New Zealand is never short of adventures and there are some new cycle trails on offer in the South Island region of Central Otago. For bike riding fans this is good news but even if you’re not into cycling, try to keep an open mind, as the new Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails are a wonderful place to find your feet on the pedals. Yes, it’s a long name for a cycle trail but it isn’t just one track, it’s actually two. Kind of like a ‘buy one, get one free’.
Opened in October 2013, both trails follow the spectacular turquoise waters of the Clutha Mata-au River. The Roxburgh Gorge trail is spread over 34kms in one day (12km of which is via jetboat!), through a stunning gorge from Alexandra to Roxburgh Dam, and connecting with the Clutha Gold trail, completed over two days, and taking you a further 74kms through farmland valleys and historic mining towns, finishing in charming Lawrence.
It’s a three-day adventure, which gives you a great feel for the Central Otago Region. My guide Duncan from cycle tour company Bike It Now!, is as Kiwi as they come. He asks me to jump on my ‘wee’ bike and use those ‘wee’ legs of mine and we’ll be on our ‘wee’ way. As kindred spirits in adventure, we don’t struggle for conversation and he is a fantastic, warm and knowledgeable companion.
Before the cycle trail was created, the rugged Roxburgh Gorge was almost inaccessible (unless you felt like a very long walk!) and as such, many of the remnants of the Gold Rush have been well preserved. Dunc and I sweat it through a few switchbacks and gasp at the beautiful views, with bluffs rising vertically on either side of the river. He points out the old schist huts built into the rock by Chinese miners and I can feel the rise of gold fever as he explains that there is still plenty of gold in the area.
The middle section of the trail is currently inaccessible, so the journey turns from a bike ride into a boat ride. Our skipper Laurence loads bikes on the back of a jetboat and we speed across the river to explore a once thriving mining settlement at Doctors Point. Back onboard, we scoot twelve kilometres downstream and rejoin the track. The distance falls beneath our pedals and before we know it we reach Roxburgh Dam where we rest our ‘wee’ and weary legs for the night at the cosy Lake Roxburgh Lodge.
A new day, a new cycle trail! Our charming lodge hosts, Kim & Phil Winterbottom have packed lunches into our saddlebags and we are off. I’m astounded by how different it is, from the remote rocky outcrops of yesterday to cultivated apple orchards, lush farmlands and charming historic towns today. The only constant is the rush of the great blue river by our sides.
What is so lovely about this ride is that it is accessible and achievable to all age groups and fitness levels. It can suit everyone from families to solo riders and there is no place more evident of that than Pinders Pond, where riders rest beside campervans and kids play joyfully in the swimming hole. Dunc and I lunch in the shade of weeping willows and chat about why he moved his family here. It’s an easy logic to understand, surrounded by such scenery and the constant lure of adventure.
Then we’re off again, cycling through a pine forest, and the remainder of the day is a mix of new trail, historic road and even old railway.
We pull up at a still and serene place and I feel like I’ve stepped into an oil painting. Two headstones stand peacefully, telling the story of ‘Someone’s Darling’ where, in 1865, a gentleman called William Rigney found the body of a young miner washed up on the riverbank. Recognising that this unknown man was ‘Someone’s Darling’, he arranged for him to be buried with dignity and then when he himself passed away years later, he too was set to rest here. As you take it all in you can feel the care in these communities, both new and old, and the well maintained graves are a touching testament to that.
As we ride the remaining kilometres through to Lawrence, the river turns from gentle meander to roaring rapids and again we join the ranks of adventurous souls who have travelled these lands before us. From the Maori to the settlers, the miners to the present day farmers, we’re all pioneers in one way or another; we’re just the lycra-clad ones!
How amazing does this New Zealand cycle trail look! Are you a fan of biking, would you like to give it a go?