November 1, 2008 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Our first destination this morning was Fortune Fruit Company, operated by Hugh Dendy. The Dendy family has been one of the Okanagan’s fruit growing families for many years. Their specialty is cherries. With the world demand for cherries outstripping supply, it made sense to extend their growing season by purchasing land in the southern hemisphere where cherries are harvested in January.
Hugh was attracted by New Zealand’s Central Otaga as far back as the 1980s, when he and wife Christine came as visitors. Kelowna was getting too built up for his taste so in 1997 the Dendy family bought land that had been sheep grazed and was completely open except for a handful of pines.
It takes six years from the time it’s planted for a cherry tree to cover its costs. The cherry trees Hugh planted in 1999 produced their first commercial crop last year. With five full-time employees, Hugh is able to do the work he loves, such as pruning, and turn over the rest of the work to his manager. In summer up to 120 people work on the place, picking and packing cherries and maintaining the trees.
Neither his wife Christine nor his two children are drawn to the quiet life Hugh loves. Most of the year he lives here alone, an active member of the Cromwell community but mostly solitary on the land he expects to be his home the rest of his life.
Saying goodbye to Hugh, we headed back down from the glacial bench on which he grows his cherries. We drove down the west side of Lake Dunstan, turned west past Cromwell and then north onto the road that flanks the lake’s east side.
Our destination was Bendigo, a gold mining area that flourished from 1869 to 1878. The photo here is of the Solway Hotel, which was part of the Bendigo Township, along with a general store, bakery, and battery (ore crusher).
A steep gravel road provides easy access to the rugged terrain where hard rock mining began once the alluvial gravels had been worked over. The ore was mostly played out by the 1880s, though determined souls continued to mine the area until 1900.
Tumbled-down buildings, spoil heaps, wagons, mine shafts, dray tracks, and tunnels still mark the site where 500 miners toiled in hope of riches.
Rain clouds were moving on by the time we headed for Bannockburn, another old mining site, and the Lazy Dog Café. Hugh had recommended it as a good spot for lunch, and he was right. Proprietors Diane and Dean are moving their successful operation to the road from Wanaka that leads past his orchard.
Their commitment to fresh ingredients showed in the pumpkin/kumara soup we tried, as well as the hot bread with sides of basil and red pepper pesto and light green olive oil. The new setting will be close enough to maintain their local following but on a much busier road. Instead of offering wines from the Akarua Winery, where they’re located now, they’ll be representing many of the small wineries in Central Otaga. (The number of vineyards in the area has exploded in recent years.) They’ll also have a large garden where Diane will be able to grow much of what they serve.
We detoured via the spectacular Kawarau Gorge and Gibston’s “vine valley” to Arrowtown, another mining town, this one the scene of considerable archeological work. Many old houses have been renovated, and the site’s proximity to Queenstown has assured its survival as a tourist destination. We had only a short time so walked through the reconstructed Chinese settlement, where lonely men, far from home, held fast to their dream of making enough money to buy a small farm back home.
Heading into Queenstown for the night, we stopped at Deco Backpackers. The place looked like an unkempt rabbit warren so we opted to bypass midnight walks down and up stairs to the washrooms and drove off in search of something like we’d seen in Wanaka. This is a busier place, and double rooms were hard to find. We stumbled onto a good one, in the non-backpackers part of the Lakeside Motel. For $75 a night we settled into a room with not only ensuite but also a full kitchen. We can make our own meals for the two nights we’re here, and our hotel is right on the beach. Hard to beat that combination.