Central Otago’s Top 10 “Must Do” for wine tourists

Central Otago – the South Island’s most picturesque landscape (well according to a totally biased ex resident of the area). When it comes to New Zealand and wine, most people will know that Central Otago is known for its world class Pinot Noirs, as the hot dry summers and cool winters provide perfect growing conditions. The region was historically known for its gold mining days, but over time it was recognised as the ultimate getaway destination for kiwis with the ski fields and lakes a stone’s throw away. The region, which includes Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra sees tourists flocking from all over the world. The region has not only an abundance of wineries, but there are activities that provide something for everyone – and we’re yet to meet anyone that’s been disappointed.

Wanaka is located approximately 5.5 hours from Christchurch, 2.5 from Dunedin and only 50 minutes from Queenstown – it’s a must-see destination for anyone who loves wine, food and incredible scenery. It can be known as the ‘little sister’ of Queenstown, with it’s lakefront views leading to a backdrop of endless mountains and it’s hidden gems tucked away in the centre of Central Otago.


Wildwire Wanaka

Feeling brave? Considering this is the highest waterfall climb in the world, you will need to be. Located at the Twin Falls waterfalls near Treble Cone Ski Field, if you want some epic views this adrenaline junkie activity is a must. There are three levels to choose from – Go Wild (basic level of fitness required), Wild Thing (Intermediate) and finally Lord of The Rungs (Next level). This level is for those already very accustomed to all things fitness, but well worth it. It’s equivalent to the Empire State building at 450m and requires a helicopter ride back down to the bottom… I mean does it get any extreme than that?

Must Try: If you’ve got the fitness, book the Lord of the Rungs climb- the helicopter escort off is an incredible way to top off the experience. We know this experience doesn’t include wine but when you’re done you’ll be wanting a glass or two! Check out details on the Wildwire website here. 

Maude Tasting Room

Beautifully located near Wanaka township and with views of Lake Wanaka, The Maude tasting offers a unique sit down experience tasting is quite like no other. With expert hosts (and occasionally the winemakers themselves) guiding you through your tasting paddle of Maude wines, this is a secret gem that must be on your priority list. They will advise you on the best wines to try, but as an “unbiased” previous employee, ask where the Mt Maude Chardonnay is hiding… if you’re really lucky they will have some for tasting. Trust me this is mothers milk and is sold before it’s even bottled. Don’t forget to add one (or both) of their Rieslings, they have a dry and off- dry style that is produced in small quantities from their home vineyard located 10 minutes from the township. It goes perfectly with their fromage platter filled with french cheese and handmade condiments.

Must Try: Don’t forget – their Maude Pinot Noir won New Zealand Wine of the Year at the 2018  awards and for good reason…

Dinner at Bistro Gentil

Conveniently located in the same location, Bistro Gentil comes alive in the same space as the Maude Tasting Room from 6pm. This fine dining modern French bistro is owned and run by Head Chef Mario Rodrigues who has cooked his way around the world landing in Wanaka, providing a food experience worthy of the hats awarded by New Zealand’s Cuisine Magazine Food awards. If you’re someone that eats with your eyes – you will be satisfied, the best seasonal and local produce on every dish is elegantly presented, almost too pretty to eat…

Must do: Have their 5 course tasting menu with matching wines – literally food and wine heaven! Or try the Confit of duck leg, sweetcorn purée, spring onions, brandied plums, walnuts, rhubarb chutney dish with the Maude Pinot Noir. 

Horse riding – tasting at Rippon wines

Riding horseback through a vineyard alongside the lakeside, while the mountains paint you a perfect backdrop… sounds like our type of afternoon. Don’t worry if you’ve got the family with you, Rippon cater for all ages. The exclusive trail ride includes your own guide riding at your pace (beginner to pro jockey) where you’re free to stop along the way for the 100’s of photo opportunities, learn the history of Wanaka and Rippon Vineyard – which was the first vineyard to be planted in Wanaka. Once you’ve completed your ride, a tasting of the Rippon biodynamic wines will open your senses to a new world of wine. From Riesling to Sauvignon Blanc and of course the famous Central Otago Pinot Noir – find out how the Mills family have managed to continue a family legacy and give back to the remarkable land so they can continue to do it justice.

Must Do: Take an epic pic with your horse and glass of wine with Lake Wanaka framing the backdrop.

Cork bar

Want a wine, cocktail, beer and a spirit haven? Cork bar located in downtown Wanaka is the ultimate destination for locals and tourists alike. They have over 100 different types of wine, 60+ whiskeys, 50+ gins, and the list goes on. Open from 3pm, with live music frequently making an appearance, this cosy number is perfect for a pre-dinner drink.

Must Try: Sip on a Joy rider Pale ale from Rhyme and Reason brewery (made just down the road)

Wanaka Tree

If you go to Wanaka without seeing the Wanaka Tree and taking a pic ‘for the gram’, can you even say you were there? The tree (a crack willow) is famous for growing in the Lake. All you have to do is google or search the Instagram page (yes it has its own page)  and you will see how many thousands of pictures have been taken. We don’t blame people – I mean once again, the backdrop that Wanaka provides is honestly breathtaking.

Must do: Go at sunset or sunrise for the best time to get that snap, just remember there will be many others doing the same…

WanaHaka tours

If you’re wanting an authentic New Zealand cultural experience, and all of your plans organised for you – check out WanaHaka Tours. Joe has been showcasing the Central Otago region and wineries, whilst offering a rich history of our Maori heritage since 2008. Having a rich family history dating back to the 1870’s, Joe provides in-depth and ‘real’ knowledge about New Zealand and what the Maori culture means to us.  With a traditional Powhiri (welcome) performed at the Wanaka Tree, there are several tour options that encompass showing how ‘Culture is connection’ and suitable for a range of groups, times and budgets.

Must do: Wine tour with māori culture – option 3 sees you trying 22-26 wines throughout the region (luckily includes a driver)

Lunch and tasting at Mt Difficulty

One of the most popular red wines at The New Zealand Cellar is the Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, and for good reason. It’s easily identifiable and drinks smoothly with densely perfumed dark forest berries and ripe textural tannins. It’s no wonder thousands of visitors head to the Mt Difficulty cellar door and winery restaurant every year. The rugged and dramatic rock landscapes of Bannockburn provide idyllic settings for tasting through the Mt Difficulty wines.

Located only a short drive from Wanaka and Queenstown, the Bannockburn region is easy to identify – this is a grape growing haven with rows of vines as far as the eyes can see on the scenic drive through the region. Although the Central Otago Pinot Noir from Mt Difficulty is the favourite, be sure to try out their full range including the late harvest Pinot Gris – it’s amazing the surprises you will find in Central Otago, trust us!

Must try: Grab a glass of their Pinot Gris and order with the pork belly dish!

Altitude tours – Twilight wine and craft

We know planning holidays can be exhausting, you can be overwhelmed with options and limited with time – can’t we just let someone else make the decisions for you?!? Well, Altitude tours based in Queenstown, are the solution! Altitude Wine Tours are run by locals who have lived and breathed Central Otago, they have found the very best activities the region has to offer and make it stress-free and fun for you to take in the best of the region. The Altitude guides are wine lovers themselves – they make it their mission to show off the best wineries in and around Queenstown and have a few best kept secrets up their sleeve. All the tours are in luxury Mercedes vehicles and include free pick up in central Queenstown – if you want something unique or tailored to you, they can and will do it – just give them a call!

Must do: Twilight Wine & Craft Beer Tour – departs every day of the year and you can choose either a beer or wine tour (so if you’re more inclined to a beer you’re sussed) Allow 3.5 hours and don’t worry they’ll pick you up and drop you off, so no need to use that spitoon…

Rata restaurant – by Josh Emett

Surrounded by an urban forest of native trees and a backdrop of historic buildings, this Queenstown restaurant is one of the best in New Zealand. Owned by Chef Josh Emett (who was a co-worker of Gordon Ramsay at Guide Michelin-acclaimed Claridge’s, and was also a celebrity judge on MasterChef New Zealand – no biggie). Rata Queenstown ethos is about ensuring that their guests are taken on a gastronomic journey of all things New Zealand, using locally sourced, organic and sustainable ingredients.

The only problem you may face is deciding which wine to select from the amazing wine list curated by Candice Chow, it includes all of our favorites and showcases the incredible diversity the New Zealand wine industry prides itself on.        

Must Try: Slow braised merino lamb shoulder that’s served with lamb sweetbreads, manuka honey & eggplant chutney. Perfectly paired with a bottle of Te Mata Coleraine

See more more information on Wanaka and Queenstown.


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Closed, for now

Specialist Cellars has paused its virtual doors for now. We’re still open and operating at our Pop Brixton store this Summer. You can also visit us 7 days a week at The Laundry Restaurant for sublime food, wine and coffee @brixtonlaundry.

Any outstanding vouchers can be redeemed at The Laundry or Pop Brixton store. Sadly we can no longer redeem these online.

Any queries contact melanie@heist-group.com

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