Cycling is a wonderful way to soak up the sun and scenery, and Otago has some of the best trails in the world.
Whether you’re a first-time rider, or you were virtually born on two wheels, the idea of trying Otago’s incredible cycle trails is very appealing. But with a multitude of trails that stretch from Queenstown through Central Otago all the way to Dunedin, how do you decide which ones to take? Our simple guide to some of the trails will help you work out where to go, and how to make the most of your trip. Timings are generous; remember you’re on holiday, so there are no rules: take as long as you like!
Grade 1 (easiest) and Grade 2 (very gradual inclines on occasion).
These are for beginner and relaxed riders, young kids and those who simply want an easy ride. Many trails have bike hire and transfer options, so you don’t even need your own bike.
Arrow River Bridges Trail
Grade 2 / 13.7KM (One way) / Time: 2-3 hours.
Part of the Queenstown Trail ‘Great Ride’ network, this lovely meander starts (after a good Arrowtown café breakfast, of course) in historic Arrowtown, down by Dudley’s Cottage and the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement by the Arrow River. There’s plenty of parking, but transport and transfers to and from Arrowtown are also available if required. This trail traverses five bridges, including the spectacular Southern Discoveries Suspension Bridge and the 80-metre Edgar Suspension Bridge; stop for a break and a quick dip at the Arrow River in Arrowtown, and watch the bungy jumpers leap off the famous Kawarau Suspension Bridge. This easy ride has plenty of options to enjoy regular breaks, to take photos of the stunning scenery, learn about the history and enjoy a picnic. Once back, head into or around Arrowtown, where there is no shortage of pubs, restaurants and cafés to relax after your ride.
A Wine-Lovers Paradise
For a taste of Central Otago’s premier wine-growing region, extend your route from the Kawarau Suspension Bridge to include the dramatic Gibbston Wine Trail. Enjoy a wine tasting experience at several award-winning wineries, stop at the gift shops or take a break at a brewery. Pick-up transfers for you and your bikes are available if the wineries are too good!
Clutha Gold Trail
Roxburgh to Pinders Pond
Grade 2 / 10KM (Return) / Time : 1 hour.
Take a journey of discovery along the Clutha Mata-au River from Roxburgh to Pinders Pond and back. Pinders Pond is a safe swimming spot that’s a favourite for locals, with plenty of idyllic picnic places close by. You may want to buy your picnic at one of the many cafés in Roxburgh, and a visit to Jimmy’s Pies to stock up is essential! For a slightly longer ride, learn about the Central Otago Gold Rush at Gabriel’s Gully near Lawrence, where Gabriel Read first discovered gold in May 1861.
Otago Central Rail Trail
The Otago Central Rail Trail is 152km long, but it’s easy to ride some shorter sections. The following are all great options:
Daisybank to Hyde
Grade 1 / 23KM (Return) / Time: 3 hours.
If you’re based in Middlemarch or Ranfurly, Daisybank to Hyde section is a great ride. While you’re in the area, take a drive to the historic gold mining town of Macraes, and see how gold mining was done in the late 1800s at Golden Point Battery. Sutton Salt Lake is a tranquil place to spot water birds and waders who feed on tiny salt-adapted aquatic animals.
Auripo to Lauder
Grade 1 / 21KM (Return) / Time: 2-3 Hours.
Tunnels and viaducts, with country pubs and hotels every 13-15km; no wonder this section is nicknamed the ‘Ale Trail’! Camp up at Omakau, 300m from the Rail Trail, and take advantage of the many short rides available. The Auripo Road return trip captures the largest viaduct and tunnel transformation between valleys, or take on Tiger Hill on the Chatto Creek return trip.
Dunedin Harbour Trail
Grade 1-2 / 54KM (Total) / Time: Various.
A bike ride is a great way to see Dunedin. There are plenty of ways to customise shorter routes; biking the mostly flat city is easy, and there are plenty of local businesses to help with bike hire – and necessary refreshment! Sate your appetite with fish and chips at Careys Bay Hotel in Port Chalmers; beer enthusiasts will be in heaven, with Emerson’s Brewery, Speights Brewery, Noisy Brewery and Steamer Basin all within easy riding distance. Otago Harbour is surrounded by sandflats and hills, with islands marking the midway point. Nature lovers will enjoy the ride from Portobello to the Albatross Colony; take a water taxi across the harbour from the peninsula to explore Glenfalloch Gardens and Lanarch Castle.
Grade 2 (minor inclines) and Grade 3 (slightly more technical).
Time: Half to full day.
If you’re after more of a challenge and can handle a few obstacles like a tree root on the path, there are many routes you can choose.
Roxburgh Gorge Trail
Alexandra to Roxburgh Dam
Grade 2-3 / 21KM (Plus 13KM Jet boat ride) / Time: Full Day.
Starting in Alexandra, take a wilderness trip through the ‘grand canyon of New Zealand’, alongside the mighty Clutha Mata-au River. This 2.5m wide gravel surface has a few climbs, and the route can be broken down into smaller sections. Cycle for 10km, before meeting your jet boat taxi (prior bookings are essential) that takes you the 13km between each end of the trail. Take a well-earned rest while your boatie regales you with tales of the area and its historical characters. From the end of the trail above the Roxburgh Dam, a short cycle connects you to the Clutha Gold Trail. From there it’s just 9km to Roxburgh, well known for its summer stonefruit; the Roxburgh Red Apricot was first planted here in 1866.
103 The Store Café does a wicked morning tea, and it also has a lovely gift shop for you to peruse while you’re there.
Lake Dunstan Trail
Lowburn To Bannockburn
Grade 1-2 / 20KM Approx. (One Way) / Time: Half day.
Lake Dunstan will be familiar to many motorhomers; it’s a popular spot that’s particularly favoured for its many local wineries. particularly pinots noir. Order a fortifying coffee and some artisan food from the historic Cromwell Heritage Precinct before working it all off by cycling to Bannockburn. Be sure to bring your bike panniers so you can stock up on the multiple roadside fruit stalls, orchards and honesty boxes, which are burgeoning with goodies like wild thyme honey and fresh fruit and veg.
From here, you’ll find multiple wineries amidst the stunning mountains; the new 3km Felton Road trail is awash with cellar doors. There are picnic spots aplenty en route (if you manage to avoid the temptation of lunch at Carrick or Mt Difficulty wineries, or heading to a picturesque country pub!), and a short walk or ride along the historic Bannockburn Sluicings is fascinating.
NOTE: The Lake Dunstan Trail between Bannockburn Inlet and Clyde the track is remote with some challenging Grade 3 sections. It is only suitable for regular, experienced cyclists with a good level of fitness.
Grade 3 (more technical) and Grade 4 (experienced riders).
Time: Half to full day.
These rides are for confident bikers looking for something adventurous and can manage steep climbs, narrow unfenced sections and sharp corners. Do not attempt these unless you are a very experienced rider.
Lake Dunstan Trail
Bannockburn Inlet to Clyde Heritage Project.
Grade 2-3 / 42KMS (One Way) / Time: 4-5 hours.
With 580m of climbing; exposed, narrow sections and steep cliffs, this remote trail has no alternative access; once in this section, you’re on your own, making it suitable for regular experienced cyclists with a good level of fitness. However, if you’re confident and experienced, the rewards are substantial. You’ll ride over stunning cantilevered boardwalks clipped onto cliff faces, cross a huge suspension bridge and see some truly dramatic views. Even for the experts, this is a big ride, so transfers are recommended for a one-way cycle. Weather permitting, the floating Coffee & Burger Afloat will keep you going on the route; once you’re done, celebrate with a cold beer in historic Clyde.
Jack’s Point Trail
Grade 4 / 7KM (one way) / 1-2 hours.
There are options galore for experienced riders on the Queenstown Trail, and Jack’s Point is one of the best. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous-sounding ‘7km’! Start at the Kelvin Heights Sculpture Trail and cycle through breathtaking scenery alongside the Remarkables mountain range. With steep climbs, sharp corners and technical challenges, this section is narrow but intensely beautiful. Head to Jack’s Point for a well-earned rest; the clubhouse restaurant and bar is
the perfect place to recover in style.
Find Out More
• For more information on the Queenstosn Arrow River Bridges and Jack’s Point Trail, visit queenstowntrail.org.nz
• For Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold Trails, visit cluthagold.co.nz
• For Lake Dunstan, visit lakedunstantrail.co.nz
• Learn more about Dunedin options, dunedincycleway.co.nz
• For Otago Central Rail Trail, visit otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz
• Visit centralotagonz.com for more information on bike hire, shuttles, transfers and more on the region.