see, now you’ve got one more epic option – a walk through an enchanting rose garden!
Situated right in the middle of Cromwell in the 36-acre Anderson Park, the commemorative rose garden boasts over 40 varieties of roses from around the world. Constructed around a giant sundial, this round-shaped rose garden features peaceful footpaths to have a stroll at any time of day. It’s a popular place for dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, and locals.
Each variety and type of rose is marked by its own placard. But don’t worry- once you’re done with all that education about rose types, you can have a relaxing lounge on one of the nearby benches that overlook the gardens.
Anderson Park was constructed in the 1980s as a focal point of the town. Also featured in the park are a fountain, playground, squash court, walking paths, and sporting facilities.
14. Visit the famous Jones Family Fruit Stall
By far the most popular fruit stall in Cromwell or the surrounding vicinity is Jones Family Fruit Stall! It draws crowds from around the world with its locally grown fruits and veggies.
The store at Jones Family Fruit Stall is truly a sight to behold. With everything from a complimentary tasting table to a comprehensive assortment of groceries, local culinary treats, sweets, dried fruits, honey, nuts, gift sets, and other novelties, there’s something for everyone.
You can sample local honey and fruits to pick your favorites right there in the shop. I also highly recommend picking up a bag of dried fruits or candies, and you can choose from an array of festive holiday décor at select times of the year.
Local Tip: Try the nectarines! Also, don’t miss out on a giant bag of seasonal apples at a great deal! Jones is known as a great local spot for these.
15. Stargaze and catch a view of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis)
One of the great things about Cromwell is that it’s situated far enough south on the globe to see the Southern Lights. It’s also renowned for its dark skies, which make a perfect setting for stargazing.
Best viewed in the cold winter months, the Southern Lights (or Aurora Australis, as it’s referred to by the astronomical community,) is a breathtaking natural display like no other. When you catch it at just the right time, you’ll be able to see the nighttime sky shimmer with purple, pink, and green hues. While it is a tricky thing to time out just right, you can use an online tool to help you.
Some popular viewing spots around Cromwell include Butcher Dam (just outside the nearby town of Alexandra), Mount Nevis, and Bendigo. Make sure to catch a view on a cold, clear night, preferably during a new moon for the darkest skies possible.
16. Bike the Cromwell Trails
On a nice weathered day in New Zealand, you’ll want to max out your time spent outside! To efficiently explore the scenery of Central Otago countryside of Cromwell you can rent a bike from town.
A popular place to take your bike is to the Lake Dunstan Trail which flashes views of the teal-colored water of the lake that connects to both the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers. It stretches for 55 kilometers (34.2 mi) but it is divided into several different sections rated from grades 1-3 (moderate-challenging) so you chose where to start based on your experience level. You can find the different trail maps here.
17. Horseback Riding
Spend an afternoon with a leisurely ride on horseback with Golden Hills Horse Treks! This is fun for both adults and kids of any skill level because the guides will pair you with a horse that matches your experience level. You’ll get to meet the different horses and learn their personalities before heading out on the farmland trails to see panoramic views of Lake Dunstan and the Mt. Pisa Range. Each ride lasts for 2 hours and you can expect to pay $90 NZD per person.
Where to Stay in Cromwell
Cromwell may not be a tourist hub like Queenstown but there are still plenty of great places to stay. One of the best places, when you compare price and quality, is the Central Gateway Motel. The hotel is located in the heart of Cromwell and with outstanding reviews it’s a fine option.
In a similar price range but with beautiful lake views you have The Lake Resort. They have studio apartment’s all the way up to 3 bedrooms villas that overlook the Cromwell marina. Although the basic rooms are rather cheap, the 3 bedroom villa is the most luxurious option in Cromwell.
Aside from your classic hotel stay, Cromwell is filled with affordable Airbnbs. In New Zealand, Airbnb’s are a great option for a more unique stay or for those in larger groups. You can view all the Airbnb’s in Cromwell here. Alternatively, there are tons of amazing Airbnbs in Queenstown and you could stay there and visit Cromwell on a day trip.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoyed my guide of 17 things to do in Cromwell, New Zealand. Cromwell truly is a magical town with a phenomenal amount to offer, from daytime activities to nighttime wonders, you won’t get bored in Cromwell!
I really hope you found this blog helpful, if you did, be sure to browse around My Queenstown Diary for more! I have tons of information about many areas of New Zealand and for your convenience, I’ve listed a few of my most popular guides below! As always, Happy Travels!