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The Central Otago Touring Route is an epic road trip, but don't forget your bike!

Central Otago Touring Route
Geoff Marks


As they say in Dunedin, “if you know, you know”, and the thing to know about biking in Dunedin is that there are some seriously good trails, not to mention seriously good coffee and craft beer – the essential ingredients to any good ride.

For a relaxing day out, the Dunedin Harbour Cycleway follows the shoreline of the harbour from Port Chalmers to the Otago Peninsula. The cycleway is sealed and so it's suitable for all types of bicycles and most abilities. It is generally flat, although the roads around the Peninsula offer some challenging climbs for those wanting a spectacular view of the Harbour and surrounds.

The cycleway route is 54km in total but can easily be ridden in sections or shortened. A loop can be completed by catching the Port-to-Port cycle ferry between Portobello, Port Chalmers and Back Beach which reduces the distance to around 30km. The ferry also offers wildlife cruises, one of the many highlights of a trip to Dunedin, in addition to the craft beer….

If more challenging mountain biking is your thing, then a short ride from the city centre you'll find Signal Hill. With a network of 34kms of trails, Signal Hill offers a mix of riding from grade from 2 (easy) to grade 6 (expert).

Dunedin Insiders Guide

New boardwalk sections on the Clutha Gold Trail, Lake Waihola

In August 2023 a brand new 63km section of trail opened to connect Waihola on the east coast to Lawrence, and then onto Central Otago. The trail includes an extensive boardwalk section through the Waihola wetlands which is a highlight for riders and walkers alike.

Clutha Gold Trail


Middlemarch, just an hour’s drive inland from central Dunedin, is the eastern starting point for the Otago Central Rail Trail. The Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original Great Ride and the easy grade 1 route traverses 152km through spectacular scenery and finishes in the historic town of Clyde. Much of the Rail Trail follows a similar route to the Touring Route allowing motorists with a bike racked on their vehicle to easily ride sections of the trail along their drive.

Whether petrol or pedal powered, this section of the Touring Route offers some great opportunities to explore the road less driven, or indeed ridden...

Naseby & Danseys Pass

From Ranfurly on SH85, it’s a short 15km drive to Naseby. Originally a major gold mining settlement, today Naseby is a chilled out retreat for kiwi holiday makers and boasts a 50km network of mountain bike trails, ranging from easy to advanced tracks. With a good selection of cafes and pubs, Naseby is well worth the detour, and the curling rink (open all year) is an absolute must-do.

Leaving Naseby, after 17km and a decent climb up a gravel road (or a scenic drive) you arrive at Danseys Pass, the site of an historic hotel built in 1862 and possibly the only remaining coach inn still operating in New Zealand. Today the Danseys Pass Hotel still offers accommodation and hearty meals for travellers.


The Blue Lake at St Bathans (

St Bathans

Regarding historic hotels and hearty meals, another great detour from the main Touring Route or Rail Trail is to St Bathans. Here you’ll find the Vulcan Hotel (rumoured to be haunted…just a rumour) and the photogenic Blue Lake. The man-made lake is a remnant from the Otago Goldrush and a fascinating 2km walk around the lake provides an insight into the lives of the miners and pioneers who worked here in the 1860s.

Omakau, Ophir and Poolburn

The neighbouring towns of Omakau and Ophir, separated by the Manuherekia River, are a key stopover for both riders on the Rail Trail and drivers on the Touring Route alike. Whilst Ophir’s claim to fame is that it once recorded New Zealand’s coldest temperature (-21°C), don’t let that put you off a visit, as the warm welcome and great food at Blacks Hotel or Pitches Store more than compensates for a frosty winter…

Omakau or nearby Lauder, is also a great base to explore the Poolburn Dam area and the Poolburn Gorge section of the Otago Central Rail Trail, one of the highlights of the trail.

Beginning in Lauder an easy cycle takes you over the longest bridge on the trail and up through the secluded Poolburn Gorge to two tunnels (take a torch to find your way through the tunnels) and then on to the Poolburn Viaduct.

Alexandra and Clyde

Alexandra is the main service town for Central Otago and was founded in the early 1860’s. Back then, the town was known as Lower Dunstan but was renamed Alexandra in 1863, when Queen Victoria’s eldest son married Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

Gold mining boomed in Alex until the early 1900s when the orchards that fed the miners became the dominant industry. Today, as well as the amazing stone fruit grown around Alex thanks to its dry climate, fertile soil and irrigation from the mining water races, viticulture and wine production has flourished and no trip to this part of Central Otago is complete without tasting some of the world-renowned pinot noir.

Wine tasting aside, Alexandra is a great hub for cyclists and has direct access to three of New Zealand’s Great Rides: The Otago Central Rail Trail, Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Lake Dunstan Trail which starts just a short ride along the Clutha River in Clyde.

For those that like more technical, gravity assisted, downhill mountain biking, then the Matangi Station Mountain Bike Park is a must do.

Like Alexandra, Clyde is steeped in rich history dating back to the gold rush, but today you’re more likely to see the streets lined with cyclists rather than miners. The town has a distinct heritage feel with its schist stone walls and is a great place to stop and relax on the touring route for brunch, lunch or dinner.

Clyde is also the starting point for NZ’s newest Great Ride, the impressive Lake Dunstan Trail, as well as the western end of the Otago Central Rail Trail.


A new trail along Felton Road - off the Lake Dunstan Trail - is ideal for wine tastings

Cromwell & Bannockburn

Stone fruit orchards & vineyards dominate the Cromwell and Bannockburn landscape. 

A trail along Felton Road is ideal for wine tasting, with a great selection of cafes & restaurants. A walk or ride through the gold mining remnants at Bannockburn Sluicings is a great way to stretch your legs after a long lunch.

Cromwell Heritage Precinct has a charming cluster of historic buildings, boutique shops & cafes plus a weekly farmers market. Cromwell itself is officially recognised as a 'Motorhome Friendly Town'. 


Queenstown is New Zealand's undisputed home of adventure and the exclamation mark at the end of the Central Otago Touring Route!

A long-time mecca for adrenaline junkies, these days Queenstown has a far more refined and cosmopolitan vibe with world-class restaurants, championship golf courses and luxury retreats.... but, of course, bungy jumping is still encouraged and considered pretty much compulsory! 

From a biking perspective, the riding options in Queenstown are as diverse as the restaurants and other outdoor adventures on offer. The Queenstown Trail is a 130km network of tracks and trails around the shores of Lake Whakatipu and along the rivers. Trail grades vary from easy - such as the Arrow River Bridges Trails - to more advanced like the Jack's Point trail. The trail through the Gibbston Valley to visit the wineries is highly recommended.

For more advanced riders, the downhill tracks at Skyline are a must do where the gondola saves you breaking a sweat and whisks you back to the top of the hill. In the cross-country department, the new Coronet Loop Track is an honest day out for even the fittest of riders but provides an epic backcountry, wilderness experience.

Destination Queenstown

From hardcore downhill charging..... relaxing rides through the vines. Queenstown has it all for cyclists.

Central Otago Touring Route - Low Impact Guide

One way to enjoy the Central Otago Touring Route in a low-impact way is to travel by electric vehicle (or of course pedal powered)!

As the crew from Roady found out, the route is well equipped with eleven Chargenet stations all in convenient locations, making it easy to recharge your vehicle along the way. Additionally, the experiences in this guide have been selected to ensure that you can feel good about the choices you're making while exploring the region.

Low Impact Guide to the Touring Route

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