A family guide to Central Otago
Are you planning to go on a vacation in Central Otago with your loved ones? If your answer is yes, then you will surely find the family guide below useful. You will find the must-visit places here when you read on the following article.
There are just three routes between Dunedin on the east coast of the South Island, and the Southern Lakes area of NZ. All these routes take from 3 1/2 - 4 hours driving and pass through the wild, rugged landscape of Central Otago. All three offer spectacular and remote views - golden tussock, weird and stark giant rock formations, rivers, quiet roads and goldmining relics.
The Pig Route
Two of your routes follow what is known as the 'Pig Route', along State Highway 85, and only deviating, if you're driving TO Dunedin, at a junction just past Ranfurly. From here, the Middlemarch route is probably more scenic and avoids more of the main highway. This is the quieter but just slightly longer route, following large portions of the Otago Central Railtrail.
Maniototo Valley - this stunning and desolate region takes in the historic goldmining townships of Naseby and St Bathans, just off the main highway, but an easy and worthwhile diversion. Naseby is one of Otago's most charming gold rush settlements and has good family accommodation and activities. It's set on the edge of a forest that is a mountain bikers' paradise - with easy and hard tracks, none venturing too far from the main street, it's easy to go and play, and dip down to the cafe for a quick refresher. In winter Naseby gains fame for its outdoor ice rink. The rink offers ice skating, curling and luging. Year-round Naseby now also has an indoor curling rink, so bring the family and have a go at the Scottish passtime! Nearby St Bathans is most famous for its incredible Blue Lake. This was created during goldmining days through the efforts of miners sluicing and dredging for gold. The lake is a stunning blue colour and around 70m deep - a very popular swim hole in summer.
Other highlights include simply the drive itself, and your travel through Rail Trail country towns - Middlemarch, Wedderburn and the Art Deco township of Ranfurly.
State Highway 8
This route is slightly more direct and takes you along the gorgeous Clutha River that flows out of Lake Wanaka and all the way to the east coast. The Roxburgh area is the best viewing point for the Clutha River, with Roxburgh Village just off the main road and also the famous Roxburgh Dam (the earliest of NZ's hydroelectric projects). There's a very pleasant, 5km river bank track that passes historic cottages and old bridges.
If you're driving towards the Southern Lakes, after Roxburgh you'll get to Alexandra, and the route into town is spectacular with its golden hillsides and rock formations. The Clutha River flows through Alexandra and there are plenty of fantastic swimming holes. The river is slow flowing and an excellent location for kayaking and boating.
Clyde, Cromwell and Bannockburn
The two routes merge at Clyde, and from here you follow State Highway 8 along the Cromwell Gorge and the Clutha River. This road takes you past Clyde and on to Cromwell and Bannockburn. From here you're just an hour's drive from Queenstown or 45 minutes from Wanaka. This region of Central Otago is a great family holiday spot. Cromwell sits on the confluence of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, and the shores of Lake Dunstan. There are hundreds of perfect swimming, fishing and boating holes both on the river and the lake. You can also rent kayaks and float down the slow-moving Clutha for a couple of hours, emerging at Clyde or Alexandra (these trips are supported, so you'll be met with transport to your starting point). The river and gorge are so scenic it's well worth spending some time on it, but if you don't fancy kayaking, you can take a local boat trip. Meanwhile Cromwell and Bannockburn are in the heart of fruit and wine country. In Cromwell pop along to one of the fruit stores for fresh local produce, or try delicious local Benger Gold juices. Cromwell old town, on the river bank, is a must-visit - great spots for the kids to play and lots to wander around. You'll find a couple of excellent cafes down here. If you're after wine, take a wine tour, self-drive or bike through the charming backroads of Bannockburn and visit some of the gorgeous local wineries.
The Otago Central Rail Trail
This cycling adventure is suitable for all ages and takes you through 150km of remote scenery and gold-mining history. The track is wide and mostly hard-packed gravel surface. It's very easy riding so a great family activity, and most people do it in 3 or 4 days. Support along the way has grown to a fantastic level, so planning the trip is pretty easy. Your starting point will be either Clyde or Middlemarch if you're doing the whole track (there is conflicting advice about which way's best and prevailing winds - personally I prefer to start at Clyde). You can hire bikes locally, pre-book accommodation along the way, enjoy the many cafes and rest stops, and have a pick-up waiting for you at the end to take you back to your car. Biking the Rail Trail is free, but it does get quite busy in season, so book your accommodation well ahead.
You'll find plenty of excellent information here: www.otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz