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Trail Tipples

Exploring Otago Wine Country on New Zealand’s Best Cycle Trails

Terra Sancta and the Vineyards of Felton Road
Will Nelson

Central Otago is one of the world's most iconic wine growing regions. Photo: Terra Sancta Vineyard and the Kawarau River (credit Will Nelson).

Gibbston River Wine Trail, Queenstown

Part of the Queenstown Trail network, this easy 8.7km long trail begins at the Kawarau “Bungy” Bridge and follows the Kawarau River through Gibbston - the 'Valley of Vines' – with immersive wine tasting experiences throughout the valley.

Lots of people choose to start their ride in Arrowtown on the Arrow River Bridges Trail (13.7km one way) and then connect to the Gibbston River Wine Trail at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, which also happens to be a good stop for a coffee and to watch people bungy jump from the bridge. Together, the Arrow River Bridges and Gibbston River Trails make for an easy 22km one-way ride which will take about half a day - depending on how many wineries you visit, of course!

The Gibbston River Wine Trail starts at Queenstown's iconic Kawarau "Bungy" Bridge.

Kinross Winery on the Gibbston River Wine Trail.

A short ride from the Bungy Bridge, Gibbston Valley Winery is home to the country’s largest wine cave and has an onsite cheesery, deli and a restaurant. The Gibbston Tavern is a must-do along the trail and has a new tasting room experience which includes local wine, gins, liqueurs, and ports. Further along the trail, Kinross offers one cellar door but the chance to try wine from five different wineries, plus a bistro for lunch and cosy vineyard cottage accommodation. Towards the end of the trail, Mt Rosa is a great option to sample five varietals over a lunch platter.

For a full list of wineries and cellar doors, check out the Destination Queenstown website – there are lots to choose from!

Mt Rosa winery is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery.

The Gibbston River Wine Trail will soon connect to Central Otago via the new Kawarau Gorge Trail which is due for completion in 2025.

The Lake Dunstan Trail

Ridden in its entirety, the spectacular Lake Dunstan Trail between Cromwell and Clyde is a challenging 55km day trip. However, a shorter loop ride between Cromwell and Bannockburn makes for a relaxing half day experience and is an easy way to sample some exceptional wines and enjoy a winery lunch.

You can organise to pick up rental bikes from Cromwell and begin with a leisurely coffee at one of the cafes, before riding around the lakefront to Cromwell Heritage Precinct (also a neat spot for a coffee). From the Heritage Precinct it’s an easy ride along the Lake Dunstan Trail (approx. 8km) following the Kawarau River to Bannockburn.

Exploring the historic Cromwell Heritage Precinct is also an opportunity for coffee, ice creams or cocktails! (Geoff Marks)

Riding from Bannockburn Bridge towards Felton Road. (Geoff Marks).

At the Bannockburn Bridge across the Kawarau River you have a choice to make: turn right to follow the new cycle trail along Felton Road – one of the most well-known wine roads in New Zealand. There are many cellar doors and restaurants to choose from, but here’s a top tip: start at Terra Sancta at the far end of the road and work your way back to Mt Difficulty for lunch making sure to visit Te Kano and its architecturally designed cellar door along the way.

The Felton Road cycle path is the first completed leg of the new Kawarau Gorge Trail. Due to open in summer 2025, it will eventually connect the Gibbston River Trail in Queenstown to the Lake Dunstan Trail and wider Otago trail network…. Which will make quite the impressive – and lengthy – wine trail!

Felton Road (left of frame) is home to numerous wineries and cellar doors. Photo: Gate 20 Two Vineyard (Will Nelson)

Top tip: start your Felton Road tour at Terra Sancta (pictured) and work your way back along Felton Road. (Geoff Marks).

Impressive architecture and views at Te Kano Winery on Felton Road (credit Geoff Marks).

Mount Difficulty offers wine tasting from the cellar door and a restaurant with spectacular views (credit Geoff Marks).

Alternatively, turn left at the bridge continuing on the Lake Dunstan Trail where you’ll find Carrick Winery, one of several wineries located along Cairnmuir Road. The Pedal & Pour food truck in the Carrick Garden is geared up for cyclists and families with picnic blankets and bean bags for relaxing on the lawn, whilst the restaurant caters for fine dining options.

From Bannockburn you can return to Cromwell via a more direct route along the cycle path which runs parallel to the Bannockburn Road (4.5km), or organise for a shuttle to pick you up. If you choose to ride, then a stop at Penny Black at the Cromwell Heritage Precinct for a cocktail (or mocktail) to finish off the day in style is highly recommended.

Carrick Winery is geared up for cyclists with a food truck for pizza and coffee on the lawn, and also offers fine dining options. (Geoff Marks)

The Lake Dunstan Trail passes through the vines of Carrick Winery. (Will Nelson)

Finish your Lake Dunstan wine tour with cocktails at Penny Black, Cromwell Heritage Precinct.

Photos: Geoff Marks

Otago Central Rail Trail

Whilst affectionately known as the ‘ale trail’ due to the plentiful country pubs along the 152km journey between Clyde and Middlemarch, there are also options for visiting wineries along the Rail Trail, with most of the pubs and restaurants serving local wines too.

Not to be missed is the recently opened Monte Christo Winery in Clyde where the first vines in Central Otago were planted in the 1860s. Exclusive cottage accommodation, landscaped grounds, ‘Fritzy’ the food truck and of course wine tastings are all available.

Monte Christo Winery, just off the Rail Trail, is home to the first vines planted in Otago.

Immigrant's Vineyard and Ruru Wines, also just off the Rail Trail between Clyde and Alexandra.

About halfway between Clyde and Cromwell on the Rail Trail you’ll find Dunstan Road Wines. There’s a gate to the cellar door directly from the trail but look out for the flag on the post, which means that they’re open. A short distance further along the trail you’ll find Immigrant’s Vineyard / Ruru Wines (about 3.5km from Alexandra) where you can pre-book a beautiful platter for lunch (note: the cellar door is closed during winter).

If you like the idea of staying at a vineyard, the Judge Rock is geared up for cyclists and only a short ride from Alexandra.

Once in Alexandra there are numerous cafes and restaurants to choose from, Industry Lane Eatery located right on the trail is very popular with cyclists, although if you venture into town, check out The Finery which has recently opened.

From Alexandra, the Rail Trail continues into the heart of Central Otago with country pubs to satisfy your wine cravings, or you can connect to the Roxburgh Gorge and the Clutha Gold Trails, which offer a scenic journey through Central Otago and on to Clutha with a new trail that stretches all the way to Waihola on the East Coast.

The Alexandra Basin is one of New Zealand's premiere wine growing regions and can be explored easily from the Rail Trail by bike.

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