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.

Race Cars, Wild Lands and Excellent Food

It’s raining in Alex this morning.

I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. We are booked in to do a Supercar fast lap in a Ferrari 488 GTB at Highlands Motorsport Park.

I have been in a Ferrari before, a 2019 California. We pre-booked a test drive in Maranello, Italy last year and had the heaviest rain I think we have ever driven in. Daniel was driving and barely got it above 30kph due to the weather. The rain was causing surface flooding,  he had limited visibility and tree branches were lying across the road.

So disappointing!

Such a beautiful car. And that engine! I can only imagine how it would sound driven as it was designed to be!

So that experience was a little disappointing and I was really looking forward to a fast lap in a Ferrari in Cromwell.

We decide head to Cromwell to Highlands anyway; it’s a 30 minute drive and were hoping we might see a change in the weather.

No such luck.

They won’t take you out on the track when there is standing water on it, so the ride today was off.

They do have a museum so we spent about a hour looking around there and re-booked our fast dash for tomorrow. The museum is definitely worth a look, especially for race car enthusiast and creative types who appreciate beautiful design.

There are a lot of old race cars on display and I noticed just how vulnerable those race car drivers were back in the day. They had very little to protect them.

There are also some pretty flash looking modern race cars, McLaren, Ferrari, Aston Martin, but my favourite, the Lamborghini Diablo. I never used to like Lamborghinis, but what can I say, they have grown on me!

In the virtual race machine, you can select your driver and head out for a spin around Highlands track; it’s not the real thing but still cool.

And a little bit random, but I guess we are in wine country, there is a wine room where you can smell a range of wine essences and then select from a list what fragrance each wine demonstrates.

Well, let’s just say, I won’t be giving up my day job!

After Highlands we head out with Daniel’s Aunt and Uncle for some 4 wheel driving. It’s a great way to get out and explore this area. We head out to Duffers Saddle, a high mountain pass with an elevation of 1275 meters above sea level. It is one of the highest roads in the country.

The landscape is wild, remote and gorgeous. Alpine plants, grasses and tussocks cover the open, exposed land. Schist rock formations are scattered about.

Thanks Daniel for another great photo!

The air is cold and fresh.

I feel so alive!

We head into The Nevis Valley. There are beautiful misty cloud formations over the tops of the hills. I watch the wind sweep through the mass of tussock grasses giving the appearance that the hills are alive and moving. We are on the other side of the remarkable and even in summer, there is a dusting of snow on them.

Along the way we pass evidence of lifetimes lived long ago in the form of old settlement remains. I can’t help but wonder how people managed to survive in this type of climate. It is harsh, remote, and wild.

But Wow.

So powerful and just spectacular!

One thing’s for sure, those early settlers were made of pretty tough stuff!

All this sightseeing has caused us to build up a bit of an appetite. Unlike the early settlers, we don’t have to go out and catch our lunch; we head to Brannockburn Hotel for our meal. (No longer a hotel, it is now a restaurant and bar)

The perfect place to sit back, relax, warm up a bit and share an afternoon of stories and good times with a glass of wine and some beautiful food.

Brannockburn are known for their tapas. Sharing platters that allow you to try a little bit of oh so much. My favourite was the goat’s cheese croquets with honey and almonds.

Delicious.

The service here was fantastic. I hope we come here again.

On our way back home we stop off in Cromwell and take a wander down the old historic Cromwell Precinct. It’s like stepping back in time as we walk past the old shops; The Cobb & Co Store, Jolly’s Seed & Grain Store, London house stable and more.

I can imagine men in top hats, waistcoats and fob watches and women in their full length bustled dresses walking past the shops, going about their day. It’s an interesting glimpse into 19th century New Zealand.

Situated next to Lake Dunstan, it would be a lovely place for a picnic.

Central Otago is rich in history, blessed with immense beauty and I can’t wait to continue exploring tomorrow.

The Details

Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell has a range of activities to enjoy. Tickets to the museum are $30 per adult, but I pre-purchased mine off Book Me for only $5 each. Not always available, but worth checking.

Nevis Valley is a great place for 4-wheel driving, walking, tramping and mountain bike riding. There are seasonal restrictions and conditions can be harsh. Always make sure you are properly prepared for the environment you are entering. If you are interested in 4-wheel driving, there are companies that will take you out in this area.

Brannockburn Hotel, also in Cromwell serve a range of tapas and cater for vegetarians, vegans and gluten free. If sharing plates aren’t your thing, you can also order full meals, but by ordering a selection of tapas you get to try lots of delicious things.

For a free attraction, check out Cromwell Precinct. A great place for a walk, a picnic, or grab some lunch at one of the cafes.