Manuherikia & the Ida Valley
The Manuherikia and Ida Valleys are proud, timeless places – geologically fascinating and edged by mountain ranges and crumpled velvet hills – they are soul country. But it hasn’t always been this way. It’s hard to believe that in prehistoric times, before the Southern Alps were even a twinkle in Mother Nature’s eye, this region was a giant sub-tropical lake with crocodiles and flamingos for locals.
As the mountains formed, streams like the Ida burn sculpted paths through the schist carving out the magnificent Poolburn Gorge linking the Manuherikia and Ida valleys. As the gold rush took off, mining towns sprung up and boomed.
Riding the Otago Central Rail Trail will take you through or close by to many of the Manuherikia and Ida Valley towns and they’re all worth a visit on the bike or via a road trip. The pioneering spirit and resilience of the early settlers lives on in these towns. The friendly close knit communities may be small but the intergenerational community spirit is huge.
The Manuherikia & Ida Valley Story
Tucked in these weathered, timeless valleys are resourceful, resilient communities, generous in spirit and strengthened by deep steadfast friendships.Learn more.
The townships of the Ida Valley and Upper Manuherekia are home to a diverse range of businesses, community groups, creatives and artisan producers.
Whether you need your tap fixed, want to join a gym, or wondering where you can buy local products. Our Community and Business directory will help connect you with the local options.
Omakau was an old farming town that found a new lease of life when the railway was built in 1905. Relaxed and rural, Omakau features historic buildings including the Old Stone Stable at the back of the Omakau Commercial Hotel which was originally the first homestead, built in 1898.
Hop off the bike or settle in after your fishing trip for a well-earned glass of wine or craft beer and a nosebag, or there’s a nice picnic spot at Thomson’s Creek Bridge.
Check out the grand St Peter’s catholic church on the hilltop to the north of the town. Enjoy a game of golf at the 9-hole golf course with beautiful views, or there’s a bowling green and tennis courts for the sporty.
If you’re visiting over the Christmas and New Year period, don’t miss the Omakau races – the event draws large crowds and is a superb family day out with on and off track entertainment, food, drink and lots of merriment.
Ophir is a small town but an overachiever in terms of living history. Ophir was previously known as Blacks, after Charles Black - a landowner who came good when gold was discovered in his back yard. Fun fact: the name of the town was changed to Ophir in 1875 after the biblical land where the Queen of Sheba gave gold to King Solomon.
Take a stroll down Swindon Street, admire the stone kerbing, the post and telegraph office, courthouse and jail, bakery, cottages, church and shops. The post office opened in 1886 and is New Zealand’s oldest continually operated post office. Send a postcard from here and it’ll get rubber stamped with a gold miner’s pick and shovel.
Admire the attractive schist structure and engineering of one of Central Otago’s few remaining suspension bridges that spans the Manuherikia River at Ophir. Built in 1880 and named after Daniel O’Connell, an Irish hero (the area was heavily populated by Irish Catholic immigrants at the time), the bridge was originally made from wood then rebuilt with prefabricated steel shipped out from the UK. The one-lane bridge has one end extending through solid rock.
Ophir holds the record for New Zealand’s coldest winter temperature at -21C. A great location for winter photos, fishing and picnicking when it’s not -21 degrees, of course!
Established in 1863 and steeped in history, the once bustling St Bathans is nestled under Mt St Bathans and surrounded by the beautiful Hawkdun and Dunstan Mountains. A gold and coal mining gem, famed for its stunning blue lake and handsome and haunted pub – The Vulcan Hotel. In case you’re wondering, the ghost’s name is Rose – she was reportedly a prostitute and she has a penchant for room 1.
Be sure to visit the dazzling blue lake. It’s a 2km walk well worth the wander. The lake was formed by the flooding of a huge pit left by the world’s deepest hydraulic mining lift of gravel. Flanked by stark white sandstone cliffs, the contrasting beauty of the water and scarred landscape tell a story of the industry that transformed the shape of things. See town’s mudbrick hall and original mural and if you dare, risk a fright with your flat white or beer at the haunted Vulcan Hotel.
If you’re interested in getting an insight into what times were like during the frantic gold rush when more than 2000 miners would have been based here, take a walk around the old church and graveyard. The gravestones tell silent stories of the really tough times that were had here during the gold mining era.
The Oteake Conservation Park provides plenty of recreational opportunities on the doorstep of St Bathans and Naseby. Whether its mountain biking, four wheel driving, hiking or hunting, the tracks and trails will take you high into the hills - and if you are adventurous enough you can travel over the tops to drop down into the Waitaki Valley.
Enjoy breath-taking views of the Raggedy Range and the Manuherikia Valley from Lauder, a railway settlement from which ballast was quarried here to build the railway. The rail trail crosses Highway 85 at Lauder and so is a handy meeting place for cyclists and support vehicles.
Lauder has a collection of historic buildings and accommodation including Big Sky cottage – made of sun dried mud-brick , the old school house which is now a B&B, Lauder Hotel - the original Railway Hotel built in 1904 which was moved to face the road and the Lauder Store.
The Lauder Hotel is a great pub and base for a trip to see the railway engineering features or Poolburn Viaduct and tunnels. Take in a few gulps of clean air before you go, as the atmosphere here is supposedly the cleanest in the world. Just out of town is the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research Centre (NIWA), where scientists study Climate change and ozone depletion.
The small village of Becks is centred around The White Horse Hotel – a pub, hotel and antique shop, The Glory Box, full of Central Otago treasures. The village is a peaceful place with stunning surrounding vistas of the Hawkdun Range and Blackstone Hill.
With a war memorial and community hall and an old blacksmith’s building, it’s a quiet country settlement that echoes back to busier days. Becks is situated half way between the Equator and the South Pole on the 45th Parallel.
This traditional little farming town alongside the Otago Central Rail Trail has served its community and visitors well since forever and has a heartbeat powered by ingenuity.
Oturehua boasts views of Mt Ida and the iconic Hawkdun Range and is home to the famous Hayes Engineering Works and cafe where you can see some of the ingenious labour-saving tools and inventions that Ernest Hayes devised to make hard yakka not quite so hard for pastoral farmers back in the 1890s.
See the beginnings of the world renowned fence-wire strainer and portable rabbit smoker and delight in seeing the workshop’s clever mechanisms still going strong. Ernest was thoughtful as he designed a special wheel for wife Hannah's cycle so she wasn't delayed when out on her sales calls with a flat tyre.
If you’re in need of some road trip goodies, or even if you’re not, don’t leave Oturehua without stepping back in time and having a good old nosey around Gilchrists, New Zealand’s oldest running store – delighting customers and unchanged since 1899.
For a glimpse of gold mining innovation, venture down Reef Road and take a gander at the Golden Progress Quartz Mine and its impressive equipment used to find gold notoriously tricky to mine.
In the winter months, when the conditions are just right (really cold and icy) Idaburn Dam - just south of Oturehua, hosts the ancient curling Bonspiel tournament which if you were to catch it would be pretty unique.
Idaburn Dam is also a great fishing spot and the paddock next door hosts the popular Brass Monkey Motorcycle Rally – an annual winter rally which sees all sorts of mopeds, scooters, trikes, trail bikes and motorcycles travelling around in the cold having a merry old time and warming up and having a good old yarn around the bonfire afterwards.
Poolburn was once a thriving gold mining town which these days has a school and a hall that service the local farming community. If you’re riding the Otago Central Rail Trail you’ll cycle through the stunning scenery of the Poolburn Gorge and through the Poolburn Tunnels which are both over 200 metres and blasted through solid schist rock – an impressive effort when you stop to think about it, and we recommend you do.
A torch is good idea if you opt to ride through the slightly longer tunnel (no. 2) as it curves. The Poolburn Viaduct is an equally impressive structure and the highest viaduct of the rail trail. The hard graft and workmanship that went into building the railway through the gorge is mind blowing.
There’s a side trip you can take off the trail to the Poolburn Dam, via Moa Creek. (A 4WD is easier than biking). The Poolburn Dam is a popular fishing spot and sits amidst a rocky tussock swept land used as a film location for the mythical city of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Sitting at the foot of ‘Tiger Hill’ is the small settlement of Chatto Creek, with its historic hotel and New Zealand’s smallest post office taking pride of place. The original part of the old stone hotel was built in 1886 as a Cobb & Co coach stopover. Oh if these walls could talk! Over its 135 years of serving refreshments they will have heard the chatter of miners, rabbiters, railwaymen, irrigation workers, farmers and, today, locals mixing with cyclists from all over the world enjoying their time on the Otago Central Rail Trail.
The views from Tiger Hill towards the soft folds of the Magdalen hills are a favourite. The way the light plays on the landscape here creates a vista that is captured by many photographers, whatever the season.