Bannockburn, an area steeped in golden history, has a
special appeal that sees generation after generation of the
same families escaping Dunedin and Invercargill to holiday at
the local domain. Sarah Marquet went to meet some of those
people to find out what brings them back each year.
About 5km to the southwest of Cromwell, over a bridge which
crosses the Kawarau River there is a sign: Welcome to
Bannockburn Heart of the Desert.
Looking at the hill behind the sign it really does look like
a desert, the scorched grass an almost grey shade of brown
and the once fragrant wild thyme burnt to a crisp, both
Turn the other way, though, and the view is in almost
complete contrast - the Kawarau River winds its way over the
landscape under an endless blue sky. Lush green grass, trees
and bright orange Californian poppies line the banks. Further
up, grape vines in neat rows grow protected from the birds by
white netting. While the welcome sign, hung between two
relocated bridge pillars from the old suspension bridge,
advertises Bannockburn as ''the heart of the desert'', locals
advertise it as ''the heart of wine country''.
Two of those locals, Jane Scott and husband Scottie, run the
Central Otago District Council-owned Bannockburn Domain
She says because Bannockburn is a land of contrast, there is
something for everyone to do - from water sports to wine
tastings, from walking and biking to exploring the region's
gold history - and that is probably why people come back to
the camping ground year after year.
Sharon Monson, of Dunedin, has been holidaying at the domain
for about 20 years. This year, about 15 of her family
members, spanning four generations, and five dogs, will
holiday with her.
Her first camping visit to the area was instigated by her
co-workers, who had friends in the area, and she has been
coming back ever since.
''I just love it. The atmosphere is great ... the weather has
improved over the years ... and we have space.
''We go jet-boating, go for walks in the sluicings, shopping
and this year we are going to go gold panning.''
About 3km from the camping ground is the Bannockburn Inlet, a
quiet area of Lake Dunstan with many secluded picnic spots
shaded by trees.
Once known as the Bannockburn Creek, it was mined for coal to
supply the gold dredges working on the Kawarau and Clutha
Rivers in the late 19th century.
Spending time at the inlet is one of the Monson family's
favourite things to do in Bannockburn.
They have a boat, a water trampoline and an inflatable kayak.
James Monson, Mrs Monson's grandson, loves swimming at the
inlet and says he has a lot of friends in the area, both
holiday-makers and locals.
He said he would continue the family tradition of camping at
Bannockburn when he grew up and had his own family.
''He just hates going home when the holiday is over,'' Mrs
Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra are all within
about half an hour's drive, events there such as races,
rodeo, and boxing day sales provide extra entertainment.
''The kids always get money for Christmas, so we go shopping,
Joy Woods, another repeat holiday-maker, camps on what Mrs
Scott called ''Millionaires Mile''.
Her caravan is kitted out with all the mod cons, including a
full-size fridge and she has a garden.
She leaves her Bluff home for Bannockburn every Labour
Weekend and stays until the end of the grape harvest, working
at the local vineyards.
There are 12 vineyards in the Bannockburn area that are open
to the public for tastings. Like many wineries in Central
Otago, they specialise in pinot noir.
Most of the holiday-makers at the domain had been coming for
''years and years'', mostly from Dunedin and Invercargill,
Mrs Scott said.
Come Boxing Day the camping ground was fully booked and often
people were turned away.
''Sometimes, there is only just room for a few tents.''
There were about 60 sites, with and without power, in the
''family-oriented, animal friendly'' camp, she said.
There were also 14 permanent residents and some seasonal
''But there's always room for the kids to run around.''
• About 5km out of Cromwell and about half an hour's drive
from Alexandra, Queenstown and Wanaka.
• In the township: hotel, cafe, store, bowling green, tennis
• Town established about 1860, during the gold rush - the
alluvial gold field was mined extensively in the 1860s.
• Remnants of the gold rush can still be seen, most obviously
the sluicings off Felton Rd. A walk around the sluicings will
take you to Stewart Town, where stone buildings remain.
• In the township, some gold rush era buildings remain,
including the Post Office and the general store.
• The area is now focused on viticulture and boasts 12
wineries open to the public.
• Beyond Bannockburn is the Nevis Valley, also an area rich
in gold rush history. The road to the valley crosses Duffers
Saddle, the highest public road in New Zealand, and carries
on through to Garston.