Rides

Central Otago – Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail

The Lake Dunstan Cycle trail is a totally unique 42km journey through the Cromwell Gorge skirting one of New Zealand’s largest man-made lakes to the Clyde Dam, a legacy of the Think Big Projects from the Muldoon era.

Scenery

Cromwell Historic Precinct, Bannockburn, Clip on Bridges, Coffee Afloat, Cairnmuir Ladder, Hugo Bridge, Clyde Dam, Clyde Town.

Pitstops

Coffee Afloat, Carrick Winery, Merchant of Clyde. Toilets at Cairnmuir Ladder and Halfway Hut

Grade

A well-built hard packed gravel grade 2 trail, some narrow sections, exposed corners to watch out for and some big climbs. Learn about grades here.

Stats

3 & 1/2 hours ride time
42kms in length
1045m climbing

Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail on Trailforks.com

I remember first seeing this ride at a Big Bike Film Night event in Napier earlier this year and thinking “Wow!” The highlight video showed these unique looking clip-on bridges with an epic hydro-dam lake as a backdrop, I was sold. It didn’t take much to convince Teresa either, within a week we had our trip booked.

We stayed at the Heritage Hotel Lake Resort at Pisa Moorings about 10kms north out of Cromwell. This place was exceptional. From the friendly staff to the superb accommodations sitting out over the water, topped off with great meals from the restaurant. We couldn’t recommend this place more highly!

There are several shuttle and bike hire operators in the region, we chose Shebikeshebikes based in Clyde. They offer a range of bikes to hire including Sinch eBikes that we opted for and from Clyde they shuttled us to the trail head in the Cromwell Heritage Precinct.

The Heritage Precinct has shops, cafes and toilets so take some time and have a look around.

From here it’s an easy 5-6 kms out to the Bannockburn Bridge, then you will pass by Carrick Winery and Vineyard as you head back toward the opposite side of the lake from the Heritage Precinct where you started.

Here you begin heading south and it doesn’t take long before you encounter your first clip on bridge. The trail narrows and signs indicate that you shouldn’t stop due to falling rock risks. We didn’t need reminding.

Pedal past a few more clip-ons, including the massive Pickaxe Bluff Bridge you will arrive at one of New Zealand’s most unique cafés, Coffee Afloat. These guys were a welcome sight on a cold day and their flat whites warmed our fingers and refuelled our bodies. They had food available as well as great coffee and they accepted both EFTPOS and cash. There were available toilets just a few meters up the valley from the café too.

After a rest and refuel, the Cairnmuir Ladder awaits. The ladder is a series of switchbacks taking you from the lake level up to the summit and highest point on the trail at 324mtrs. On the way up you will be offered several viewpoints looking back down the lake giving you a chance to snap a photo and catch your breath.

From the summit you have a gentle downhill with a few exposed switchbacks to watch out for before you soon come across the impressive Hugo Bridge.

Another 5kms or so and you will get to Halfway Hut where more toilets are available before you head inland slightly and into the second notable climb of the trail. And soon a gentle downhill almost all the way to the colossal Clyde Dam indicating you are nearing the end of the trail.

From the Clyde Dam you navigate a mix of roads and river trails till you get to the historic Clyde River Bridge leading you across and into town.

We dropped our bikes back to Shebikeshebikes at the old train station and here our car was awaiting us from where we started the day.

We rode the trail in early June and it was a cold (6 degrees) and overcast day but no wind or rain. Wrapping up with several layers, beanies and gloves, we managed to stay relatively comfortable all day. At 42kms and with over 1000 metres of climbing it is a big day out, we recommend taking an eBike unless you are one of those super athletic types. Including stops we took around 5 ½ hours to get to Clyde, but since we faff with cameras and drones, I suspect the average rider would shave an hour off that.

While in the area we gave ourselves a few days to fully explore the place taking in the Cromwell Heritage PrecinctHighlands Motorsport ParkGoldfields Mining Centre for a little gold panning a wander around Clyde and lunch at the superb Merchant of Clyde Cafe.

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