Cycling from Clyde to Cromwell

I am not a cyclist, by any means. The last time I rode a bike was in 2020, in short bursts between the Martinborough Vineyards. The time before that was in 2019 on an eBike day tour in Rome. And before that, it was probably back in 2012 at Ohope Beach.

Cycling is not my thing.

But I love the outdoors and being active. I also love the Central Otago Landscapes, so there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to explore this area by bike.

There are many cycle tracks and trails in Otago, including the Otago Rail Trail that connects Clyde to Middlemarch along a 152 Kilometre track. In May 2021, The Lake Dunstan Trail opened. My brother and I decided to tackle this 52km, track that connects Cromwell to Clyde.

We collect our e-bikes from Bike IT Now in Clyde and are given a short induction. We then do a quick test ride up and down the street to make sure we are comfortable and heights are set correctly. I am pretty rusty and wobble all over the place, but after a few minutes I get the hang of it. Your know the saying, ‘It’s just like riding a bike’.

We then set off to tackle the ride. I am excited for the day ahead and the sights we will see. After 10 or so minutes I test out the ebike, putting it onto eco. What a difference, it makes the pedalling so easy.

The path snakes alongside The Clutha River, which is a beautiful, vibrant, emerald green this morning. Throughout the day, the colours change to various shades of blues and turquoises. The lakes and rivers aren’t brilliant jewel colours in the North Island. South Island lakes are really quite special in this way.

It’s looking like it will be a hot day, but we have set off early and hope to avoid the fierce afternoon heat. The track starts out flat, then grows into a gradual climb. We cross Hugo bridge, an 85.5 metre suspension bridge. All I can say is, don’t look down! The track gets steeper and steeper, but with the eBike, it’s no problem, I just switch it onto boost and the bike practically pedals itself (and me) up the hills.

As we reach the peak, 342m high, there are some incredible views across the river and looking out to Cromwell. We stop for a while to soak in the view and see how far we have come.

We have gone up the hill, now it’s time to go down the other side. It’s pretty steep with some sharp turns and there are a few parts where I have to get off and walk the bike down. Cycling down steep hills is hard, but I do feel for the people we pass coming up it!

We reach the bottom and come across the newly launched Coffee Afloat. A boat serving coffee, ice creams, baking, cold drinks and snacks to the trail riders. In September, Burger Afloat was also launched. It’s pretty popular, there must have been at least 50 people there, resting on the nearby rocks and refueling.

We decide not to stop, so instead, carry onto the next section of the track, which is really quite impressive. Not impressive scenery, (although it is lovely) but the track itself. Up to this point, we have be cycling along tracks carved out of the hills, but this part is a path, suspended off the rocks, right above the river. Goodness knows how they were able to build such a structure, but it makes for some scenic riding.

By the time our tummies start to rumble, the perfectly positioned Carrick Vineyard comes into view. We refuel with pizza, olives and a cold drink. It’s an idyllic setting, but it’s also getting pretty hot so we don’t hang around for long after eating.

Cycling further along the river bank, over a bridge and through Cromwell Heritage Precinct we arrive at Bike IT Now to return the bikes. I am hot, yes, and my bum is rather sore (despite the double gel cushioned seat) but I’m not tired. The eBike was amazing, it made this trip possible for me. I don’t think I could have done this on a regular bike.

Apparently 70% of people doing this trail cycle from Cromwell to Clyde. We did it the other way and I am so glad we did. It’s a popular trail and with people heading in both directions, it does get pretty tight. Some parts of the track are especially narrow and I was always pleased to be on the side against the hill, rather than next to the edge!

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, cycling through diverse landscape; dry, barren looking land, past huge rocks (and some pretty big drops) past pretty purple lupin flowers, through cool shady forests, over bridges and through historic precincts in a land that is rich in history.

All you need is a day and you too can discover some of the charm Central Otago has to offer.

Cromwell Delights

After the madness of Christmas passed (although I do love the Christmas madness) I packed my bags and headed down South on Boxing Day to spend some time with my brother and his family.

They were visiting his in-laws who are based in Cromwell. When I was invited to stay with them, I needed no convincing, Central Otago is one of my favourite parts of the country. And getting to spend a week with my nephew and niece was certainly a big draw card.

It was a rather bumpy flight in with the plane rolling from side to side, the Queenstown basin is known for its strong winds. I’m not a great flier so my hands were tightly gripping the arm rests while I focused on controlling my breathing. I had an aisle seat so I couldn’t even distract myself with a scenic view. But soon after landing I am picked up from the airport and presented with a container of fresh cherries. I quickly forget all about the bumpy flight in. I am so looking forward to gorging on Central Otago stone fruit this week.

What I love most about this place is the landscape. It’s so dramatic. Black jagged rock faces, dry, grassy tussocks land and jewel coloured lakes. It’s very distinctive and striking.

I have 6 days to explore the area. Plenty of time to relax and unwind and get a taste for Central Otago life. Here are some of the things we got up to during my stay.

A walk around the lake. Cromwell is nestled in below Lake Dunstan and bordered by the Clutha River. There are plenty of scenic walks you can take around the lake. One afternoon we sat in the shade of a tree on the shore of the Clutha River watching ducks and enjoying the slower pace of life that you get when you leave the city. Another day we ambled along the shore of Lake Dunstan and I learnt how to skip stones along the flat still water. There is something very soothing about being near water. In Cromwell, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy it’s tranquility.

Wine Tasting. Your Central Otago trip wouldn’t be complete without a little (or a lot) of wine. I read somewhere that there are 25 wineries in Cromwell alone, so there are plenty of options. We went to Misha’s Vineyeard and Wooing Tree. These 2 make up part of the 4 Barrels Walking Wine Tour along with Scott Base and Aurum Wines. As the name suggests, you can visit them all by foot, with the total loop taking about 90 minutes plus stops. Sit in the sun or in the shade of a tree, and sip the Pinot Noir that makes Central Otago world famous. (There are also lots of other varieties to try. My favourite is always the dessert wines.) It’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and if you finish at Misha’s Vineyard, head on over to The Stoker Room next door for dinner.

Dining. Another stop you must make in Cromwell is to The Stoker Room. Their food is steamed, baked, grilled and smoked in French Oak Pinot Noir barrel cookers and the results are exquisite. I’m not really a fan of smoked foods, but this was delicious. Their meals are heavily meat based, but there were still several vegetarian options and my brother and I enjoyed sharing several small plates. It is also home to Wild Earth Wines and I was given strict instructions from my husband to make sure I ordered several bottles to be shipped back home. Their Chelsea Riesling is amazing. I am looking forward to that order arriving next week!

Fruit Picking. If you are here during the summer, there are endless amounts of sweet, delicious stone fruit at your finger tips. Head to one of the many local orchards and go fruit picking. We went to Cheeki Cherries where we were able to pick, big, juicy, scrumptious cherries. I was heading home that day with only carry on luggage so I had to be restrained, but so good to take a little bit of Central Otago home with me. A week later and I have nearly finished the 2kg box I brought back! Cheeki Cherries also have PYO apricots, nectarines and peaches. You could just go to a store and buy some, but where’s the fun in that? And besides, how lovely is it to walk through an orchard on a beautiful summer’s day?

These next 3 activities are in Wanaka, but it’s only a 40 minute drive so you can easily do a day trip. When we headed out there, the Rhythm and Alps festival was on and traffic was manic, so we didn’t go right into the township to the lake, but on a different day, it’s well worth the visit. I was in Wanaka last year though, you can read about that in this post Chillin’ in Wanaka.

National Transport & Toy Museum. Take a walk down memory lane, looking at old toys from times gone by. There were certainly some I remember from my childhood. There is also a collection of cars, service vehicles, planes, bikes and motorbikes. It’s an unusual place. An eclectic collection of things. Yes it has toys and yes it has a variety of transport vehicles, but you will also find old cellphones, computers, sewing machines and an entire wall of antique teaspoons. Lets just say, it’s an interesting place. My favourite were the vintage fire trucks.

Puzzling World. A place filled with illusions and mind tricks. One of the spaces, the tilted house, really messed with my mind. With no windows and clever use of slopes and lines, it leaves your mind very confused. It threw me off balance so much that it made me feel sick. The room of following faces was interesting though, step into the room & watch 168 pairs of eyes follow you around, left and right, up and down. Puzzling World wasn’t for me, although I am sure there are people out there who would love it.

Wanaka Lavender Farm. Immerse yourself in a sea of vibrant purple lavender while listening to the gentle hum of the hard working honey bees. The fragrance of the flowers, along with the sights and sounds are a delight for the senses. There are also a variety of farm animals you can visit while strolling the grounds. Back at the shop, try a lavender ice cream. They had 3 different flavours, I tried the traditional lavender, honey combo. It was unusual, but in a good way. An unfamiliar flavour, but refreshing and moreish.

My 6 days in Cromwell were an absolute delight, the perfect mix of rest, relaxation and exploring. What a wonderful way to end 2021.