Many of us have ridden the Central Otago Rail Trail (CORT). We loved the huge open spaces, Grahame Sidney panoramas, historic towns full of welcoming hospitality and tales from the gold rush days. It’s time now for Aucklanders to get down to these Clutha River trails, because they’re easy to ride, with more wonderful tales of gold discoveries, larger than life characters and dramatic landscapes.
The Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold Trails along the Clutha River take you seamlessly from Alexandra to Lawrence. They give you the view from the other side of the mountains that you marvelled at while riding the CORT. While they are shorter rides, if done together, they provide an impressive variety of memorable landscapes and cycle touring pleasures.
The best way to get the full story is via Jonathan Kennett’s superb book ‘NZ Cycle Trails‘. My blogs hope to get you get down here in the next 12 months because these are too good to miss for long.
Our trip began this week with a 7.15 a.m. flight to Queenstown. Arriving there is always stimulating as the plane drops down between the snow- capped mountains to land in schist country. We flew our bikes with us, (thanks to our lovely Megan from Cycle Auckland for providing our sexy bike bags), and were met by a mate’s mate with a ute for our non-cycling companion to give us back-up. It’s great to have this as we have lots of trails to ride for the 2 weeks we’re down here, but I hear shuttles and packages operate from Queenstown and Alexandra fill this gap.
By noon we had arrived in Alexandra, were coffee’ed and on our way riding the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. The first thing that we noticed was the peace – the gurgle and swirl of the river was the only thing to be heard. All around was a stunning desert landscape of soaring river cliffs, with magnificent rock outcrops, late summer wildflowers and the glorious blue of the river.
The first 10 km of the trail is carved out of rock outcrops, running beside the river, with clever switch backs and a new cantilevered section of boardwalk. It’s all newly built, using blasting and diggers to create a high quality compacted limestone surface. We were in awe of the track builders and funders, as it’s the best quality surface amongst the 7 NZ Cycle Trails we have ridden. The cycle path is comfortably spacious and mostly easy grade – great for families with reasonably skilled kids. Good signposting marks off each km travelled, which is always satisfying to see.
The first stage of the track stops at Doctor’s Point jetty where access at present is blocked by adjoining leaseholders. A jet boat service runs on a set timetable, but needs a call to confirm you will be waiting there. Dave, from Beaumont Jet came early for our pickup and was a joy to deal with. A highly experienced operator who knows the river from many years of taking visitors out on it. He gave us a superb guided tour, nudging the boat in beside historic gold workings and Chinese miner’s minute schist houses. It needed a trained eye to spot them as they melded into the rocks, with just a tiny window or fireplace revealing their location. Imagine enduring years of floods, freezing winters and the heat of summer on these steep barren river banks, with only these homes as shelter.
The highlight for me was Mrs Heron’s house, where she raised 7 children and ran a shop for years in a miniscule schist home. None of the doorways is full head height – the whole building looks more like a child’s playhouse to our 21st century eyes. The courage and perseverance of her life was daunting. (We later learnt that Contact has gained consent to raise the water level of the Roxburgh – Mrs Heron’s house is an irreplaceable treasure on its original site that must be protected. )
Dave left us 12km down the river, with only 10km to the end of the trail at Roxburgh Dam. This final section of the track took us high above the river for more memorable cycling, with more wide views over the prehistoric landscape and the growing river volume as it becomes Lake Roxburgh.
By 6pm we had reached the Dam – within minutes we were welcomed to the friendly and homely hospitality of Roxburgh Lodge who were ready with a delicious meal, local beers and very comfy night’s rest. We recommend it.
Next blog – Clutha Gold Trail