Step it Up a Gear in the Clutha and Catlins District!
Glide past beautiful river gorges, peddle on tracks steeped in history, and race downhill on wild terrain. It’s fair to say that the Clutha district is a worthwhile cycling location. Situated between Dunedin and Invercargill, this area of the South Island encapsulates some stunning scenery and wildlife. For cyclists, the Clutha and Catlins areas are known for easy-going rides to add another way to experience the sights of the lakes, rivers and rugged coastline of the area. We’ll go through the good ones in this guide to biking in the Catlins and Clutha district.
In this guide, we’ll outline the awesome off-road cycle trails well worth checking out if you are an avid cyclist. That way, you’ll experience some of the off the beaten track locations the Clutha area has to offer. Otherwise, taking the road bike on the Southern Scenic Route (State Highway 1) and making side trips to the 18 Attractions of the Catlins is a popular way to go.
The Grades of Difficulty for Mountain Biking in New Zealand
As you’ll see from the descriptions below, there are varying difficulties for cycling trails in New Zealand. It’s important to assess your own fitness and ability before venturing on a bike trail, so you can find something either challenging enough or not too much of a mission.
- Grade 1 – Easiest track with a smooth, flat surface
- Grade 2 – Easy with some gentle climbs and avoidable obstacles like rocks
- Grade 3 – Intermediate with steep hills and some avoidable obstacles
- Grade 4 – Advanced level track with long steep sections, narrow tracks and obstacles you might have to ride over
- Grade 5 – Expert is technically and physically challenging
- Grade 6 – Extreme level is for people who know their shit. Possible manmade or natural jumps.
Clutha Gold Trail (Grade 2)
Like many of the cycling trails in Otago and Southland regions, the well-formed trails of the gold mining days are now used as cycling tracks to get to remote and stunning locations.
The Clutha Gold Trail is a 73km (45-mile) ride and is open all year round. It is also one of the “Great Rides” of the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail a cycle trail that goes the whole length of New Zealand, as well as one of the 12 Super Scenic Cycle Trails in Otago.
As it is a one-way trail, you can start either end. Remember to book return transport if necessary, which can be done at any i-SITE in the Otago and northern Southland region. The Clutha Gold Trail starts from Commissioners Flat at the small car park about 500 metres (1,640 feet) below the Lake Roxburgh Dam. From there, there are obvious signs to keep you on the Clutha Gold Trail.
Along the way, you will be riding through the rural heartland of the Clutha district while having the opportunity to learn about the history of the area. Information boards show what life was like here from the early Maori settlers hunting for moa to the Chinese gold miners. The trail also entails steep river gorges and a 440-metre (1,444-foot) rail tunnel, all the while keeping the Clutha Mata-au River in sight.
The Clutha Gold Trail finally ends in the gold mining town of Lawrence.
To extend the trail further, you can add a 34km (21-mile) section at Lake Roxburgh. Go across the hydro dam to the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. The middle section of about 14km (8.6 miles) includes travel by boat between Shingle Creek jetty and Doctors Point jetty. This too will need to be booked before you set off on the bike trail. To extend the bike ride massively, the Roxburgh Gorge trail links the with the Central Otago Rail Trail. You can read more about the Central Otago Rail Trail in Mountain Biking in Dunedin.
Beaumont Millennium Track (Grade 2)
In the Lawrence area, take your bike to this historic and easy-going trail. You’ll travel over a swingbridge and pass lonely graves of the forgotten morbid but fascinating, right? While cycling on what used to be a railway track, follow the north side of the Clutha River as it goes downstream where there’s stunning scenery created by the Beaumont Gorge.
Although it’s an easy track for cycling, you’ll still get plenty to think about on the narrow and winding turns in some parts. Be aware that there could be some on-coming traffic on this track.
To get to the Millennium Track, drive from Lawrence on State Highway 8 and stop on the south side of the Beaumont Bridge. The 24km (15-mile) one-way track leads to the small settlement of Millers Flat.
Balclutha Cycle Trails
Nicknamed the “Big River Town”, Balclutha sits on the banks of New Zealand’s second-longest river, the Clutha Mata-au River. (Second place is still pretty good)! With that, the landscape provides some fantastic cycle trails.
Blair Athol Walkway (Grade 2)
Start this shared cycling and walking trail at the back of Naish Park on Charlotte Street in Balclutha. It is an easy single track following the Clutha River for 11km (7 miles).
Lake Tuakitoto (Grade 2)
This Clutha bike trail is nearby Kaitangata, Balclutha’s neighbouring town. Drive 10 minutes on Lakeside Road and you’ll find the lakeside walk, which can be cycled too. The loop track is 15km (9 miles) where there is a selection of wildlife, such as the pukeko, New Zealand shoveler, the South Island fernbird, black swans, shelduck and marsh crakes.
Sesquicentennial Track, Inch Clutha (Grade 2-3)
Because “millennial” tracks are overrated, try this sesquicentennial track in the Inch Clutha area. The one-way track takes you to right to the Pacific Ocean with its inviting turquoise blue waters. To get to the track from Balclutha, follow the signs to Kaitangata. Before you enter Kaitangata, take the bridge on the right side and continue until you hit a crossroads. Turn left onto Telegraph Road then left onto Centre Road. Continue until you see a one-lane bridge where there is a car park and the start of the track.
Milton Cycle Trails
The quaint town of Milton is great for backpackers looking to trawl the op shops (second-hand stores) and lazy around on the unspoiled beaches. It’s also a base to get out and explore by bike.
McNally Track (Grade 3-4)
Time to exert yourself for some wondrous views. To get to the start of the track, cycle 2km (1.2 miles) out of Milton to the end of Cemetery Road. The track is a 7km (4.3-mile) return taking you to the hilltop lookout 317 metres (1,040 feet) above sea level. Then enjoy the ride down! Be aware that this is a shared path with walkers.
Taieri Millennium Track (Grade 2-3)
Yes, another millennium track! This 8km (5-mile) one-way trail follows the Taieri River through native forest to the scenic John Bull Gully. From John Bull Gully, you can merge onto another track suitable for mountain biking (see below). This track is best done in fine conditions as it can get quite muddy.
John Bull Gully (Grade 2-3)
Either drive to the start of this track by going to Taieri Mouth then turn south at the bridge to get to the track, or you can cycle there on the Taieri Millennium Track (see above). Venture through beautiful native bush and take in the scenic views on this 6km (4-mile) return journey.
Government Track (Grade 2-3)
Nestled in a forested area between Milton and Dunedin, the Government Track is a highly regarded mountain biking and walking track. The 17km (10.5-mile) return track starts with a short push up a steep section before taking off on the old pack track as it sidles along the Waipori Valley. The ride is easy going from here, but expect a few creek crossings and possible muddy sections. Once you get to the top you have the option to return the way you came or follow the pylon track to the left and steeply down to the Waipori town. To get to the track from State Highway 1, turn onto Henley-Berwick Road then Waipori Falls Road. The sealed road turns into gravel where you continue for another 1km (0.6 miles) to the car park and the beginning of the track.
More Things to Do in the Catlins and Clutha District
Now you’ve biked it, it’s time to see what other hidden gems lie in the Catlins and Clutha District. Check out these articles.