Right time, right taste

Carrick’s Bannockburn Game Board celebrates Central Otago’s rabbit history.PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Carrick’s Bannockburn Game Board celebrates Central Otago’s rabbit history.PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Central Otago fruits are showcased in Carrick’s Petit Fours.PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Central Otago fruits are showcased in Carrick’s Petit Fours.PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Homemade gingerbread, blue cheese, honey and pear complement Wooing Tree’s Tickled Pink. PHOTO:...
Homemade gingerbread, blue cheese, honey and pear complement Wooing Tree’s Tickled Pink. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
A taste of summer in a bowl - strawberry panna cotta at Chatto Creek Tavern. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
A taste of summer in a bowl - strawberry panna cotta at Chatto Creek Tavern. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
Highland’s cafe is challenging the burger and sandwich category with this lamb roll. PHOTO: JAMES...
Highland’s cafe is challenging the burger and sandwich category with this lamb roll. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Maniototo Cafe’s raw black forest cheesecake. Photo: JAMES JUBB
Maniototo Cafe’s raw black forest cheesecake. Photo: JAMES JUBB

The lambs are frolicking, the mountains are snow capped, the blossom is blooming and the roads are quiet. It is the perfect time to travel in Central Otago, Rebecca Fox discovers.

As I fly down the wet race track at speeds of up to 160kmh in the Highlands' "taxi'', a Porsche Cayenne turbo, I come to the conclusion that being a tourist in your own back yard is quite fun.

It's something many of us don't do, often going out of our way to avoid those places that draw thousands of tourists to our neck of the woods every year.

But if you pick your time - between tourist seasons - you can experience what all those tourists rave about; just without the queues and road rage.

The table groans under the weight of Moorings Bar and Restaurant’s carnivor’s platter.PHOTO:...
The table groans under the weight of Moorings Bar and Restaurant’s carnivor’s platter.PHOTO: JAMES JUBB

Last weekend, we did just that: packed the car and headed to Central Otago for a weekend of "tourist'' activities, along with some great food and wine.

Cromwell, a town often treated as the pit-stop on the way to Queenstown or Wanaka, was our base for the weekend.

Our mission was to eat our way around the district as part of Central Otago District Council's Eat. Taste. Central (ETC) challenge, in which cafes and restaurants have entered their top dishes to find the region's best pie, burger, main meal and dessert.

This year the council has tied the promotion into activities happening in the area during the next few weekends.

The first weekend was centred in Cromwell and took advantage of "Across the Bridge at Bannockburn'' activities.

Coming weekends will focus on the Teviot Valley and the Maniototo, then Alexandra, Clyde and Ophir during Labour Weekend.

Ferris Road Brewery owner Sam Forsyth talks beer. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Ferris Road Brewery owner Sam Forsyth talks beer. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB

We started the "foodie'' part of our trip at Ferris Road Brewery, in Alexandra, arriving just in time for a dinner of wood-fired pizza and a pilsner.

The brewery - it claims to be the first licensed brewery in Alexandra since 1876 - is in an industrial part of the town and looks to be a popular spot for Friday night drinks, as most of the tables were reserved.

Owner Sam Forsyth gave me a quick tutorial on the types of beers he makes before we ordered his entry in the ETC main meal challenge; a pork and fennel sausage pizza.

Just where he gets his sausages from is a secret, but they pack a lovely fennel punch and combine beautifully with the cherry tomatoes.

The Heritage Collection Lake Resort Cromwell brings new meaning to being on the water. PHOTO: RAY...
The Heritage Collection Lake Resort Cromwell brings new meaning to being on the water. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY

After a good night's sleep at The Heritage Collection Lake Resort at Pisa Moorings, near Cromwell, we head off to Bannockburn to join local identity and amateur historian Gordon Stewart for a "ramble'' around some of the area's historic sites.

The ramble drew a good crowd of locals keen to discover more about the area's history and Stewart did not disappoint. We even got a helpful geology lesson to explain how the gold and coal the area is known for came to be there.

We headed from the Bannockburn sign up Cairnmuir Rd through the dried thyme and down to the lake where we were shown the remnants of an early pub and the hiding place of a German owl.

The walk then took us, via a reserve and a walkway, back to the town's pub.

Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Carrick's restaurant for lunch where we tried their main and dessert entries; a Bannockburn Game Board showcasing rabbit (rillettes) and hare (slow-cooked and wrapped in filo) and the Carrick Sweet Treats, Central Otago-inspired petit fours, including a tiny macaroon.

As Across the Bridge was about culture as much as activities, we popped down the road to visit the historic Cairnmuir Woolshed where artists Maurice Middleditch, Robert Franklin and Gail de Jong had their work on show.

In need of a walk, we picked up a map for the popular Four Barrels wine trail, which guides you around Scott Base, Aurum, Mishas and Wooing Tree tasting rooms.

It has become popular with cyclists as much as walkers and, at about 8km, is a great way to not feel guilty about indulging as you go.

Cromwell’s Highlands Motorsport Park displays vehicles of all makes and ages and a spin round the...
Cromwell’s Highlands Motorsport Park displays vehicles of all makes and ages and a spin round the track in its ‘‘Taxi’’ (below) is quite an experience. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

We stopped in at Wooing Tree to try their entry in the dessert challenge; "Tickled Pink'', a cheese board named after its dessert wine. With homemade gingerbread to sandwich with blue cheese, pear and honeycomb, it is the perfect match.

Dinner that night was at Moorings Restaurant. We tried its main meal entry; a carnivore's platter. We had been warned it involved a lot of meat, but were still not prepared for the groaning platter of chicken, slow-cooked lamb and ribs resting on roast vegetables and grilled corn when it arrived at the table.

Definitely do not plan on having dessert if partaking in this dish, as the tenderness of the meat is hard to resist.

The next day we headed to Highlands for a tour of the museum and a high-speed "taxi'' ride with Ian Begg, one of the original members behind the race track, at the wheel. The go kart ride had to be put off because of the weather.

The story of multi-millionaire pet food manufacturer Tony Quinn, who just happens to have more than a passing interest in motorsport, has become legend in these parts and it is fascinating to see what cars he has in residence.

His daughter's "new-old'' chevy truck and son-in-law's Porsche sit alongside Quinn's $4.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan, the Rolls Royce Ghost he bought by accident to prove to his father he had "made it'' and Michael Schumacher's Formula One Benetton.

We calm my racing heart with a stop at Highland's Cafe for its ETC burger and sandwich challenge entry; a warm high-country lamb Tuscany roll, slow-cooked pulled lamb with a Central Otago cherry jam in a soft bun.

Cook Tarryn Lines serves up Chatto Creek  Tavern’s Wagu beef and porter pie and strawberry panna...
Cook Tarryn Lines serves up Chatto Creek Tavern’s Wagu beef and porter pie and strawberry panna cotta. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB

Then we hit the road in my much, much slower Toyota for the drive back to Dunedin through the Maniototo.

We stopped at a very busy Chatto Creek Tavern for lunch and to try out their pie and dessert ETC entries.

While we watched the second half of the All Blacks-Pumas test on the big screen we enjoyed their Wagyu beef and porter pie and the amazingly presented and tasting strawberry panna cotta.

The great thing about driving the Pig Route (SH85) is that there are plenty of places to stop, such as at St Bathans to see the Blue Lake, Naseby or Ranfurly.

We stopped for afternoon tea at the Maniototo Cafe, in Ranfurly, where they had a tasty wild venison sausage roll as their ETC entry alongside a raw black forest cheesecake.

Funnily enough, we didn't need dinner when we got back to Dunedin.

Rebecca Fox travelled courtesy of Central Otago District Council and Eat. Taste. Central.

For more

Eat.Taste. Central
www.eattastecentral.co.nz

Mates Rates weekend October 13-14
www.centralotagonz.com/locals

The Heritage Collection Lake Resort at Pisa Moorings
www.heritagehotels.co.nz

Highlands
www.highlands.co.nz

Bannockburn’s ‘‘Across the bridge’’’ weekend drew locals and visitors alike. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
Bannockburn’s ‘‘Across the bridge’’’ weekend drew locals and visitors alike. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY

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