Bannockburn – Central Otago without the crowds

Planning a road trip into sunny Central Otago this summer? If you are, you’re heading away at just the right time. While the school holiday period sees the popular lakes district crammed with Kiwis and tourists, from late January it’s only overseas visitors who are out and about sightseeing – and very few of them have ever discover pretty Bannockburn just 10 minutes drive from Cromwell.

Once a sleepy relic of the gold mining era with a main street you could amble along without seeing a car, it’s now a holiday destination for Kiwis who like the quieter side of this popular part of the country. While you won’t have to queue for a coffee or wait to cross the street, there are still a whole host of fascinating things to do and see – and all at your own pace.


Accessed from Felton road just 2 minutes drive from the town, Bannockburn sluicings are a Martian-scape labyrinth of winding trails leading through the remains of old gold diggings. Interpretation panels along the way bring the eerie landscape to life. If you choose to walk the whole loop be sure to take water – Bannockburn’s middle name is “Heart of the Desert”! If a short walk into historic gold country is what you’re after, ask at the local Bannockburn Black Rabbit Kitchen and Bar for directions to the little 10 minute trail which leaves from near the shop, cuts through a paddock, and meanders through old diggings to ‘the inlet’ (there’s a swimming and picnic spot once you get there, and you can return via the road).


One of the best things about Bannockburn is that its commercial premises often occupy its historic buildings. While you browse the gifts and home wares at the General Store on the main street, be sure to look around you at the interior of this beautifully restored old stone building. Bannockburn and its immediate environs are also dotted with well know wineries. If you don’t want to take your car (not that anyone’s suggesting you ride a bicycle when tipsy) cycling between these establishments as you wine taste can be a fun day out. Bring your bike with you or throw the bike rack in the boot and pick up cycles from Splash hire centre located close to Cromwell.


The Black Rabbit Kitchen and Bar in Bnnockburn’s main street is the place to grab a coffee or settle down to a meal. Outside seating on a sunny day makes for a blissful dining experience, and the boutique menu means you’re not overwhelmed with choices. If you want to experience the goings on of an historic pub, Bannockburn Hotel is the place to be. The beer garden’s for summer and the indoor open fire is a retreat from winter’s chill. The establishment’s claim to fame is that it owned the first liquor license in Central Otago. Nowadays it’s serving up tapas and fine wines yet it hasn’t lost its olde-world charm.


If you’re tenting or campervanning, Bannockburn is by far a cheaper option than anything you’ll find closer to Queenstown. Cairnmuir Camping nestles into the surrounding vineyards a couple of kilometres out of town and although the seasonal fruit pickers using it as a base give the camp a ‘lived-in’ feel , they also provide a true impression of what life is like at the coalface of the Central Otago fruit industry. For a more subtle camping experience, head for Bannockburn Domain Camping (03) 4450001. It’s tucked into beside the pub which means you can amble home after a drink without having to drive. Charming cottages right in the village can be found online.