Cycling the Clutha Gold & Roxburgh Gorge Combo

The Clutha Gold Trail showcases the area’s history of early Maori moa hunters, Chinese gold miners, European pastoral farming, mining and railways.

The Roxburgh Gorge Trail provides a spectacular ride following the Clutha River. The trail offers the opportunity to explore one of the most unique landscapes in New Zealand, and every season offers a different experience.

Summary

These trails are two of the lesser known Great Rides in New Zealand. They are a bit more remote than the Otago Central Rail Trail, but there are a few small towns along the way with your standard NZ country pub that doubles as a hotel.

They suggest three days, but two days is probably about perfect. If I did it again, I would make sure to start earlier on the first day (ready more below). You currently need to take a jet boat to connect through the Roxburgh Gorge, but the commentary during the ride is quite interesting. This is where the gold rush happened in NZ. Overall a great track that I recommend. Especially if you combine it with the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Want to learn more about the Clutha/Roxburgh Trail or just cycling in New Zealand? Join my next live stream

Day 1 — Lawrence to Millers Flat

After spending a few uneventful, wet and cold days in Dunedin, I was ready to get back on the bike. The only transport I could find to get from Dunedin to the start of the Clutha Gold in Lawrence was the InterCity bus. However, it didn’t leave until 2pm, so it didn’t leave a lot of time to get to my Airbnb that night.

Cycle World is your bike shop in Dunedin. Maybe the friendlist bike shop I’ve even been in.
If you are going to be traveling by bus in NZ, I recommend picking up a RINKO bag. Not really knowing if I would need it or not, I picked one up from monte-bell while in Tokyo and it made traveling with my bike a lot easier.
The InterCity FlexiPass is great if traveling by bus. It makes travel much more inexpensive and even works for the Cook Stright ferry. I bought a 10 hour pass and used all the hours.
I’m already a bit stressed as I get off the bus in Lawrence a half hour late at 3:45pm as I now only have two and a half hours to get to my Airbnb before sunset.

I did think about not doing this ride and just hunkering down for a few more days in Dunedin. However, the Kiwi’s have this attitude of “just get on with it” when it comes to the outdoors. Plus, I didn’t really want to spend any more time in the hostel I was at.

After putting my bike together, filling up my water bottles and a double shot of espresso at The Wild Walnut, I jumped on the bike and headed down the trail.

The Wild Walnut is where you will drop your bag if you use Trail Journeys for your baggage transfer.

This track didn’t seem as well-marked as the Otago Central Rail Trail (or maybe it was just getting dark), so I got off track a few times costing me some time that I didn’t have.

The track itself is wide and in good shape as it follows the Clutha River in this section. I could tell that a few of the cuts were brand new; maybe even just a few weeks old. I did a couple rides in Wanaka along the Clutha and it is the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen. If I wasn’t riding full on, it would be a really scenic ride.

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The Clutha River outside Wanaka

I made my way into Millers Flat about an hour after sunset, but I had my headlamp with me, so the last few kilometers were pretty cool. I had booked an Airbnb for the night and it was a relief when I arrived and the host Sheena was waiting for me outside. She called down to the local pub to let them know I was coming over, which was really nice of her. Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking.

Couple Steinlager’s in Millers Flat

Pretty much every small town has at least one pub and this was no exception. I had a pleasant dinner and a few beers chatting with the husband a wife owners.

New Zealand has a national cycling initiative to create a network of trails that would allow folks to ride the entire country on purpose-built trail. The idea is to create a sustainable form of tourism focused on revitalizing the small towns throughout the country with cyclists who stay the night and have a meal at the local pub. I think this is a great initiative. Especially given the trend of people who want an active vacation or retirement.

Day 2 – Millers Flat to Alexandra

It was hard to get out from my bed in the morning, but I had a 1.30pm jet boat to catch. It was only about 45k away so I planned to leave at 10.00am and have a nice leisurely day. The ride started out really cold, but this time I had to stop to put on a few layers. It was another overcast day, but the trail here was in good condition and continued to follow the Clutha River, so I couldn’t complain.

I got to talking about my upcoming rides with a girl I met in Wanaka and she insisted that I stop at Jimmy’s Pies in Roxburgh. I would come to be a pretty big  “pie” fan while in NZ. I’m not sure how good they are for you, but a pie is basically a pastry filled with beef, lamb, eggs, bacon, etc.

Around 11.30am I rode into Roxburgh and hit Jimmy’s for an egg & bacon pie and a flat white. After a cold few hours it was just what I needed. Re-energized, I headed back out and came across a guy in a jersey with maple leaves all over it. Assuming he was Canadian as well, we started talking and since I still had plenty of time to get to the jetty, I rode with him for the next 10k.

Similar to me he had always wanted to spend some time riding around New Zealand, so for his 55th birthday he decided to go do it. He was towards the end of two months and had done a lot of the rides that I wanted to do so it was great to get some insight into the West Coast Wilderness and Alps 2 Ocean. I’ve found that when you are traveling on your own, these short encounters are helpful to keep your spirits up.

After a short, but steep climb up the Lake Roxburgh Dam I switched over to the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and had about 15k to go to the jetty.

Lake Roxburgh Dam

A short jet boat trip is currently required to connect to the other end of the trail as there is a 15k section that is not yet complete. I had about an hour and half to get there, so I figured I had plenty of time. Make sure you book the transfer ahead of time as this isn’t a scheduled service per se.

The next bit was through a beautiful valley, but the trail was constantly rolling up and down and I wasn’t making good progress. The boat is the only way to connect the trail, so once again the leisurely ride turned into a full on effort. I rolled into Shingle Creek 5 minutes before the boat, so perfect timing I guess. Lesson learned, make sure to look at the elevation in addition to distance.

The start of the Roxburgh Gorge

I had the entire boat to myself and we quickly got underway. The pilot made a few stops along the way to point out some relics of the gold rush that was actually pretty interesting.

Jet boat complete with bike rack

I hopped out at Doctors Point and had an easy 10k ride into Alexandra where I actually started the Otago Rail trail a week earlier. The final section was pretty cruisy with a couple interesting bridges built into the side of the riverbank.

Final stretch along the Roxburgh Gorge

My bag was waiting for me at the iSite in Alexandra, but I had a few hours until the InterCity bus to Clyde. Their just happened to be a Monteith’s Brewery across the street, so I popped in for a few beers and fries while I waited for the bus.

Monteith’s Brewery in Alexandra
  • Plan 
  • Eat 
  • Stay 
Trail JourneysWe offer bike hire, free itinerary planning of your cycling holiday, bag transfer & free accommodation booking service. I used them for my baggage transfer between Lawrence and Alexandra.

The Wild WalnutThe The Wild Walnut is the perfect spot for an espresso or snack before you start your ride. It is also the drop off point for your bag transfer with Trail Journeys.


Millers Flat TavernThe Millers Flat Tavern is a country pub with a local history theme serving great food and hospitality. We have a wonderful outdoor setting, either under the massive willow tree or on the sheltered deck.

Trail JourneysThe historic The Studio B&B is a detached well designed modern 2 level studio in garden setting. A convenient stop over in Central Otago between Dunedin and the Southern Lakes, the Studio is 4 minutes off SH8.

Other New Zealand Rides

Want to learn more about the Clutha/Roxburgh Trail or just cycling in New Zealand? Join my next live stream

About Rob Auston

After graduating from the University of Michigan, I started my career at Accenture in Washington, DC. I later packed up my car and headed West to Denver, CO. The plan was to stay a few months, but ten years later it is still home. During this time I worked in technology at Exclusive Resorts and Vail Resorts. In 2014, I took the plunge and started my first company and have since founded two more that have also failed. I write about my three passions: the outdoors, travel & technology. Let's connect on Twitter.