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.
These trails are two of the lesser known Great Rides in New Zealand. They are more remote than the nearby Otago Central Rail Trail, but there are small towns along the way with your standard 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, so make sure to arrange ahead of time.
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.
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. During my time in NZ, I got into a pattern of 4-7 days on the bike followed by two nights in a larger town (with a bike shop) where I could do laundry, clean up the bike and generally just regroup.
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 I would arrive in Lawrence around 3:30pm. I had about 50k to ride, so it didn’t leave a lot of time to get to my Airbnb that night in Millers Flat.
My experience on the InterCity was generally good, but of course this time it was running late. I didn’t end up getting into to Lawrence until 4pm, and it started to rain. I now only had 2.5 hours to get to Millers Flat before sunset.
Given the rain and late start, I did think about just finding a room for the night. However, while I was reassembling my bike on the sidewalk, a lady stopped and asked if I was heading up the trail. I told her I was headed to Millers Flat and expected her to convince me that it was getting too late. She didn’t, so for some reason I took that as validation that it was ok to head out.
A few doors down was the The Wild Walnut cafe where I stopped to drop off my bag, fill up my water bottles, and a have a double shot of espresso. The rain still wasn’t letting up, but I jumped on the bike anyway and headed towards Millers Flat.
This track wasn’t as well-marked as the Otago Central Rail Trail (or maybe it was just getting dark), so I got off trail and ended up on the opposite side of the river. All in it cost me about a half-hour that I didn’t really have. Alone, without cell phone service and losing daylight by the minute, I started to panic a bit.
A lot of people talk about getting outside their comfort zone, but few actually do it. For me this was about as uncomfortable as I’ve ever been. However, I remembered that I had a headlamp in my pack and I’ve ridden at night before. So I just took a few deep breaths and focused on making progress on the trail. Worse case I stay the night on the trail. I had an emergency space blanket and the good thing about NZ, is that there aren’t any snakes, bears or other creatures that will kill you.
I would find myself in similar situations a few times while in NZ. The thing is that each subsequent time, it didn’t bother me as much. It’s almost like the level of “uncomfortableness” I could manage got greater each time.
I made my way into Millers Flat about an hour after sunset. In retrospect, I actually enjoyed the last section riding in the dark with my headlamp. 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 also called down to the local pub to let them know I was coming by for dinner, which was really nice of her. Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking.
Pretty much every small town has at least one pub, and this was no exception. I had a pleasant dinner and a few Steinlager’s while chatting with the couple who owned the place.
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, so I planned to leave at 10:00am and have a leisurely day. It was another overcast day, but the trail 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’m not sure how good they are for you, but a pie is basically a pastry filled with beef, lamb, eggs, bacon, etc. They are pretty popular in NZ.
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 ran into a fellow Canadian on the trail. I still had plenty of time to get to the jetty, so I suggested we ride together until I had to switch over to the Roxburgh Gorge trail.
Similar to me he had always wanted to spend some time riding around NZ. 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 planned 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 really 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 15k to go to the jetty.
A short jet boat trip is currently required to connect to the other end of the trail as there is a short section that is not yet complete. I had about an hour and half to get there, so I figured I had plenty of time.
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.
I had the 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 along the banks of the river that was actually pretty interesting.
I hopped out at Doctors Point and had an easy 10k ride into Alexandra where I 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.
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.
The 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.