Winding along the Clutha Mata-au River between Roxburgh and Lawrence, this easy trail is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the stunning rural and riverside scenes of Central Otago’s Teviot Valley.
Along the way are revealed all sorts of fascinating stories – from the Māori moa hunting period and early gold rushes, the building of railways and hydropower stations, to the pastoral farming and fruit growing that flourishes to this day.
It makes for a highly memorable multi-day ride between a series of quiet rural settlements, nestled amidst striking mountain ranges. Homespun hospitality is all part of the pleasure, with chances to taste famous pies, delicious stone fruit, wild thyme and world-class wine. There are also day rides to suit all ages, abilities and interests, too, and it can easily be combined with the otherworldly Roxburgh Gorge Trail upstream.
- ever-changing riverside scenery
- friendly wee towns with plenty of Kiwi character
- the impressive Roxburgh Dam
- places & tales of New Zealand’s original gold rush
- delicious fresh fruit from local orchards
- swimming & picnics at Pinders Pond Reserve
- Horseshoe Bend Bridge & The Lonely Graves
- historic railway tunnel & track
- country cafes & Jimmy’s famous pie shop
- striking natural landforms from rocky gorges to bald mountain ranges
- relaxing, easy riding
- glorious seasonal colours
The easy nature of the terrain means the trail can be completed in one day, but breaking the journey allows more time to savour the scenery and discover the river’s secrets revealed in a series of excellent information panels.
Riders can start at any point along the trail and do as much or as little as they like. The four main villages along the way are Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence. Interesting accommodation, homespun hospitality and local shuttle operators (offering luggage transfers) make for easy and highly memorable overnight stops.
The Clutha Gold starts at Roxburgh Dam, the end point of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail that starts upstream in Alexandra.
The Roxburgh Gorge can readily be added on to the Clutha Gold for an additional 4–6 awesome hours of adventure. The Otago Central Rail Trail – New Zealand's original Great Ride – also links in at Alexandra.
Commissioners Flat (Roxburgh Dam)—Roxburgh town
9km, Grade 2/easy, 1 hour
The Clutha Gold Trail begins below the Roxburgh Dam, which is New Zealand’s biggest gravity fed dam, its story is retold in the first of many excellent interpretation panels dotted along the cycle path.
The trail follows the gentle bends of the blue Clutha Mata-au, with the bald peaks of the Old Man Range and Benger Ranges a dramatic backdrop.
It’s not far to the atmospheric little town of Roxburgh, famous for fruit orchards that serve up a splash of colour in every season. Roxburgh is also the home of Jimmy’s Pie Shop, another way to taste local flavours.
20km, Grade 2/easy, 2 hours
There are new scenes around every bend as the trail meanders along the river’s edge. Pinders Pond, 5km from Roxburgh, is a pleasant place to pause for a while, and offers safe swimming in the otherwise treacherous Clutha Mata-au.
There’s plenty more to see and enjoy along this stretch, from strange rock forms protruding from the riverbanks and hillsides, to elegant stands of willow and regenerating kanuka (tea tree).
Towards the end of this section, the trail cuts across pastoral farmland to reach Miller’s Flat. This wee town started life as a stop on the branch railway line to Dunedin, which closed in 1968. Today it offers visitors dining in both a cafe and pub, along with a handful of accommodation options.
25km, Grade 2/easy, 1 hour
Continuing down the valley, the trail returns to the riverside and heads through the Beaumont Gorge on a mix of quiet roads and railway line spliced together with a custom-built cycle path.
Keep your eyes peeled for the sunken gold dredge that may be seen stranded in the current.
It’s well worth taking a couple of short detours signposted off the trail around here. The first is Horseshoe Bend Bridge, an impressive pedestrian suspension bridge built in 1913. The second, nearby, are the Lonely Graves – humble testament to the kindness of strangers.
The trail emerges at the highway, across the other side of which is the Beaumont Hotel where you can stop for refreshments before carrying on or while waiting for your pick-up.
19km, Grade 2/easy, 2–3 hours
The last leg of the Clutha Gold climbs gently along the old railway line to the highest point of the trail, Big Hill Tunnel. After a 440m pedal through the dark (way more fun if you actually turn your torch off!), the trail sets off on its final sweep down to Lawrence.
Lush farmland surrounds the route, which crosses the highway several times on its way through Evans Flat with its bygone vibe of early industry – gold mining, flax milling and pioneer sheep farming.
The Clutha Gold Trail ends at Lawrence, Otago’s first gold rush town.
On its outskirts, the trail passes an historic camp where up to 120 Chinese miners lived in the 1860s, but there is plenty more evidence of the town’s heyday – would you believe its population once topped 11,500?
A pleasant stroll can be enjoyed through the streets of Lawrence, where country cafes wait to lure you in with hot pies and lamingtons. (Southern home-bakers are arguably the nation’s best, we reckon.)
If you have the time and energy, venture into Gabriel’s Gully (6km return), a peaceful reserve where stories of the first gold discoveries are retold.
Although the full Clutha Gold Trail can be ridden in one day, it is best enjoyed as a 2-3 day ride. Various short options range from two hours to all day. These are our top picks.
Roxburgh town—Millers Flat (return)
42km, easy, 4–5 hours
A great day out with plenty to see and do, this ride starts in Roxburgh town, which is well worth a wander (and where bikes can be hired). If time allows – and the weather is favourable – consider a swim in Pander’s Pond. The cafe and pub in Miller’s Flat are also rewarding places to break the journey.
Roxburgh town—Roxburgh dam (return)
20km, easy, 2 hours
Form a loop on the upper section of the Clutha Gold Trail by following the main trail on one side, and the Coal Creek Cycleway alongside State Highway 8 on the other – the scenery always looks different in the other direction! Eager riders can continue upstream beyond the dam on the Roxburgh Gorge Trail; riding all the way to Shingle Point and back would add another 22km (3 hours) making it a much bigger day out.
51km, easy, 4–6 hours
Starting at the landmark Roxburgh Dam and finishing at the Beaumont pub, this section of trail takes in many of the trail’s highlights including Roxburgh town (a base for bike hire), Pinders Pond, the Lonely Graves and Horseshoe Bend.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
This grade 1–2 ride is one of the easiest of New Zealand’s Great Rides, with a smooth, wide surface and almost entirely flat gradient. It’s particularly well suited to younger, older, and less experienced riders, with the security of small towns never far away.
TYPE OF BIKE
A mountain bike is recommended, although a hybrid bike will also suffice. E-bikes are permitted.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The trail is well signposted and frequently passes small settlements and farms dotted along country roads. Carrying the official map, however, will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assist with ride timings – heaven forbid you should reach the pub before it’s open! The map can be downloaded from the trail website, which also provides the latest trail status and updates.
TRAIL TAG & PASSPORT
The Roxburgh and Clutha Gold Trails were created with the generous support of many people, including landowners and volunteers. You can make your own contribution to the trail by purchasing the official Trail Tag ($25/50 person/family for 12 months, or $10 per person for one day). Additionally, the super-cute Trail Passport ($15) is full of stories and pinpoints places of interest where you can fill your passport with pencil-rubbings at several brass plaques. Both Passports and Tags can be purchased at local i-SITES or bike tour companies.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
Central Otago is a fantastic year-round cycling destination, with juicy Roxburgh fruit a summer highlight, alongside cute spring lambs, autumnal trees, and winter snow-dust.
The climate, however, is similar to Continental Europe, with hot dry summers and freezing winters. In summer, riders should pack a sun hat and sunscreen, but also preferably a lightweight top for fuller sun protection on high UV days. In winter, multiple layers and gloves are recommended, even if the skies look reassuringly blue.
FOOD & DRINK
There’s food and drink on or near the trail in various towns and settlements; many riders will relish the opportunity to savour ice cream, cold beer and delicious home baking.
With good planning, you can hit the best spots at the best time, but be aware that some businesses run on limited hours or even close during the low season. Make sure you have sufficient snacks and drinks to see you through your ride.
Water bottles can be filled at various settlements; be sure to carry plenty on hot summer days.
Cellphone coverage is good for almost the entire length of the trail, but can get patchy away from townships and in river narrows.
There are toilets at regular intervals in towns and settlements along the trail.
Plan Your Trip
Although Central Otago is a popular holiday destination and well set up for visitors, tours, accommodation and other services thin out away from the tourist hubs of Alexandra, Clyde and Cromwell. Services also wind down during the winter months.
It is therefore recommended that travel plans are made well in advance, particularly if you want to base yourself in or near Alexandra during the busy summer season (January–April).
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Half an hour’s drive from the start of the Clutha Gold Trail, Alexandra is the area’s largest town. A Clutha Gold ride, however, can be launched from anywhere in the Teviot Valley, including the main towns on the trail – Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence.
Queenstown airport is just over an hour’s drive from Alexandra; Dunedin is around 2.5. Stretching between Queenstown and Dunedin are a series of scenic highways through beautiful ‘Central’ and ‘The Maniototo’ – with plenty of options for getting on cycle trails along the way. Other highways, such as the Southern Scenic Route, offer further exploration of the deep south.
Nationwide Intercity buses service Alexandra and towns along the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold Trails; smaller local shuttle operators service smaller destinations and tailor trips to visitors needs; many also offer transfers to and from Queenstown.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
This trail is very well served by numerous local companies offering everything from bike hire to fully packaged guided tours. It is recommended that you make all bookings for hire, transport and tours in advance, particularly during peak season (January–April).
Several national bike tour companies offer customised tours of popular South Island cycle trails, with Christchurch and Queenstown popular departure points for international visitors.
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Roxburgh and Lawrence are the main bases for the trail, although there are many more options dotted along and around it.
Half an hour’s drive away (at the start of the adjacent Roxburgh Gorge Trail), Alexandra makes a great base for all sorts of Central Otago explorations. Other popular bases within 90 minutes’ drive include Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Clyde. Central Otago’s popularity makes it essential to book accommodation well in advance for peak season (January–April).