Jackson’s Inlet, Lake Dunstan

Jackson’s Inlet, Lake Dunstan

At about the time in my podcast that Ms Patterson (The Mushroom Cook) was discovering that the Australian police were a little suspicious about her actions and that she would be facing charges of both murder and attempted murder, I was coming into view of Lake Dunstan. This was at Bruce Jackson Point, above where the old Cromwell township used to be, before the lake was formed. As I continued along State Highway 8, I now had the lake for company out of the right hand window, and a truly lovely scene it was. I rounded a bend and was greeted by a serene view of the lake. It was placid and tranquil as the mid-morning sun took over the surrounding hills that once formed the Cromwell Gorge. Not being able to resist, I called in to a picnic area at Jackson’s Inlet for a closer look. 

When I arrived an elderly couple were just packing up a picnic that they had been having under a row of Poplar trees. The trees were covered in golden leaves, glowing in the mid-morning air and not a breath of wind was out on the lake. It looked rather pleasant and somewhat idyllic. Standing on the shoreline, looking out to my picturesque and blissful surroundings, I found myself for the second time that morning tempted to start negotiating a time of departure. Alas, aware that I had a prior appointment to get to in Dunedin, I went back to my car and rejoined the line of traffic that was snaking its way past Lake Dunstan to Clyde and further on Alexandra. 

The Kawarau Gorge

The Kawarau Gorge

Leaving the serenity of Lake Hayes, I double back to Arrowtown for one last look at the autumn colours, before starting the three hour drive to Dunedin. Before long, I had left the surrounds of Arrowtown behind, passed through Arrow Junction and the popular Gibbston Valley before getting stuck in a long line of traffic at the Nevis Bluff. The bluff is a prominent rock outcrop close to where the Nevis River meets the Kawarau River and the Kawarau Gorge begins. As I approached the bluff, up ahead a long line of traffic seemed to be building. Facing the prospect of a slow drive through the upcoming gorge, I pulled over, scrolled through a few podcasts, loaded one and set off again. 

The podcast I had finally settled on came under the category of “True Crime”.  It was about an ordinary Australian family, having an ordinary Sunday lunch that went terribly wrong. It centres around Erin Patterson, Australian lady from the town of Leongatha, Victoria who invited her former inlaws around for an afternoon meal. The tragedy occurred when guests at the lunch ate a Beef Wellington. Unfortunately, the dish was tainted with “death cap” mushrooms which left three people dead and a fourth in critical condition in hospital. Now, a year later Erin Patterson is facing criminal charges and an Australian journalist is following the court proceedings and releasing a weekly podcast called “The Mushroom Cook”. 

So, with several hours of driving ahead of me and a juicy crime filled podcast to keep me company, I settled into a long line of traffic on the winding road that heads through the Kawararu Gorge and arrives at Cromwell.


Lake Dunstan near Cromwell – Buy 

I drove to Cromwell along the shores of Lake Dunstan. It really was a picture to behold. The lake was still and clear with the surrounding, snow covered hills reflecting in the cool, lake water. All along the shore, people were packing up campsites at the end of the long weekend. As I continued on towards Cromwell I passed roadside stalls that were advertising pine cones, honey, and horse poo, while orchards offered seasonal fruit, vegetables and nuts. The closer I got to Cromwell, the busier the traffic became till at last I found myself in a queue for petrol. If there was ever a sign that the long weekend was coming to an end, this was surely it.

Cromwell Lavender

Lavender In Cromwell – Buy 

The day had turned into another Central Otago scorcha with the day still calm and clear while the temperature gauge climbed above the 30 degree mark for the third day in a row. I had left the township of Tekapo, passed through places called Twizel, Omarama and the Lindis Pass before arriving in the lovely town of Cromwell.

Cromwell Old Town

Cromwell Old TownBuy or view the Ōtepoti | Dunedin gallery

Everywhere in Cromwell was busy. It was early January and the town was full of holiday makers making the most of the long, hot summer weather that lasted from early morning till deep into the evening. Having spent a number of summers in my childhood in Central Otago, one of my lasting memories is of big, blue endless skies that seemed to stretch on forever. This was one of those days. 

Cromwell has the unique distinction of having two towns with three different names. The original town was known as ‘The Junction’, then ‘The Point’ and ‘Kawarau’ before settling on the name of Cromwell. Built high above the meeting point of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers, one of the features as you entered the town across an historic bridge was the colours of the waters of the two rivers as they converged into one. However, in the 1980’s the Clyde Dam was built and the filling of Lake Dunstan in the early 1990s began. This resulted in the rivers being drowned, as was the old town centre. Thia meant a new town centre had to be constructed, some 2 kilometres away. Thus, giving Cromwell the distinction of having a new town and an old town. It was the old town that I was here to see. 

The old town of Cromwell is a delightful place. It really is a shame that the rest of the historic village is no longer visible. Neither is the old Chinese settlement. Both were completely drowned when the lake was formed. I can’t help but think what a pity it is that so much heritage was lost. 

Parking these thoughts to one side, what remains is a charming place that is filled with a good range of buildings that give a glimpse of the gold rush days. The Post & Telegraph Office remains, along with buildings such as the Blacksmith, the Globe Hotel, the Seed & Grain Store, the Butchery and Stumbles General Store. All of which have been turned into galleries, cafes and boutique shops surrounded by some lovely spots for a picnic. 

Having strolled around the old town for a bit, I purchased a coffee and sat by the lake. I watched families cycle alongside the water with varying degrees of skill and success. So, with that I left the lovely old town of Cromwell with my next stop being Clyde.

What to find out more about Cromwell including places to stay, places to play, places to explore and lots more information? Visit the Cromwell: https://www.cromwell.org.nz/