Route To Adventure

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If you’re looking to explore a lesser-known-but-incredibly-interesting part of New Zealand, the Central Otago Touring Route might be just the ticket, says Alexia Santamaria.

Launched in late 2020, the Central Otago Touring Route is a superb experience, with plenty of side adventures to stunning and quirky places; a true reminder that it’s really ‘all about the journey’. Whether you’re heading from Dunedin to Queenstown or the other way (from the Alps to the Pacific Ocean), it’s almost impossible to miss the giant brown signs guiding you along an unforgettable adventure of history, stunning nature and plenty of hidden gems.

The 341km route winds through the heart of Central Otago taking in Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Oturehua and Clyde, as well as larger towns of Alexandra, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Queenstown. Travelling these lesser-known backroads will lead you through places that evoke a nostalgic feeling of exploring a bygone era while experiencing your favourite modern comforts. For those who are looking to lower their environmental impact while travelling, lacing up for a hike or hopping on a bike is an incredibly rewarding way to immerse yourself in the stunning natural landscapes along the way. The touring route is super flexible too, depending on the time frame you have. You can achieve it in a brief three to five days, or of course you can linger longer if time allows. There’s plenty to fill seven to 10 days easily in a motorhome – make sure you allow enough time to spend in both Dunedin and Queenstown too.

Here are some tips, sorted by interest:

For the cyclists

With the popularity of the Lake Dunstan and Otago Rail Trails, this part of the country is getting a great reputation as the ideal place to get around on two wheels. There are plenty of short trails you can explore if you have the bikes strapped on the back of the campervan – but even if you don’t, the whole region is very well equipped for cycle hire. The Arrowtown to Gibbston Bike Trail is a great one-day option at 23km return (and of course with the added bonus of heading directly into wine country), and there are the Daisybank and Auripo sections of the Otago Central Rail Trail – from Hyde to Daisybank you can experience the spectacular Upper Taieri Gorge, tunnels, bridges and wild west scenery. At the Dunedin end of the route there’s ‘The Loop’ around the Otago Harbour, which includes a ferry crossing – do it straight in two hours or stop along the way and take the whole day. You’ll pass lots of Dunedin’s tourist attractions along the way.

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Arrowtown Police Hut

For the history buffs

This is the heart of gold rush country and while people might know about opportunities to explore this part of our history in Arrowtown, that’s far from the only place it makes its presence felt. Many of the beautifully preserved buildings of Clyde date back to this period in time and there are plenty of scars on the landscape from the frenzy to find gold that have created tourist attractions in their own right. The Bannockburn Sluicings will make you feel like you’re on the set of a wild west movie, and if time allows don’t miss a trip to St Bathans. The Blue Lake was created by mining activity, and your jaw will be on the ground when you see the stunning sight it is today (don’t miss a drink in the haunted pub too).

Some people are familiar with the Tohu Whenua programme (currently operating in Te Tai Tokerau Northland, Otago and Te Tai Poutini West Coast) that connects New Zealanders to our unique heritage by promoting significant historical and cultural sites. These are the sites that have shaped Aotearoa as it is today and on the Central Otago Touring Route you will come across plenty of them – the Bannockburn Sluicings, TSS Earnslaw, Arrowtown, Kawarau Suspension Bridge, the Otago Central Rail Trail, Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead (a must-see), Dunedin Railway Station, Olveston, and Larnach Castle.

The historic Larnach Castle

For the wine lovers (actually beer and spirits too)


Wine lovers are pretty well catered for in this region and with 50 cellar doors you’ll never be far from a good glass of pinot – and other varietals of course. In addition to the well-known wineries of Gibbston and Central Otago there are some great beer options too: Canyon Brewing in Queenstown, Cargo at Gantley’s or Waitiri Creek, The Victoria Store Brewery at Oliver’s in Clyde and Ferris Road in Alexandra. Dunedin of course has Emerson’s, Speight’s, Arc Brewing, Noisy and Steamer Basin. And if you like hunting out local spirits don’t miss No. 8 Distillery, Sandymount and Dunedin Craft Distillers and Broken Heart Gin Garden in Arthurs Point. Always make sure you plan for safe driving if you want to visit these places; even tastings can put you over the limit.

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Enjoy the wines at Bannockburn

For scenery seekers

The scenery transitions on the Central Otago Touring Route will blow your mind and you’ll soon see why Jane Campion chose to film Power of the Dog there, especially in the sparsely populated, grassy plains and rocky mountains around the Maniatoto. One moment you’re motoring past green paddocks dotted with sheep, the next you could swear you’re in Montana with that big-sky-barrenlandscape-drama. It’s guaranteed the sight of the peaks between Ōtūrehua and Naseby will take your breath away as you journey down the vast winding highway framed in varying golden huees and the Kawarau gorge and Lake Dunstan are the mountain-meets-lake (or river) scenes of your dreams. You’ll struggle not to wants to stop the motorhome every five seconds to take yet another photo. In Middlemarch you’ll find a landscape that could be straight out of a sci-fi film with otherworldly rock sentinels dotting the landscape – you almost feel like an alien could pop over the top of any of them. In short, you won’t have a lack things to look at out the window.

 

Drink in the scenery at St Bathans

Delightful detours

While there is plenty to see on the touring route itself there are also great detours you should take if time allows. We’ve mentioned beautiful St Bathans above, but Naseby is also worth seeing: have a go at curling at its international-grade arena, eat at the Royal Naseby Hotel or hike many of the beautiful trails. A stop in Bannockburn is definitely worth it for its magical landscapes and incredible vineyards too. So before the last rays of summer fade (to be fair it’s pretty gorgeous with the autumn colours too), check out the Central Otago Touring Route. With the perfect mix of history, nature, cycling trails, great food and wine, you won’t regret it.

Find out more

• Check out centralotagotouringroute.co.nz for more information on the journey and:  queenstownnz.co.nz, centralotagonz.com, dunedinnz.com/visit for what to do along the way

• Plus tohuwhenua.nz/stories/central-otago-touring-route for Tohu Whenua sites of interest on the COTR

Content created in partnership with Tourism Central Otago

 

Grab a beer at Emersons Brewery in Dunedin

 

 

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