Time for a road trip! This month, we’re heading to one of our favourite places in the district and one of the most fascinating pieces of Central Otago’s gold mining history; The Cardrona Hotel.
New Zealand’s most photographed pub is just a 40-minute drive from Queenstown. This journey is one of our favourite road trips. Not just because the reward at the end of the journey is a cold drink, but because of the stunning scenery along the way. The drive to the Cardrona Hotel takes you through the jaw-dropping scenery of the Crown Range Road. Snaking switchbacks lead you to the top of the Crown Terrace where a breathtaking view over the Wakatipu Basin rewards you for the winding drive.
The Cardrona Hotel is a busy spot during the ski season as weary skiers and snowboarders head to the pub for an après ski reward. Nestled snugly off the main road in the Cardrona Valley the hotel is popular for skiers making their way home after a day at Treble Cone or Cardrona ski fields. But there’s no need to wait until the snow falls to make a visit to the Cardrona Hotel, the huge sunny garden is perfect during the warmer months. There is plenty of room inside by the fire or outside in the sunshine. It’s one of our favourite places any time of year.
Once you’ve visited the Cardrona Hotel for yourself, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular. Complete with vintage car parked out the front, this iconic pub has been lovingly maintained its whole life. Its distinctive colours and roofline draw in most passers-by.
Built in 1863, the Cardona Hotel is an important link to the region’s gold mining past. In the 1860s, hopeful prospectors flocked to the Cardrona Valley in the wake of major gold discoveries throughout the district. The remote, isolated area quickly became a bustling township with the arrival of gold miners from around the world. It wasn’t long before Cardrona Valley was home to four bustling hotels.
Towards the end of the 1800s, the gold mining activity slowed down, and most gold miners left the area. Those who decided to stay forged a new industry in the form of farming. The Cardrona Hotel and the All Nations Hotel were the only two hotels that survived the transition from the gold mining days to the farming days.
The history of the Cardrona Hotel is intrinsically linked to its longest-standing publican, James Patterson. Known to all as Jimmy, this hearty stalwart owned the pub from 1926 until his death in 1961 at the age of 91. He was famous (or infamous) for his rules around drinking, although none would want to cross him for fear of being denied a tipple. He would allow men who were making the journey to Queenstown via the treacherous Crown Range Road just one drink. They were allowed two drinks if they were taking the safer journey to Wanaka. He was not fond of selling alcohol to women. These days, any unexplained goings on in the pub are attributed to old Jimmy still keeping an eye on things.
A visit to the Cardrona Hotel today is a delight. It is a busy restaurant and hotel that offers an extensive menu featuring local beer and wine. The beautiful gardens are the reason the pub is a popular wedding and event venue. In 2013, the pub was purchased by new owners keen to maintain its iconic status and important link to Central Otago’s goldmining history.
Schedule in at least enough time for a drink or two when you visit the Cardrona Hotel. Every piece of space is taken up with fascinating snippets of history and memorabilia, and a good dose of Kiwi humour.
The Cardrona Hotel is located on the Crown Range Road 40 minutes from Queenstown and 20 minutes from Wanaka.