Cromwell's gold rush as town booms

The Central Otago town of Cromwell is nicknamed the "fruit bowl of the south" - and has the giant sculpture to prove it.

Once dismissed as a quiet hydrodam town, the golden cousin of Queenstown and Wanaka is now booming with tourists and development.

Scenic operator Heliview is busy year-round operating flights above Cromwell, offering a birds-eye view of one of Central Otago's fastest-growing districts.

Home to orchards and vineyards, Cromwell is a central hub between Queenstown, Wanaka, and Alexandra.

There's a lot of building going on here, although property prices are rising quickly.

The town's just had an upgrade, with a million dollar redevelopment of its famous giant fruit sculpture and surrounding reserve.

"It gives a nice image as you drive past, and also shows that we've got business and industry here which reflects on the booming town that we are," says Cromwell Promotions Group's Glen Christiansen.

The original Cromwell township was flooded in 1992 to create Lake Dunstan, part of the Clyde Dam hydroelectric project.

A third of the town was rebuilt on higher ground, with some of gold rush era buildings relocated to form a heritage precinct.

They're now rented by retailers and artists like goldsmith Les Riddell, who's excited about the region's growth.

"More people are moving in and settling and commuting to work from here as well, so it's a growing town," says Mr Riddell.

There's been a lot of investment in recent years, headlined by the $31 million Highlands Motorsport Park.

This world-class motor racing facility was built on former paddocks, and now hosts top international racing.

"I mean it's a great facility, and it's put us on the map. That's what Highlands has done. People know Cromwell because of Highlands," says Mr Christiansen.

This old dam town is now a destination, rather than just a drive past.