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.
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.
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.
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.
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.