This lakeside day ride serves up spectacular Central Otago scenery, rich heritage, and delicious food and wine.
Joining the family of Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window) in 2021, this superbly built trail has become a must-do visitors looking for a taste of Central Otago’s landscapes and flavours. A winding journey around the edge of Lake Dunstan, Kawarau River and Clutha River Mata-au, it takes in Bannockburn wineries and a series of natural and manmade wonders on its way between the heritage towns of Cromwell and Clyde. All riders need to have the skills and fitness necessary to complete the grade 3 (intermediate) sections of this trail safely.
While the full 55km ride starts at Smiths Way north of Cromwell, most people cycle from Cromwell to Clyde 41km away, with the assistance of shuttle transport.
Cromwell’s heritage precinct makes an atmospheric start point for this Great Ride, which skirts a large, serpentine waterway formed by two connected rivers pooling into a lake formed by the striking Clyde hydro-dam the other end of the trail.
From Cromwell, the trail heads through the pretty Bannockburn vineyards where several cellar doors offer wine-tasting and dining. Rounding Cornish Point, the trail heads into the rocky Cromwell Gorge and along the first of several cleverly engineered, cantilevered boardwalks skirting the bluffs. The Coffee Afloat and Burger Afloat boat is a welcome surprise at remote Cairnmuir Gully (check opening times).
The second half is more challenging, with decent climbs rewarding you with spectacular views. Other highlights include stacked rock walls and an impressive suspension bridge, plus close-up views of the Clyde dam before the final roll into Clyde where handsome heritage buildings house some lovely cafes and accommodation.
Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails Official Website
A detailed description of this Great Ride, including maps and more information, can be found here.
The trail ranges from grade 2 (easy) to 3 (intermediate), mostly following wide, smooth gravel and earth paths with some sections of wooden boardwalk. It does, however, have some challenging and narrow grade 3 sections only suitable for confident, experienced cyclists and competent children over 12 years old. Check out this great safety video, and additional safety information, to see if this trail is right for you.
The full ride takes around 4-6 hours. Allow extra time for food or wine stops, and for soaking up the scenery.
The trail is well signposted, but remote in parts, so riders should carry a map, sufficient water and food, a basic tool kit, and a cellphone (although reception may be patchy). Toilets are located at convenient intervals. There is nowhere to fill water bottles once in the gorge, so each rider should carry at least two litres.
This trail can be ridden at any time of year, each season blessed with striking colours. Central Otago’s temperatures are extreme, however, so you’ll need a sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen in summer, and warm clothing in the cooler months.
The trail can be ridden in either direction, although it is most commonly completed from Cromwell to Clyde, with the assistance of shuttles.