With Kate Craig-Brown
Writer and photographer Kate Craig-Brown snuck out of Queenstown for an over-nighter in beautiful, historic Cardrona. Popping by the Cardrona Distillery for a tour, staying at the iconic Cardrona Hotel and catching a horseback trek with the Cardrona, she made sure to cover all her bases in the valley.
Cardrona Valley is just 30 minutes from Queenstown on the way to Lake Wanaka. To get there you will need to drive over the iconic Crown Range road which will start your adventure off the right way with some jaw-dropping mountain scenery. Once you are up over the ridgeline you'll drop down into Cardrona Valley, firstly famous as a gold mining location in the early 1880s, and now, as the home of one of NZ's most famous ski resorts: Cardrona Alpine Resort. Fun activities aren't just relegated to the winter months here - anytime is a good time to visit! Which is why we planned an overnight getaway during summer.
Our first stop was at The Cardrona Distillery - where, for the past five years, a group of very clever people have been crafting exquisite spirits from the pure waters of the mountains.
Our tour started with our tour guide, Kenny, taking us through the distillery process, into the cask room where you can order yourself a cask of NZ's finest single malt whisky (for just $15,000) and ended back at the gift shop with a tasting of all the delicious brews. My favorite was the orange liquor- it had me dreaming of gin spritzers on a summer evening.
Cardrona Distillery is open to the public year-round with tours on the hour. When I visited they were just in the process of opening a cocktail bar with nibbles, so stay tuned for more exciting happenings.
No visit to Cardrona would be complete without a stay at the iconic Cardrona Hotel, as well as being a must-visit après-ski location in the winter months, it also has a large beer garden where you can pull up a chair or a bean bag in the summer months and enjoy the colorful gardens or stop by for a tasty seasonally-inspired meal in the restaurant.
Our room was a blend of historic charm meets modern conveniences and I loved being able to sit out on the balcony and view the mountains.
For dinner, we enjoyed delicious steak and the house-made gnocchi with a glass of red. The perfect ending to a fun-filled day.
The next morning after a breakfast of eggs we set off on our next activity of the stay. Horse trekking with The Cardrona, who also run quad bike adventures - if horses aren't your thing. As it turned out, horses were very much our thing and our guide Kelly had me saddled up and off on the lovely Angus.
Our tour was called the Gold Discovery Trail which took us over the Cardrona River and up into the mountains where we learned about the gold rush and experienced stunning views of Mount Cardrona.
On the way back down we passed cute baby lambs, lots of colorful lupins, and graceful willow trees. Kelly choose the perfect horse for me as I wasn't an experienced rider and good old Angus was just right for me, once we returned to the stables we were given a bucket of grains to fed our new friends.
We drove the 30-minute drive back home to Queenstown, thinking the whole way how lucky we were to live in a place steeped in so much rich history.
Cardrona, we will be back soon to see what other secrets you are hiding.