Sights and bites in Central

The Vulcan Hotel at St Bathans. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
The Vulcan Hotel at St Bathans. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
The tag-line might be "the road less travelled" but for those in the know there is no better way to travel from Dunedin to Central Otago than over what is now known as the Central Otago Touring Route, Rebecca Fox discovers.

OK, so it went like this - would you like to drive through Central Otago in a Tesla while stopping off to enjoy some of the region’s best food and wine?

A stronger person than I might have demurred, but it is the sort of opportunity that does not come your way very often, so I accepted.

The proposal was made even better by the direction to travel the Central Otago Touring Route - my favourite way to travel to Central Otago. The expansive blue skies, craggy rock outcrops and soaring hills made famous by Grahame Sydney paintings as well as the relatively empty roads make taking this route a no-brainer.

Our Tesla model 3 takes a break at Blue Lake in St Bathans. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
Our Tesla model 3 takes a break at Blue Lake in St Bathans. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY

It also seems appropriate to be driving an electric car - not adding noise or other pollution - through this beautiful landscape, along a similar path to the Central Otago Rail Trail.

If you are an EV or Tesla-novice, it pays to have spent some time researching the operating instructions of the Tesla (it has a few quirks) before you pick it up. It is also a good idea to work out where the charging stations are, and how to charge, to avoid "range phobia".

Happily though, the car can do the math for you and will tell you if you have enough range to get where you are going once you put your destination into its GPS.

Dunstan House Cafe, Clyde’s beetroot and feta burger. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Dunstan House Cafe, Clyde’s beetroot and feta burger. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Luckily there are no shortage of conveniently-placed fast (the most time-efficient way to charge) charging stations along the route at Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Omakau and Alexandra.

Once we picked up the Tesla, a model 3 with a range of up to 400km on a single charge, tested our research on how to unlock the doors and operate the touch-screen, we packed the surprisingly deep and large boot with our overnight bags and headed out (there is also a "frunk", aka a front boot, for those spill-over purchases).

We were headed for Waipiata and the local pub for lunch, so the trip gave us the perfect opportunity to get to grips with sensitive handling of the Tesla and operating things like the heating and air conditioning and sound system, all from the touch-screen (best left to the passenger rather than the driver).

"The Davy Jones" at Waipiata Hotel.
"The Davy Jones" at Waipiata Hotel.
Our timing could not have been better as Central Otago’s popular Eat Taste Central promotion was still on, allowing us to taste some specially created dishes which showcase the wonderful produce from the region.

So at lunch it was one of Waipiata pub’s famous pies, the "Hogburn River Pie", featuring locally grown slow-cooked beef and pinot noir, as well as their version of an all-day breakfast, "The Davy Jones", a towering burger made with local eggs and chutney.

With the afternoon at our disposal we decided to tour around some of our favourite spots, stopping in Ranfurly for a coffee while we gave the car a top up (range phobia got to us!) and then heading to Naseby to have a look through the popular Stardust Gallery. Unfortunately we were way too full to contemplate a visit to the Black Forest Cafe, which is under new management.

Pitches Store’s Provenance lamb loin. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Pitches Store’s Provenance lamb loin. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Instead we decided to head to St Bathans for a walk around the Blue Lake before rewarding ourselves with a cold beverage at the Vulcan Hotel. The small village was humming with visitors enjoying the lake, with a few hardy souls even dipping a toe or two in.

As time was marching on we headed to our destination for the night, the quaint township of Ophir, and Pitches Store. The store was originally built in 1863 and in 2006 was bought by Colleen Hurd and renovated, retaining historical features wherever possible while providing luxury touches for guests.

We were lucky enough to enjoy chef Susan Goodwin’s Provenance lamb loin dish, which won Eat Taste Central’s main meal section of the competition. Goodwin also received highly commended in the chef section.

The next day we headed through to Clyde where we checked in (and dropped off the car) at another historic homestead - this time Hartley Homestead, built around the early 1900s by Jack Waldron as part of Molyneux Orchards.

Hartley’s Homestead. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
Hartley’s Homestead. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
It is now a lovingly renovated B&B hosted by former Aucklander Euan Mackenzie, who the next day showed he was very handy in the kitchen when it came to breakfasts - lovely, light fruit-filled crepes for us and a cooked breakfast for fellow guests.

There is never any shortage of things to do in Clyde. We had the opportunity to take a peak at the Eden Hore Central Otago Collection which is on display at the Clyde Historical Museum until December 18, before having lunch at Dunstan House Cafe. where we tried its beetroot and feta burger.

The Clyde Historical Museum. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
The Clyde Historical Museum. PHOTO: RAY PILLEY
It is fascinating to see a selection of the garments the farmer collected photographed against the wild Central Otago landscape by Derek Henderson in 2019 and hear some of the stories around Hore’s collection and efforts to save and preserve it in the short films and material that accompany it.

Luckily for us, that weekend was also hosting the Alexandra Basin Winegrowers New Release Tasting event, which gives wine lovers a chance to chat with wine growers about their season and the wines they produce, as well as taste the new season’s releases. This year there was also the chance to hear American, Rex Pickett, author of the novel Sideways speak about his time in New Zealand.

It was a sold-out crowd in the event’s new venue of the old Clyde railway station and there were plenty of wines to choose from, from Three Miners’ Rocker Box Rose and Grey Ridge’s Alchemy white pinot noir to Two Paddocks Pinot Noir and Immigrants’ Ruru Gewurztraminer.

Lamb dish at the Post Office Cafe. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
Lamb dish at the Post Office Cafe. PHOTO: JAMES JUBB
After an afternoon of tastings, a quiet dinner was in order at the Post Office Cafe where we again got to try the region’s lamb.

The following day it was time to head home, but not before we got to extend our electric vehicle knowledge even more with a blat around Highlands Motor Park’s track in its electric sportscar, the Porsche Taycan - going from zero to 100 in 2.4 seconds, a feeling I can best describe as like being dropped from a free fall tower at an amusement park. There is a reason the driver makes sure your head is back against the seat before he accelerates.

After a quick trip to Highland’s toilets with a view - each toilet is creatively decorated and has a one-way window so you can see the track - I then recovered with a restorative coffee and brioche lamb sandwich at Highlands’ cafe before we hit the road again - with a quick look to see where the next charging station was, aware that unlike petrol rental cars, you only need to return an electric with 20% power. Another bonus.

- The writer was hosted by Central Otago Tourism and Gorentals.

Central Otago Touring Route

•  Launched in 2020

•  341 km journey 

•  From the Pacific Ocean at Dunedin to Queenstown

•  Takes in Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Oturehua, Alexandra, Clyde, Cromwell and Arrowtown 

•  Designed with electric vehicles in mind

More Information

• Hiring a Tesla for a weekend away:   $206 per day

• Central Otago Touring Route:  


Places to stay

• Pitches Store, Ophir                        

• Hartley Homestead, Clyde,