Welcome to Central Otago
Just an hour's drive from Queenstown or the back yard of Dunedin takes you to the stunning, stark and rugged goldminers' country of Central Otago. One of the most perfect ways to experience this iconic New Zealand backcountry is by biking the Otago Central Rail Trail. The old railway has been converted to an almost completely flat, wide and easy-to-ride bike trail that is enjoyed by thousands each year and makes a great, alternative family outing. The whole trail is approximately 150km and can be done comfortably in 3 days. There's lots of companies that provide support and transport, bike hire and accommodation options, to make your planning easy. The rail trail runs between Clyde and Middlemarch. Other activities close to the Southern Lakes area of Central Otago, are focused around Cromwell, Clyde and Alexandra, and on the Clutha River.
A 45 minute drive from Queenstown or Wanaka and one of New Zealand's most inland towns, is Cromwell – gateway to Central Otago. On the shore of Lake Dunstan and the bank of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, Cromwell is one of Otago's top wine and fruit-growing regions with a funky 'old' town to explore and the region's exciting family attraction, Highlands. Most of historic Cromwell is now underwater – as the Clyde Hydro Dam was constructed the waters of the Clutha River and what is now Lake Dunstan, rose behind it, eventually submerging 280 homes, 6 farms, 17 orchards and 2 bridges.
In 1985 a selection of historic buildings due to be submerged were rescued and relocated to where they stand now, on the banks of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, and so begain Old Cromwell Town.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail
Tour through exceptional landscape to rival anywhere in New Zealand - the mightly Clutha River's mesmerising green water, the rocky cliffs, covered in thyme with its unmistakeable sweet smell and a trail that while undulating in parts requires no particular riding experience. Look out for the old goldmining ruins and cottage at Doctors Point, and other relics from the goldrush dotted along the Clutha.
Notes: We'd recommend the Roxburgh Gorge Trail for those with older children. Be aware that although the trail is wide, there are steep drop-offs in several sections.
The trail splits into three sections; there is a 10km section from Alexandra to Doctors Point, then 10km of no access except via boat transfer, then a final 12km section from your boat drop-off point at Shingle Creek to Roxburgh Dam.
At the moment boat transfer is $95 per head, and takes around half an hour. This can be pre-booked here.
Whilst the boat transfer is all part of the fun, if you don't wish to splash out on this section, you can grab the kids and ride either end of the trail as a half day (or less) ride, departing from either Alexandra or Lake Roxburgh (Roxburgh Dam).
The Clutha Gold Trail
This 73km mostly flat and exceptionally well-graded trail takes you from Roxburgh Dam to Lawrence, and up until Beaumont you're following the shores of the Clutha River. This is easy enough to complete in a day if you're reasonably fit, but as a family outing, we'd recommend either picking a section for a short ride, or staying in some of the friendly accommodation available along the way. The main locations for accommodation are Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence. If you travel overnight, there are shuttle services available to return you and bikes back to your starting point.
Well worth the short detour (just over 1km) is a visit to the Lonely Graves, where Somebody's Darling is buried. I could say more, but read the story when you get there!