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Riding and Sliding

Unique Things to do this Winter along the Otago Trails

Winter Ice Luge, Naseby, Central Otago
Will Nelson

Central Otago

Central Otago has the lowest rainfall in New Zealand, low humidity, lots of sunshine hours and consistent, stable weather systems. This "continental" climate makes Central an ideal winter cycling destination with crisp, sunny days and dry trails. The climate also happens to make it one of the best wine producing regions in the country.  

The Lake Dunstan Trail which starts / finishes in Cromwell (40mins drive from Queenstown) is one of New Zealand’s most popular day rides. At 55km in length and with some challenging sections, it’s only recommended for more experienced riders. But a shorter and easier section of the trail between Cromwell and Bannockburn makes for a great winter excursion with the chance to visit the wineries along Felton Road to sample the world-renowned pinot noir. Booking a table at a winery restaurant or the Bannockburn Hotel for lunch is highly recommended and Carrick Winery - which is located right on the trail itself - offers both fine dining options or pizza and coffee for those on the go!

Mount Difficulty is one of several wineries along Felton Road in Bannockburn with an onsite restaurant, plus epic views.

Icicles formed during "frost fighting" hang like chandeliers from the vines.

Winter landscape views across the vineyards of Central Otago.

A unique experience in Cromwell, and not far from the Lake Dunstan Trail, is at Highlands Motorsport Park, which offers a Winter Driving Experience. Led by a professional race car driver, this three-hour experience focuses on practical, highly relevant skills to keep drivers safe and in control on the roads during winter season. The training and safety objectives of the experience aside, it’s also great fun! 

For fit and experienced cyclists able to complete the 55km Lake Dunstan Trail (4-5hours), the ride finishes in the historic small town of Clyde where you’ll find numerous cafes and restaurants to refuel after your ride.

The Clyde Dam is a major feature on the Lake Dunstan Trail. It’s New Zealand's third-largest hydroelectric dam and generates a significant amount of the region’s electricity, particularly during winter when demand is high. Tours of the dam provide a fascinating insight into the dam’s history, construction, and operation. 

Clyde is the starting point for the Otago Central Rail Trail, and a short ride along the Rail Trail or the Alexandra River Track brings you to Alexandra where the Southern Hemisphere's biggest outdoor skating rink is open during the winter. There is also an indoor curling rink which makes for a fun and usually highly competitive activity for families and groups.

The winter driving experience at Highlands is both practical and heaps of fun.

Winter riding along the Rail Trail near Alexandra on a crisp, sunny winter morning.

On the subject of curling, further along the Rail Trail in Naseby is the Maniototo International Indoor Curling Rink. The rink is open all year round, with the summer months of February, March and April actually being the busiest. Many local cycling tour operators include a curling option in their itineraries.

For those craving a winter activity to get the adrenaline pumping, add Naseby's ice luge to your list! The 360m long natural ice track provides the opportunity to experience the thrill of the ice at your own pace, and with a level of speed & comfort which you can control. The track is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

A winter weekend in Naseby also offers excellent bike riding options with a network of great backroads connected to the Otago Central Rail Trail giving access to some cosy country pubs for lunch or dinner. The spectacular winter landscapes are also a photographer’s dream.



A winter city break in Dunedin offers a chance to explore by bike. The Otago Harbour Cycleway makes for an enjoyable day trip, and with a ferry connecting Portobello to Port Chalmers it allows you to ride ‘the loop’ which provides a fabulous scenic tour of the city and harbour. Finishing your ride at one of Dunedin’s craft breweries is a must do.

Not that you need another reason to visit Dunedin, but there are some brilliant winter events on the calendar which are not to be missed. The rugby test match between the All Blacks and England on 6th July 2024 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium is always an epic occasion. If you’re into running as well as biking, then the Dunedin Marathon on 15th September 2024 follows the peninsula side of Harbour Cycleway for much of the course.

If food and drink is more your thing, then check out the Spirit of Mixology event on 8-9 June which showcases some of NZ's greatest spirits including locally made products. Expect live music & local DJs, food trucks and cocktail bars and tastings. And don't miss the annual Midwinter Carnival which is a beautiful celebration of the winter season with large scale installations of lanterns, performance and music. This year's theme is Creatures of the Deep and is being held on 21-22 June 2024.

There's always a festival atmosphere in Dunedin on the day of an All Blacks test match.

The Dunedin Marathon (which includes half marathon and 10km options) utilises the Harbour Cycleway.


When you think winter holiday, then skiing and snowboarding in Queenstown probably springs to mind. With five ski areas to choose from between Queenstown and Wanaka there’s certainly plenty of action on the slopes, but also along the trails.

Snowfalls in Queenstown and the Otago region are generally confined to the high mountains (although it is quite exciting on the rare occasions when it does snow in town), and so the trails are generally clear for winter riding.

The iconic winter view of Queenstown looking across Lake Whakatipu to the Remarkables.

The view from Coronet Peak across the Whakatipu Basin and Arrowtown.

Located at the base of Coronet Peak ski area, Arrowtown is a perfect hub for winter trail riding with a great selection of cafes to kick start your day. Likewise there are some fantastic bars and restaurants for après -ski, or rather, après-velo at the end of the day.

The Arrow River Bridges Trail is an easy grade 2 trail that takes you from Arrowtown to the famous AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge, and from here you can continue along the Gibbston River Wine Trail where there are numerous vineyards and wineries which offer wine tasting or an idyllic place for lunch.

If you want to warm your legs up before a day’s skiing, or alternatively to spin your legs out after a day on the slopes, then the Lake Hayes Trail is a good 8km (1hour) loop. You could even spend a day biking across the Queenstown Trail network and then hit the slopes for night skiing!

Soaking up the views at Onsen Hot Pools - located between Arrowtown and Queenstown - is always the perfect ending to a day’s sliding or riding, and at any time of year.

Perfect après-ski or après-velo, Queenstown's Onsen Hot Pools.

Altitude Brewing is located right on the Frankton Track, and promises epic adventures, tall stories and great beers!

Exploring the vineyards and wineries of the Gibbston Valley in winter.

Vibrant winter nightlife, Steamer Wharf Queenstown.

A warm welcome to the Otago region on the Lindis Pass after a heavy snowfall.

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