Following the mighty Clutha Mata-au River through a hidden gorge, this trail reveals pioneer stories and an otherworldly landscape.
Starting from pretty Alexandra, this is an extraordinary one-day adventure often combined with the Clutha Gold and Otago Central Rail Trails that connect at each end. The trail follows the mighty Clutha Mata-au River through the Roxburgh Gorge, a strange landscape of towering bluffs, old schist huts, interesting flora, and finishing at the Lake Roxburgh Hydro Dam.
The trail starts at Alexandra’s old stone bridge, which sets a flinty tone for the first section of trail which passes through the gorge’s narrow gates, flanked by bluffs almost 350 metres high in some places. Despite rocky terrain, riding is made easy via a wide, smooth trail with a few gradual climbs.
At Doctors Point, around 10 kilometres from Alexandra, the trail meets an impasse requiring a pre-arranged 12-kilometre jet boat trip to bridge the missing link. As well as delivering a speedy ride with thrilling spins, it’s a chance to see fascinating gold rush-era relics including schist huts and water races.
From Shingle Creek jetty the trail climbs gently to follow a series of river bends that offer ever-changing views of the landscape. The river slows and widens as it reaches the Roxburgh Hydro Dam, the dramatic industrial monolith that signals the endpoint of the trail.
Around 4–6 hours should be allowed for the whole trip, including the boat ride. Those wishing to avoid the boat trip can embark on two return-trip options – Alexandra to Doctors Point (20km return) or Roxburgh Dam to Shingle Point (22km) – both easy rides taking around 2–3 hours.
This is a ride to suit riders of almost every age and ability. The boat ride in middle means this 34km trail in fact requires only 22km of pedaling on a smooth, wide surface. Most of the trail is grade 2 (easy), with a few grade 3 (intermediate) hills that should prove no trouble for averagely fit riders and a leisurely push for those who wish to walk.
The trail is well signposted, but some way off the beaten track and mostly out of cellphone range. Riders should therefore be self-sufficient, carrying a map, sufficient water and food, and a basic tool kit. Boat transport needs to be arranged in advance through operators or at the Alexandra or Roxburgh Visitor Centres, as should the shuttle pick-up at the end. There are toilets at Doctors Point and Shingle Creek.
The trail can be ridden at any time of year, with purple thyme in spring and golden willows in autumn. Central Otago’s temperatures are extreme – hot and dry in summer, icy in winter. Regardless of season, it is vital to check the forecast and take appropriate clothing.
Riders undertaking the full trail need to pre-arrange the jetboat ride between Doctors Point and Shingle Creek, as well as return shuttle transport from the Roxburgh end. Lake Roxburgh Lodge is a welcoming pick-up point with a sunny deck and cold beer.
Bike It Now, Shebikeshebikes and Trail Journeys offer bike hire, transport and luggage transfers for rides throughout the region. Not a Rail Trail offers similar services along with guided ride options. All three can tailor an itinerary combining the best of Central Otago’s trails and including transport from Christchurch and Queenstown.
There is plenty of accommodation in Alexandra, a charming town in the midst of spectacular wine country. There are many other options in Roxburgh and the surrounding countryside, as listed on the New Zealand Cycle Trail website. Other popular bases within 90 minutes’ drive include Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Clyde.