The rolling landscapes of Central Otago are home to a succession of tiny, gold rush towns where beautiful old buildings hint at a fascinating past. Throw in world-class vineyards, excellent country pubs and a network of easily accessible cycle trails and the region has plenty to offer the visiting cyclist. Here are five towns well worth pedalling through.
Lawrence was Otago’s first gold rush town. It might be hard to imagine now, but at the height of gold fever its population was 11,500 – double that of Dunedin – making it one of the largest communities in the country at the time. Today it’s a small but bustling little town and the start (or finish) of the two-day Clutha Gold Trail, which meanders along the banks of the Clutha River to Roxburgh.
Roxburgh sits in the beautiful Teviot Valley. Its lake was created by the Roxburgh Dam, commissioned in 1956. Early Maori hunted the now extinct, flightless moa here (you can see skeletons at the Otago Museum in Dunedin). Settlers began farming in the late 1850s and gold miners quickly followed. The Clutha Gold Trail finishes at the dam, but your riding doesn’t have to stop here because just across the river another Great Ride begins – the Clutha Gold Trail.
This one-day ride continues along the Clutha River to Alexandra, taking riders through the towering bluffs of the Roxburgh Gorge (look out for the old schist huts built by Chinese miners). The middle section isn’t currently accessible by bike but don’t worry, a 12-kilometre jet boat ride bridges the gap and includes plenty of insight into the history of the region (boat must be booked in advance).
Alexandra takes the titles of hottest, driest and coldest town in New Zealand. It’s a popular fruit and wine growing region, with numerous orchards and wineries to explore. Alexandra links with the original Great Ride: the Otago Rail Trail, which extends 150 kilometres along the former railway route between Clyde and Middlemarch (Alexandra is the second stop on the trail). Its wide gravel path has a gentle gradient, making it ideal for families and less experienced riders.
After 90 kilometres of expansive skies and vast landscapes, the little art deco town of Ranfurly might feel like the big smoke! Just up the road at Naseby is the southern hemisphere’s only indoor curling rink.
This country town marks the end (or start) of the Otago Rail Trail. Here you can hop aboard the Taieri Gorge Railway and journey in style to Dunedin.
Want to ride this region on an all-inclusive, guided tour ? We have lots of options including a 5 Day Otago and Clutha Cycle Trails tour, a 5 Day Otago Rail Trail – Queenstown to Christchurch tour, and a 5 Day Otago Rail Trail – Christchurch to Christchurch tour.
Have a good week,
Image: Clutha River Cruises