Old Cromwell: A precinct full of surprises

The main street.
The main street
Someting for the vehicle lovers.
Something for the vehicle lovers

It’s a rare treat to find a quality attraction that can be enjoyed without having to open your wallet, yet that’s what’s on offer at Cromwell’s Heritage Precinct. The step-back-in-time to gold mining days can be found on the shores of beautiful Lake Dunstan, separated from the gently lapping water by a manicured lawn known as ‘the green’.

Textures from the past.
Textures from the past

The precinct is the work of a dedicated group of locals who, in 1985, decided to save some of the town’s historic charm from the forthcoming flooding that would result from the building of the Clyde Dam. Thanks to a raft of public grants, and untold hours of voluntary work, the current site is a snatch of the past, and one of the most pleasurable ways to spend an hour or two when passing through Cromwell.

The main street.
The main street

If you’re Central-bound, be sure to stay over in Cromwell on a Saturday night, so you can take in the craft market from 9am to 1pm (Labour Weekend until Easter). If you have littlies with you, there’s every chance there will be pony rides on the green, and you can enjoy watching the fun as you sit outdoors with a coffee from Armando’s Kitchen. We highly recommend the dainty friands, or if you’re looking for something more substantial, treat yourself to a bacon burrito from the extensive breakfast menu.

Cromwell Precinct is also perfect for gift shop browsing, and for treating yourself to local lavender or olive oil soaps and scents. If you’re not in the mood for shopping, there is a raft of historic buildings to enjoy, so be sure to pack your camera. From the sober grey stone-and-concrete Masonic Lodge hall to the warm stacked stone frontage of the old Seed and Grain Store, the precinct speaks of the past. Check out the little lanes where window boxes of bright geraniums hug chunky roofing iron walls, and delicate cottage garden plants and tall hollyhocks catch the Central Otago sun.

Be sure to sample Armandos friands 2
Be sure to sample Armando’s friands

Don’t be afraid to step inside any open doorways, as the precinct doubles as a museum. Wisharts Blacksmith and Motor Garage holds vehicles from the past and a blacksmith’s workshop, while a few doors down, the old telephone exchange looks ready to burst into life.

Automobile fans will fall in love with the vintage vehicles parked casually on the street, as if the owners had just popped inside the post office for a stamp, and art lovers will enjoy the galleries displaying paintings by local artists.

The warmth of stacked stone.
The warmth of stacked stone

Shops generally close around 4pm at the precinct, but if you find yourself enjoying the old town so much you want to come back, the place to head for in the evening is ‘The Office’. At the lower end of the precinct, it opens during the day for casual meals, closes in the late afternoon, and reinvents itself by evening as a classy cafe and cocktail bar. It’s housed in what was once the Old Post and Telegraphy Office.

Day or night, there’s always something to enjoy at Cromwell’s Historic Precinct.