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My strongest memories of Roxburgh come from childhood family trips. Hot days in the car and then being let loose on an orchard as we picked our own and ate ourselves sick.
Then we headed home with the car full of fruit which mum would spend the next week or so bottling.
In more recent years, it has been a place to stop, stretch our legs, get a coffee or pick up a box of fruit or some vegetables and then carry on to the more recognised Central Otago holiday destinations.
But at under two hours from Dunedin or Invercargill, Roxburgh is the perfect distance for a weekend away.
Yes, it is a small town - it has a population of about 600 — but if you look deeper it has an interesting history, great walking and biking tracks and some galleries. And I have not touched on the food, and I am not talking about the famous Jimmy’s Pies.
But that is not a bad place to start. There is nothing wrong with a good pie and some people swear by Jimmy’s.
In more recent times, other options have begun to make their presence known, such as 103 The Store and Local and Friday, to name a couple.
We started our journey with a visit to Local and Friday. Local girl Steph Pierce opened her Friday shop a couple of years ago.
She grew up on a Millers Flat orchard, did the culinary arts degree at Otago Polytechnic and headed overseas, but has come back home and set up her own business.
So a stop in at the shop is a must. Her food is always amazingly presented and tempting.
It is a great way to take the hassle out of cooking on a weekend away. Just pick up one of her ready meals, salad and a cake for dessert and the work is all done — order ahead if you don’t want to risk missing out.
We could not resist her ETC entry of her sticky maple and apple brioche for afternoon tea.
A walk was needed after that, so we had a wander around town and discovered the Teviot Tea Store which has a great variety of single-serve teas, perfect for when you are on the road, Feinerman’s Whole Food Store, the artistic talents of painter Rebecca Gilmore and photographer Greg Slui at Endemic Art Gallery, and who can miss the work of sculptors Bill and Michelle Clarke around the town.
Then we checked into Lake Roxburgh Lodge, tucked away in Lake Roxburgh Village. It was built to house those employed at the dam when it was operated and owned by the New Zealand Electricity Department and its subsequent owners. The village was handed over to the local council in 1989.
The lodge was built in 1955 for tradesmen working at the dam, with rooms for accommodating special visitors, the manager’s flat, TV lounge, dining room, kitchen and laundry. The second building was purpose-built as the single men’s quarters, it also had a TV lounge and laundry.
Over the years it has been transformed into an accommodation and restaurant venue, now owned by Russian couple Anna Vasina and her husband Max.
They gave up their banking careers in Russia and moved here a couple of years ago, keen on a change of lifestyle and a chance for Vasina to pursue her love of cooking and wines.
"We love it here. The scenery, environment and community make it such a great place to live."
She is in charge of the small kitchen in the restaurant, which is open to the public as well as guests, and prides herself on cooking dishes inspired by her homeland and European travels — her Basque cheesecake is delicious — alongside a great wine list.
One of the most difficult things for the pair due to Covid-19 — apart from last year’s lockdown hitting at their busiest time last year — has been not being able to travel home to visit family and their daughter who is studying at a university in Moscow.
To walk off all the food, the Clutha Gold cycling and walking trail provides plenty of options.
While the complete trail is 73km from Roxburgh to Lawrence, it is possible to do as much or as little as people want.
A nice stretch is from Roxburgh to Millers Flat, a 19.6km walk or ride along the river’s edge with a perfect spot for a rest or picnic at Pinders Pond 5km down the track.
Another interesting find is Wendy King and Graham Strong’s saffron farm. King does tours of the farm and her ever-developing garden near Ettrick.
The couple from Dunedin, started off with 20 saffron corms from Trade Me as a trial at their Abbotsford home before they found their property near Ettrick.
They now have 2ha planted in Crocus sativus corms, have done nine harvests and produce saffron by the kilo for cooking purposes, but mainly for use in an eye-health supplement they have developed.
King, a chef by training, also likes to experiment with different ways to use saffron in savoury and sweet forms, making and selling preserves from local fruits flavoured with it — all with quirky names given by Strong, who has a PhD in botany.
Growing saffron is a labour-intensive process, as it requires hand weeding over the season and a harvest by hand over a short few weeks in April and May. The corms need about 50 days at 18degC to 22degC to produce the best and once the temperature drops to 16degC they begin to flower.
"Mother nature is incredible. She’s so clever," King says.
King has a group of local women who join her each year in picking the flowers and then de-threading them in her workshop, where the threads are put on trays and dehydrated.
"The unscientific method is to do a crunch test. If it’s not crispy like a French fry just out of the oven it’s not right. If it crumbles, it’s too dry."
When King is not working on the saffron, she is in her garden. Over the years, with the help of her husband, she has developed a pond and various gardens including a almond grove and an edible maze garden full of berry plants and herbs.
103 The Store likes to use Wynyard’s saffron in its cooking, and for ETC the team has made a Persian tachin featuring crisp baked saffron rice and a friand with a saffron custard, showcasing the brilliant colour that saffron can create.
Just a few minutes down the road at Millers Flat are the Ormaglade Cabins, prefabricated container buildings, built on the doorstep of the Clutha cycle trail which runs along the front of the section.
Soon to have neighbours of similar ilk, at present there is just one two-bedroom fully self-contained unit with two lofts — one to watch TV in and another a children’s space.
It also features an outdoor bath to soak those tired muscles after a long day’s cycling, while watching the moon and stars.
Just a short walk down the road is the recently reopened Faigan’s Millers Flat Kitchen and Cafe. New owners Mark Jessop and wife Caroline, from Queenstown, have been battling staffing issues and power cuts but are hopeful at getting a full lunch and weekend dinner menu up as soon as they are fully staffed.
That has not stopped them from entering ETC with a sauteed organic mushroom and thyme on Turkish bread brunch dish and an Ocho white chocolate cheesecake with a saffron poached pear and ginger creme.
It is plenty of fuel for a bike ride down the Clutha trail to Horseshoe Bend. It is a 15-minute walk from the trail to the historic suspension bridge built in 1913 for miners’ children to get to school.
Another 1km down the track are the Lonely Graves. According to the story, in 1865 William Rigney found the body of a good-looking young man in the river. He buried it here with the headboard inscribed "Somebody’s Darling lies buried here". When William died in 1912, he was buried beside "Somebody’s Darling".
When it comes time to head for home, a visit to one of the many vegetable and fruit stalls along the highway is a must.
Rebecca Fox was hosted by Eat.Taste.Central, Central Otago District Council.
- On now through until October 25.
- Celebrates Central Otago’s produce
- Local cafes, restaurants and cellar doors produce dishes based on locally grown ingredients
- People can vote for their favourite ETC pie or burger, main, dessert, brunch or snack.