No trip to "Central" (as it's fondly named by locals) is complete without visiting a few cellar door restaurants. Overlooking the mirrored waters of the Bannockburn Inlet, Carrick Winery and Restaurant(opens in new window) showcases the best locally sourced game meat, seafood and stunning desserts, all paired with the earthy tones of their organic pinot noir. With a roaring fire in winter and outdoor dining in summer, Cloudy Bay Shed(opens in new window) is a great place to share gourmet platters and cheese boards. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Cromwell basin to Lake Dunstan, Mt Difficulty winery(opens in new window) features fresh, sustainable fare. Try their Stewart Island smoked mussel pâté.
Fruit stalls and pick your own cherries
The Central Otago region experiences hot dry summers and harsh cold winters. The extremities of these seasons create perfect growing conditions for stone-fruit and wine grapes. A visit to Central Otago during the months of December to March is a colourful experience, with trees laden with cherries, apricots, nectarines and peaches and a chance to see harvesting in action. Not far from Kawarau Gorge, you'll find Mrs Jones Fruit Stall(opens in new window). Often named the best fruit stall in New Zealand, and open every day of the year, Mrs Jones Fruit Stall is a chance to taste many varieties of local fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and honey products. Grab a real-fruit ice cream and book a tour around Mrs Jones Orchard(opens in new window).
Back in 2008, in a stroke of Kiwi ingenuity, two men cut open a used wine barrel and lit a fire inside to smoke salmon fillets and seafood for their guests. Soon after, the outdoor kitchen and "Barrel Cuisine" of The Stoaker Room(opens in new window) was born. Try the Stoaker Banquet - a sharing platter of gourmet game, meat and seafood. There's a special ambiance within the stone walls of the restaurant at Pitches Store(opens in new window) in the historic town of Ophir. Complete with New Zealand wine pairings, the menu consists of fine-dining comfort food, be sure to try the lamb with gooseberry chutney or the braised beef cheek.
Eat.Taste.Central(opens in new window) is a springtime event running from late October to mid-November where you can take your palate somewhere it hasn't been before. Local cafés, restaurants and cellar doors collectively produce a 'Central Otago Regional Menu' celebrating our very own World of Flavour. In addition, various events around the region will add a touch of zest to your Central Otago experience.
Not far from Roxburgh, Wynyard Estate Saffron(opens in new window) grow crocus flowers which produce the crimson coloured threads we know as saffron. A free Saffron and Garden Tour can be booked in advance and dried saffron can be purchased on site or shipped internationally. From humble beginnings, Benjer Juice Co(opens in new window) have been a favourite for Kiwis - try feijoa and apple, cherry, nectarine flavours. Offering tours of their olives groves and hazelnut trees, Dunford Grove(opens in new window) produce a range of delicious olive oils, vinaigrette and hazelnut oil. Also, dont miss their wild thyme honey.