Known for its stunning scenery, gold-rush history, and swift turquoise waters, the Clutha is the South Island’s longest river, flowing 338 kilometres through Central and South Otago from Lake Wanaka to the Pacific Ocean.
The Maori name for the Clutha was Mata-au, meaning “surface current” – no doubt in reference to the river’s swirling eddies – while the early settlers of the region called it the Molyneux.
In 1861, gold was discovered in Central Otago and the promise of a glittering future brought prospectors flocking. By 1900, there were 187 gold dredges located on the river – some of those miner’s huts and rock shelters can still be seen today.
In recent years the Clutha has provided a glittering future of a different kind: electricity. Roxburgh was the first big power scheme in the South Island after the Second World War and building the hydroelectric reservoir flooded the Roxburgh Gorge. In the early 1990s, the decision to build the Clyde Dam at the lower end of the Cromwell Gorge was highly controversial, since it flooded large areas of fertile land and orchards.
Today, a great way to experience the history and landscape of the Clutha is to ride the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. This one-day adventure runs between Alexandra and Lake Roxburgh Dam – it’s a 34km ride that’s graded easy to intermediate.
Because the trail isn’t fully completed, a 12km section in the middle adds an extra element of excitement: a 40 minute jet boat ride. Run by Roxburgh Gorge Trail Jet Boat, this journey provides a different perspective of the Gorge (and plenty of thrilling spins as well!). The tour includes secure transport of your bike, a safety briefing and stories of days gone by.
A fantastic 4–6 hour outing, you can combine this trail with the nearby Clutha Gold and Otago Central Rail Trail, to really get a feel for this fascinating region.
P.S. The Roxburgh Gorge Trail is perfect for self-guided touring. We can help you organise bike hire, accessories such as panniers, and pick-up and drop-off options. Drop us an email if you’d like to talk logistics!
Image: Clutha River Cruises