Central Otago

Cycling gold

Central Otago

Cycling gold

Located in the shadow of the Southern Alps, the Central Otago region is distinctly different from the surrounding regions. Dominated by ranges and basins that stretch east towards the coast, this dry and at times desert-like landscape seems barren and uninviting. But just like the gold that enticed pioneers to this region in the early 1860s, there are some real gems here for the adventurous.

Central Otago region marker

Besides the gold mining history and being an important fruit growing and winemaking region, Central Otago’s other claim to fame is that it is home to the Otago Central Rail Trail, New Zealand’s original Great Ride. Just like there are officially designated Great Walks throughout the country, there are Great Rides that showcase some of the best cycling that New Zealand has to offer. Three of these rides are in Central Otago.

The historic gold mining town of Alexandra is the region’s business centre with the nearby towns of Cromwell and Roxburgh known for fruit growing while Bannockburn is known for its vineyards. Here are approximate travel times and distances to and from Alexandra.

Drive times

  • Christchurch Alexandra (via Tekapo): 450 km / 280 miles – 5 hours 40 minutes
  • Wanaka to Alexandra: 84 km / 52 miles – 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Queenstown to Alexandra: 90 km / 56 miles – 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Dunedin to Alexandra: 190 km / 118 miles – 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Alexandra to Clyde (Otago Central Rail Trail): 11 km / 7 miles – 10 minutes
  • Alexandra to Cromwell: 30 km / 19 miles – 25 minutes
  • Alexandra to Moeraki Boulders: 190 km / 118 miles – 2 hours 20 minutes

Travel times can vary significantly, particularly in popular areas during peak visitor months (December – February). For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner before travelling. It’s always a good idea to allow extra time for photo stops and, when travelling longer distances, rest stops.

Queenstown is the nearest airport, approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Alexandra.

  • Auckland (AKL) to Queenstown (ZQN): 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Wellington (WLG) to Queenstown (ZQN): 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Christchurch (CHC) to Queenstown (ZQN): 55 minutes

A number of international airlines including Qantas and Virgin Australia fly into Queenstown from Australia. Check the Queenstown Airport website for details.

Just as the landscape is distinctive in Central Otago, so is the weather, with the region having some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in the country, as well as the lowest rainfall. Dry is most probably the best way to sum up the weather – it’s cold and dry in winter (Jun – Aug) and hot and dry in summer (Dec – Feb).

The average high in summer (December – February) is 23 °C / 73.4 °F and the average low is 9 °C / 48.2 °F. However, temperatures in the high 30s are not uncommon although the heat is more bearable due to the low humidity. That’s good for you cyclists. The average high in winter (June – August) is just 9 °C / 48.2 °F and the average low is a chilly 1 °C / 33.8 °F. Clear, crisp sunny days in winter are beautiful but temperatures quickly plummet as the sun goes down.

Check current conditions and get the latest Central Otago weather forecasts on MetService.com.

While there’s not much you can do about the weather once you’re here, it’s worth knowing what to expect at different times of the year and in different parts of the country. These two articles are well worth reading:

Top things to do in Central Otago

Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Central Otago region.

Ride the Otago Central Rail Trail

Open all year round, this hugely popular 152 km / 94 mile trail follows the former route of the Otago Central Railway. It’s all offroad but the track is wide and most of it is well compacted. With easy gradients, this trail is suitable for all fitness levels and is typically ridden in 3 to 4 days at a relaxed pace. Along the trail you can enjoy incredible scenery and take in the history as well the odd glass of wine. Accommodation along the route includes country hotels, lodges and bed & breakfasts (B&Bs). You can find out more on the official Otago Central Rail Trail website.

Otago Central Rail Trail

Ride the Roxburgh Gorge Trail

If you don’t have time to cycle the full Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail is a good alternative. This easy 22 km / 14 mile ride is a one day adventure that starts from Alexandra and follows the Clutha River, ending at Lake Roxburgh Dam. Along the way you’ll pass historic mining settlements and relics as well as Roxburgh Gorge with it’s 350 metre high bluffs. Note that this trail includes a section that must be travelled by boat and the boat must be booked in advance. More details can be found on the official trail website.

Roxburgh Trail

Ride the Clutha Gold Trail

Paying the fee for the Roxburgh Gorge Trail also covers the Clutha Gold Trail. Conveniently, this starts at the end of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail so if you have the time it makes sense to do both. You do however need 2 days to complete this 73 km / 45 mile route that follows the Clutha River to the town of Lawrence. More details can be found on the official trail website.

Clutha Gold Trail