Central Otago is home to four of New Zealand's Great Rides but the entire region is criss-crossed with cycling and mountain biking trails for adventurous and leisure cyclists alike.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is the original Great Ride and is on many peoples 'must-do' lists.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail is known as the grand canyon of New Zealand, and the Clutha Gold Trail follows the Clutha Mata-au River and showcases the regions farming, fruit growing and goldmining history.
The Lake Dunstan Trail opened in May 2021 and connects the towns of Cromwell and Clyde via a spectacular new 55km trail which travels along Lake Dunstan, the Kawarau River and the Clutha River.
It's also possible to join these four trails together with over 300km of spectacular off-road riding through incredible scenery.
Whether you want a multi-day cycle trail experience, or a weekend mountain bike getaway in Alexandra or Naseby then our towns and trails will have something to suit every riding ability, and the information below will help you make the most of your ride and stay safe.
Cycling and scenery. One way or another, we’ll take your breath away.
Common cycle trail questions
What to expect?
- Expect the unexpected! All of the Great Rides are two-way trails, so take care and anticipate riders, walkers or even farm animals coming from the other direction. Slow down, enjoy the views and be considerate to other trail users.
- Food and Water. Make sure that you take sufficient food and water with you, particularly on those trails where there are longer distances between settlements. Central Otago can be very hot and dry in summer so it’s especially important to carry sufficient water. In winter, check ahead to see if local cafes are open as some close during this quieter time of year.
- Central Otago is a land of extremes, experiencing some of NZ’s hottest weather in the summer and the coldest temperatures in winter. It is also the driest region in New Zealand which makes it ideal for cycling, but it’s important to always check the weather forecast ahead of your ride and to be prepared with the right gear and plenty of sunscreen.
- Track grades and conditions. The trails are well maintained, but can sometimes be subject to damage after major weather events e.g. windfall or flood damage. Most of our trails are graded level 2 (easy) or level 3 (intermediate). It is important to match your ability and experience with the right trail. Read more about trail grades here.
- Cell phone coverage. All of our trails pass through either remote or wilderness areas where there can be limited or no cell phone coverage. Consider taking a personal locator beacon with you in case of emergencies.
- Signage. All our Great Rides are well signposted with excellent interpretation and information along the way. It pays to have a trail map with you or downloaded to your smartphone, or talk to a friendly local for directions if you need help.
When should I plan to ride?
The trails of Central Otago are open all year round, and the most popular time for our Great Rides is from February to April. In Summer temperatures can reach 30 degrees Celsius or above and often drop below freezing in winter.
Autumn and Spring generally have a more moderate climate, but temperatures can fluctuate significantly during the day, whatever the season. The prevailing northwest wind in spring should be a consideration when planning your ride – cycling with a tailwind is always preferable!
Whenever you choose to go, always check the weather forecast and prepare for all weathers.
Whilst the trails are open during winter, there are less visitors in the region and so some accommodation and cafes close during the winter months. Make sure to call ahead, check opening hours or take lunch with you.
What to bring?
To make your ride as safe, comfortable, and fun as possible you need to pack with the right clothing, gear and tools. Check out this great guide from New Zealand Cycle Trails - What to pack (nzcycletrail.com)
Which direction should I ride or walk the trails?
The Rail Trail, Roxburgh Gorge, Clutha Gold and Lake Dunstan Trails can be travelled in either direction and access is available at various locations. You can choose to do a particular part of a trail or the whole trail. If you choose to do part, it is important to research the closest entry/exit points, vehicle parking and factors such as direction (ascending/descending) and prevailing winds. If shuttles or boat transfers are required, you need to book ahead.
The Lake Dunstan Trail is most commonly ridden from Cromwell to Clyde. The first section of trail from Smiths Way, through Cromwell to Carrick Winery and Cornish Point is mostly easy grade 2 riding. Beyond Cornish Point the trail becomes more challenging (grade 3 in places) and includes narrow sections of track, blind corners and some sections which are exposed to steep cliffs. Extreme care needs to be taken and riders need to be aware of cyclists coming from the other direction.
Cyclists should note that four hours a day on a bike seat is about as much as the average rider can comfortably tolerate. Recreational cyclists (10–12kph) should allow at least four days to complete the whole Otago Central Rail Trail (approx 35 – 40km covered per day). Walkers should allow approximately two weeks.
Do I need to be cycle fit?
A reasonable level of fitness is important and cyclists bringing their own bikes should get them serviced beforehand. E-Bikes provide more opportunity to a wider range of riders and can be easily hired from most local cycle trail specialists.
If you have not ridden a bike for a while, or you’ve never ridden an E-Bike before, then it’s a good idea to practice riding on an easy trail – such as the Otago Central Rail Trail – before embarking on a more challenging ride like the Lake Dunstan Trail.
How do I arrange transport & accommodation?
Transport to/from the trails and any places in between should be prearranged. Local cycle trail companies offer shuttle services and bag transfers. They can also co-ordinate your entire trip including accommodation, so you just need to turn up and ride.
There is a wide range of accommodation along the Otago Central Rail Trail with options from budget to boutique hotels. Booking well in advance is advisable. Food and drink is available at cafés and pubs on the trail.
View our local cycle operators.
Where do I find more information on cycle tours & packages?
Whether you're looking for an all-inclusive package, fully guided tour, a day excursion from Queenstown, or you want to hire a bike and explore Central Otago's world class cycling trails under your own steam there is are local businesses ready to help you plan your trip.
Talk to any of the operators listed on this site or talk to one of the local Central Otago i-SITEs about a particular trail, or ways to create a custom tour for you and your family or group. Packages often can combine the best sections of each cycle trail, with other Central Otago highlights like wine tasting, curling and the Highlands Motorsport Park to ensure you have the complete Central Otago cycling holiday experience.
Tour packages can be fully escorted with everything provided and pre-organised. This could include cycles, luggage transfers, guides, accommodation, refreshments, meals and transport so you can walk or cycle as much or as little as you choose. Alternatively, they can be partially supported providing some of those services and not others. The duration of tours varies, usually between one and five days. Tour sizes also vary, with some operators specialising in small groups.
It is also worth noting that most operators offer transport and shuttles to and from the start of each trail, and can pick you up from Queenstown Airport or your accommodation.
Where should I stay?
You can either stay in one place and 'hub and spoke' your trip, or make a journey and stay at accommodation along the trails.
You may choose to stay in a luxury lodge with gourmet meals and stunning vistas of snow-dusted mountain ranges, big skies and empty spaces. Or you can enjoy the comradeship that comes with sharing facilities and yarns with other travellers at a backpacker lodge or holiday park.
When it comes to booking accommodation for your trip to Central Otago, there is also plenty to suit all budgets – bed and breakfasts, farmstay, homestays, holiday homes, hotels and motels.